Steep Project Management Challenges? Ain't No Mountain High Enough!

Posted by Wayne Applehans on April 28, 2016

When should a product manager take on a new project? What requirements need to be in place to achieve success? At a recent agile community meet-up, I got into a healthy discussion about is very topic.

"Well if it’s handed down by one of the top executives, such as the CEO," I offered, "the best you may hope to have is a lofty and almost unachievable vision with little to no guidance on how to get it done. Sure, knowing the budget, team resource model, feature scope, and the key metrics for market and revenue success would be wonderful but this may not be readily available or clear."
 Sound like a familiar scenario?

I recall a guy named Bill Gates dreaming of placing a personal computer in everyone’s home and he made that happen with a transformational vision and solid execution. Why can't you succeed as well?

The Motivation and the Inspiration

Aint No Mountain High Enough - Album CoverSo, I continued, at this point you can retreat and declare that you don’t have the appetite for this level of risk or…you can smile and say, “There ain’t no mountain high enough” and jump in with both feet!

Inspired by this notion of reaching new heights in product development, I began to wonder if Ashford and Simpson had any idea that when they wrote the Grammy nominated lyrics “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in 1966, that this iconic song could serve as an anthem for product owners worldwide.

Is it a stretch to consider for a moment that Marvin Gaye understood this was not just a love song, but a ballad dedicated to something greater? Maybe Diana Ross and the Supremes simply envisioned this inspirational tune as motivational fuel to achieve the loftiest of ambitions, for people like Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell, who set the world “free climb” record of the 3,000 foot Dawn Wall in Yosemite. This daunting task required 19 days and 18 nights to summit, overcoming harsh artic winds, bloodied hands, callused fingers, and continuous setbacks along the route containing 31 pitches.

yosemite climbers make history with free climb summit of El Capitan Image Courtesy of & Chris Burkard/Patagonia

Facing Your Own Summit

Standing at the bottom of an intimidating peak sounds a lot like shipping products does it not? We can often see the summit, but until we are on the mountain we have no idea what will impede our progress. In this new hyper-connected world, product marketing teams face a steep climb in executing digital product strategy, and customer advocacy is the new summit for product success.

I call this journey “agile on the mountaintop”, and it serves as a lesson in how we as product owners can conquer new heights with iterative and continuous focus and determination despite the conditions in which we are working.

While I suppose it’s unlikely that Ashford and Simpson inked their famous song specifically for the famed Yosemite expedition, evangelical product owners, or even with the thought of digital transformation on the horizon, the song can serve as inspiration for each of us in our product roles. It allows us to think boldly about the approach we can, and should, take in blazing a trail and achieving new heights in product delivery despite the perils that may lie in our path.

Some Rope for the Journey Ahead

To help you reach new heights, I am sending you onto the mountain with the work of some celebrated authors that have guided me in my career as a product owner and executive and will do the same for you.
For each work, I have summarized a takeaway to serve as your guide, as you shape and support the transformational vision for your organization, strengthen customer experience, embrace performance management, and foster an agile work environment.


Tip 1: A Rock-Solid Base Camp

Set in motion a massive transformational purpose that inspires product vision and accelerates company growth.

Go big or go home!
That’s right, the days of old-school mission and vision statements is over. Think transformation, think purpose, and think massively in your quest to do something amazing. Product owners will be handed big ideas and will need to think like their executive team in order to execute or better yet beat them to the punch. In the new digital economy playing it safe with product strategy is a risky proposition.
Exponential Organizations, by Salim Ismail, Yuri van Geest, and Mike Malone, will help you think differently about how products and services can have a 10x impact in the market. Named Frost & Sullivan’s 2014 Growth, Innovation, and Leadership Book of the Year, this book drives home the point that in business, performance is key. And in performance, how you organize can be the key to growth.

Ismail shares that in the past five years, the business world has seen the birth of a new breed of company―the Exponential Organization―that has revolutionized how a company can accelerate its growth through using technology. He adds that an Exponential Organization (ExO) can eliminate the incremental, linear way traditional companies get bigger, through leveraging assets like community, big data, algorithms, and new technology, in order to achieve performance benchmarks ten times better than competing organizations.
In researching this recent phenomenon, Ismail, van Geest, and Malone have documented ten characteristics of Exponential Organizations. They walk the reader through how any company, from a startup to a multi-national, can become an ExO, streamline its performance, and grow to the next level.

But Wait, There's More!

In my next post, you can look forward to three more exceptional resources that will help you on your ascent to success. Until then, happy climbing, and remember you can't reach the top unless you keep climbing!

Wayne Applehans
Wayne Applehans is a seasoned business technology leader, information architect, and product development strategist and executive with over 20 years of proven experience building and managing innovative product development, sales, digital marketing, and delivery teams at Microsoft, JD Edwards (now Oracle), Jones/NCTI, and numerous early-stage tech companies in Colorado. He also serves as the Chief Marketing Officer and Digital Strategist for Denver-based BlueModus. Contact Wayne.