i need a reality check

stabbed in the back – what to do when you lose internal support for your product*? – part I

Posted in marketing, Product by josh duncan on January 11, 2009

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(*In order to protect the innocents, names and stuff has been changed)

To make a (very, very) long story short, I once had a very tough experience with a product of mine.  The product had been in development for almost a year and due to its controversial nature, had had to go through several executive reviews before getting final sign off.  These reviews were excruciatingly painful, but at the end of the day, they helped us really refine our strategy and internal communications.

During these meetings we covered:

  • Market conditions and growth trends
  • Competitor offerings and positioning
  • Marketing research (global conjoint and focus groups)
  • Product features, costs, and schedule
  • Sales forecasts (signed off by sales) along with rev/margins

It was a solid presentation (if I do say so myself) and it was a huge relief after the final review to hear we got the go ahead.  After all the this, I figured it was time to get back to actually working on delivering the product.

When it was time for us to start occurring internal charges, I started hearing rumblings that finance had concern.  Did I worry?  Nah, I had executive sign-off.  What could there be to worry about?  And then, everything came to a grinding halt.  Finance refused to approve the purchase orders since the risk was to high.  Without this approval, there was no moving forward.

Went went wrong?  How could this have happened after all the executive reviews we went through?  What do we do now?  So, before I tell you what I did, would like to hear some thoughts out there from other product managers on how they would have handled it?  Did I mention that if we were unable to get these orders approved we would most likely have to scrap the project?

What to do when you lose internal support for your product?

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4 Responses

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  1. Stewart Rogers said, on January 12, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Reduce the risk? 🙂 It seems like your corporate business drivers are not well defined because clearly the finance team is not on the same page as the rest of the teams. This might be something you want to address with your executives. Next plan, can you adjust the scope of the project to reduce the risk? Are your risks sufficiently planned for? I see no reason to quit here and one more hurdle of support to overcome should not discourage you.
    Stewart

  2. josh said, on January 12, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Stewart,

    The executive alignment was not there at all. Unfortunately, this is kind of disconnect was really hard to anticipate.

    You are spot on with your recommendation. I will update with part II shortly, but it really does come down to managing risks.

    Thanks,

    Josh

  3. Larry McKeogh said, on January 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Nearly had a similar type of situation for my last product introduction. It wasn’t helping that the economy was in the early stages of a melt down. Fortunately, I happened to partner up with an ex-finance person. While I was working the engineering and management teams she was guiding the ROI paperwork with the finance folks.

    On both ends, by gathering concerns early in the process we were able to tailor the product review to address each group’s concerns. Soliciting and incorporating their input we were able to show them that they were heard and that we would be able to cover the questions.

    Required a ton of extra leg work but was ultimately what was needed. If I had not gotten the finance guidance though it was game over. (more so than Sr. mgmt since they, finance, didn’t care about the technical ramifications, just the cost)

  4. Larry McKeogh said, on January 13, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Reading the comments, I have seen executives tuck their tail and capitulate because a finance person says you cannot do that. The not-so-recent changes to auditing and accounting rules (Sarbanes-Oxley) have given finance a veto seat at the executive table. If they, finance, does not like it they say no. Even if there is Billions in the bank.

    It is stakeholder management. Unfortunately, everyone wants to be a gatekeeper. Creating the impression that the gate keepers had input they will line up to hold the door for the project. Sounds easy, but we all know what the real world is like.


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