I define “Shiny Object Syndrome” as the fusion of new product ideas and strategic plans, but with an ugly twist.

Incorporating thoroughly-vetted new product ideas into your strategic plans is a solid business practice.  Changing your strategic plans every time a new product idea (with little or no vetting) enters the fray is a bad business practice that wreaks havoc on the entire organization.

Back in my practitioner days, I worked for an organization that formed a committee to figure out how to formalize the SNO process so we could be more “opportunistic.”  My boss said it was the equivalent of being in a death spiral and trying to perfect our spin!  At the time, I didn’t realize the brilliance of that analogy.

Why does it happen? What’s the cure?

Root Causes

I see a lot of symptoms.  Some of the more common are:

  • Losing a big competitive deal
  • Cool new technology
  • Lingering growth challenges
  • Market leadership position lost to a new upstart competitor
  • Loose cannons (colleagues) with a lot of political influence
  • …and more recently, executives who fancy themselves as the next Steve Jobs.

But they all point to a single root cause – a perception that the current product pipeline isn’t addressing market needs significant enough to advance the company’s agenda in a differentiating fashion.

Keep in mind, the “syndrome” refers to the constantly changing strategies and development priorities where the most recent “great idea” leapfrogs the previous ideas and over time, you end up with a parking lot of half-baked projects.  Traditional ideation process not included in this discussion!

The Cure

The cure is simple but requires fundamental changes to the way product companies traditionally think.  If you consider a new product to be the result of uncovering a high-value market need that can’t be satisfied by current products, every organization should have a specific function tasked with uncovering the highest value market needs that can be addressed within the realm of their core competencies and own the responsibility of delivering the solutions.

Most people would say that responsibility falls on the shoulders of product managers i.e., it’s their job.  I’d argue all day long that it’s not product managers.  It is however, the responsibility of the product management function.  Allow me to clarify.

There are plenty of product managers and product marketing managers who are more than capable of owning that responsibility.  However, they’re completely encumbered by their day-to-day product responsibilities and are in no position to see broad market dynamics and uncover high-value needs through an unbiased lens.

Back to the fix – take a few of your most capable product professionals and get rid of their product ownership responsibilities.  Focus their efforts on gathering, understanding and socializing market dynamics, business practices and operational processes where your target markets are making strategic investments.  Make them an integral part of your product management function to ensure strategy and execution are connected at the hip.  We call them portfolio managers.  View our White Paper for details.

The net effect on your organization will be a direct feed to your product teams consisting of the highest value market needs.  From there, it’s pretty easy to determine if and where shiny new objects are necessary.

Product teams are then poised to communicate a strategic roadmap in context of high-value market needs and business solutions at a level that transcends products.  As the cure takes effect, it becomes obvious to everyone how shiny new objects become the means to an end.

What’s your cure?