Invading the Product Landscape: A Metaphor

TIM Group development has gone through a major change over the last year. Our primary product has crossed over the peak of the adoption curve, and as a company we’ve been pushing new products for new markets. Our product development habits have had to change from techniques for fighting for market share to techniques for proving that a market exists. The human challenge is how do we move away from behavior that has been successful for the past several years?

One tool we’ve used to help make this shift inside our Product and Engineering teams has been a metaphor: Commando, Infantry, and Police. This metaphor has helped us explain how we needed to transform our product development ways, not because they were wrong, but because we now have a new mission.

While you can follow the Atwood link above (or follow from there to Cringely) to learn where we got our metaphor inspiration, the quick version of the metaphor is to compare a product capturing a market to an army capturing territory. The invading army will first send in Commando forces to secure a beachhead. Then, once the beachhead is established and high value targets are under control, you can send in the Infantry to exploit the the opportunity and take over the rest of the territory. When control over the territory is established, you can send in Police to keep the peace. To draw the comparison, “territory” is the new product landscape itself. First, you establish a way into the market by selectively solving the highest value problems in the product space. Then, with your first visionary customers happy, you can roll out more product features to bring in the early majority and start building out market share. As you gain dominance, you can focus product development more on keeping the existing market happy and building scale.

This has enabled us to rethink the role that we want our Product and Engineering teams to have while developing new products, as well as while sustaining our established core products. We expect different behaviors out of Commandos than we do the Police. Commando Devs and PMs should be ready to react quickly and make trade-offs to get the high value targets as quickly as possible. A new product could fail in these early stages, and we don’t want to be building out the whole product just to learn that the market isn’t interested. Moreover, what we learn building out the early product may help us to “pivot” and focus in a new product direction.

We were able to put a frame of reference around our previous product experience. We were an Infantry organization. We had focused on high efficiency, smooth logistics, and regular pace to keep our product expansion in order. By contrast, with our focus on new products, we need to react quickly (and likely erratically) to take advantage of market opportunities when they arise.

See Part 2 in the series about the trade-offs we have made and how we have been “lean”.