“If you don’t know where you’re going,
any road will take you there.”
Whether a new product initiative, cost management program, performance improvement project, or other plans, if your team does not start with a visceral vision of target customer and business impacts, they will wander toward blurry targets and produce equally blurry results.
Adapting a technique from Amazon: “Working Backwards”, can sharpen the team’s focus for their new initiative by spelling out in tangible, real-world detail just what impact the initiative will have. It works by requiring the team to write an explicit and detailed future press release announcing the results of the initiative BEFORE they start any work. Yes, a press release.
Putting it Into Action
Let’s take the example of a new product initiative. Before requirements are written, before design begins, even before all the research is complete, the team writes the press release that will announce to the world the introduction of the product they have in mind. This press release declares in no uncertain terms how current solutions fail, how the new product is delighting customers well beyond their expectations, and the important impact it is having on customer outcomes, partners, and the company’s own performance.
This future press release follows a format typical of PRs:
- Heading — A single sentence announcing the product and its core value proposition.
- Dateline – The specific date on which the release will go out.
- Sub-Heading — Describe who the market for the product is and what most makes the solution interesting to that market. (Also a single sentence.)
- Summary — A one-paragraph summary of the product and its benefits. Assume the reader will not read anything else, so this must be concise and impactful.
- Problem — Describe the problem the product solves, written in the customer’s language (not using internal lingo.)
- Solution Details — Describe how the product elegantly and uniquely solves the problem. Detail the benefits to customers, key aspects of how the product functions, its exciting new tech, and its differentiation from other solutions. As appropriate, highlight how it embraces and leverages the company’s partners, establishes new benchmarks in the industry, and achieves specific company goals.
- Quote from Your Company — Create a quote from an actual senior executive in your company. (Here the team imagines in detail what the enthusiastic executive will say about the product, excitement for it, how it fulfills the company’s strategy, fits with its other offerings, changes the landscape of the market, and other factors.)
- Luminary or Partner Quote – Create a quote from a channel partner or supplier organization addressing the importance of the product in meeting their goals, or from an industry thought leader explaining how the product addresses key trends or otherwise impacts the market sector.
- Customer Quote — Create a quote from an actual target customer that describes the powerful benefit the product is providing to them and their excitement with it, offering a powerful testimonial.
- How to Get Started — Describe the specific, easy next steps that potential customers should take to take advantage of the product.
- Key Take-away and Call to Action — In a summary sentence- what’s the key takeaway that readers should remember, and what should they do next?
The range of information addressed in this future press release forces the team to think beyond the cool tech or processes they plan to create, thinking through the initiative’s impact along many dimensions and carefully considering how those impacts should be expressed for effective communication. It requires the team to be clear about the customer and company results to be achieved, and thus establishes important targets for these- what must we be able to say about the initiative and what must others want to say about it if it is to be a success? The PR serves as a target that the team can use to focus its development efforts, always aiming to develop the thing that will fulfill the press release promise.
Of course, the specific format of the PR will vary depending upon the type of initiative being pursued and there is plenty of room to adjust its elements to best suit your business. The full “working backward” approach includes other elements as well, but PR is the key tool that achieves the crucial focusing effect.
When your team clarifies and embraces the future press release’s vision of target customer and business impacts it becomes a benchmark and rallying point that all can share- knowing exactly where they are going.
By: Bill Haines, Partner- Haines-Group
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