This is Jill VanDewoestine with another business innovation book review for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' Blog.
Eli Goldratt's The Goal is a classic in the business literature canon, but at first glance it has little to say to technical marketers. After all, the story hinges on a management team's efforts to turn around a failing factory through use of the Theory of Constraints (TOC). The books' sole marketing character is presented as competent, but not a strategic thinker or a driver of change. TOC, however, is highly useful for technology marketers in several ways.
Value Chain Engineering
Greatly simplified, TOC requires that one identify and exploit bottlenecks in a prodution system in order to increase throughput and reduce inventory & operating expense. The most obvious way that TOC can be applied to technology marketing is to look at the entire value network as one would look at a single factory. Identifying and exploiting the constraints in a value network will increase the demand for your product. This sounds simple, but requires you to understand deeply the value network's structure, as well as the leverage points you have to influence value network members to change their behavior. If your product is early in the value network, you may need to enlist companies closer to the end user to exert power on the entities in between.
Another way TOC can be used by technical marketers is to view bottlenecks in a metaphorical sense. In your product's value network, where are the bottlenecks to adoption? Is it a standards committee that must approve your products specifications? Is it a dominant customer with unique requirements? The Goal makes the case that every other aspect of the process should be subordinated to dealing with the constraint. In the case of a plant, it makes no sense for unconstrained resources to produce more than the constraint can process, no matter how "efficient" that seems. If your product development team comes across a bottleneck in your value network, the team must do everything it can to address the bottleneck, because time spent on other matters does not result in forward progress. For example, a team could decide to design branding materials in parallel with validating critical customer requirements. That might seem efficient, but any delay in clearing a constraint increases the risk that the product will fail. That's not to say that a team should never work on several objectives in parallel, but make sure that those objectives are addressing system constraints.
Technology Adoption Inertia
Finally, TOC points out the potential for intertia to create constraints. Inertia is the enemy of technology marketing professionals because, by definition, new technology products need to overcome some sort of inertia to gain a market. A customer may get improved results from a new product, but intertia to change will keep them from going further. The Goal proposes that every management challenge is about figuring out what should be changed, to what should it change, and how should it change. Figuring out the answers to those questions can be done best by using the Socratic method with those who will be the most impacted by change. As technology marketers, we are taught to develop value props and provide detailed marketing pitches based on them. But maybe we are better off asking questions of our customers and listening closely to the answers. In that way we can uncover the true value our customer is looking for, and design products that create that value. In that way we can lay the groundwork for change, and help our customers overcome inertia to adopting our products. And in that way, both our firms and our customers can strive for
The Goal: making money.