Good To Great Product Development

Product Development

How to apply Good to Great principles in new product development?

Have you read Jim Collins’s bestseller Good To Great. I do not hear much about this book these days, some of the companies in the book are not even existing today. Yet, the principles explained are eternal and invaluable in the age of internet2.0. I picked up the book recently and was as appreciative of it as I was over a decade ago. These days I spend a lot of time thinking about how technology and hardware product development can be better. Hence, I could not help draw the parallels in how Good to great principles apply to engineers and technologists trying to commercialize an idea or innovation.

The core characteristics of good to great companies were disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action. You can transform your startup or product development by applying these principles. Commercializing a new product is difficult, teetering on high risk, and always short on resources and funds. The pitfalls are innumerable and chances of success meager. Applying the principles of disciplined execution can become competitive advantage or core strength of successful teams. Below is a more detailed discussion of the importance of the right team and right planning and right acts.

Disciplined people

Get the right people on the bus and wrong people off the bus

Disciplined people are by far the most important requirement for success. It is easy to see why – right people put the other two principles to practice. The right people are not motivated by money or reward but they are passionate about the cause a company or product stands for. They are persistent in achieving their objectives and are not easily put off by hurdles. They are also extremely humble and put the team before themselves. They share credit and are quick to take blame. As you can tell they are not easy to find.

Disciplined leaders are likely to bring right people on the team. Great leaders say it is better to wait for the right person than to hire quickly to fill a need. They also hire for a person’s strengths and character rather than education or skills. Hire for right attitude not accomplishments. Effective teams have passionate debates, yet it is not personal. There are no ego’s involved or anybody’s sensibility hurt. Equally important as having the right people on board is removing the wrong people. It takes only one bad apple to ruin a pie. Never assume you can develop people’s character or change attitudes. That is not your job, you have to succeed in execution.

Disciplined Thought:

Confront the brutal facts

New product development is hard. Cut through the smoke and mirrors and face the brutal facts head along. Get to the bottom of issues by leading with questions. Engage in honest dialog and debate. Conduct autopsies without blame. Cautious optimism and unwavering faith in the end game powers disciplined teams with stoic endurance to persist through hard times.

Attaining nirvana in thinking

There are three questions, the answers to which reveal the soul of a successful company. The questions are simple but the answers are not. Only teams with great self-realization, can realize the truth. These questions are;

  1. What you are deeply passionate about?
  2. What you can be best in the world?
  3. What drives your economic engine?

It is not what you want, or should be best at but it is what you “can” be best in the world and are passionate about. The third is probably the only one that needs more explanation. If you drive your execution with a complex set of KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) it is likely due to lack in clarity of thought. Identify a simple key metric that will drive growth. It could be like profit/x, time spent on site/x  (where x is a day, week, person, or customer etc.) and then systematically work increasing things that enhance this metric and removing things that decrease this metric. The selection of this metric is not easy or trivial. Experiment, learn and adjust till you identify your key metric that drives growth, and then ferociously make it your most important goal.

Disciplined Action:

Inculcate the habit of focusing on what is important Vs urgent

Think of the answers to above as three circles of excellence. Inculcate the culture of always working with in the three circles of excellence. Give people freedom and responsibility within the three circles and they will go extreme lengths to full fil their responsibilities. The three circles helps you focus on what is important, but also create a “stop doing list” of things that lead you outside the circles.

Technology Accelerators

Use technology when it makes sense. Smart teams are always on the cutting edge of technology when it complements the three circles of excellence. Do not use technology for the sake of technology. Set your execution in movement in the right direction and use technology to accelerate it. Technology cannot create the initial push and direction.

The Fly Wheel And The Doom Loop

When you hear stories of an unknown startup raising millions, it is normal reaction to say but I have a better mouse trap, it is unfair that I am bootstrapping. While this thinking is normal, it leads to the doom loop. There are no magic bullets, don’t go looking for quick salvation. Think of your execution as a large flywheel and start moving it one cog at a time. With a lot of effort and hardship it wills start moving slowly. By this time you refine the definition of your three circles and all effort is making the flywheel go faster and faster. And then the flywheel reaches breakthrough momentum turning very fast almost on its own. The moment of transition is subtle that teams only realize it in hindsight after achieving huge success.


I am reading the book after a decade and I have to say it must have been in the back of head and influenced me in many ways. After many years of frustration due to lack good project management tools for new product development (engineering hardware), I set about working on a tool that will help engineers and technologists. I am glad to see that Entroids will help teams implement many principles in Good To Great.

How Entroids Helps Disciplined Action:

  • It inculcates the habit of focusing on what is important.
  • It elegantly incorporates the use of technology to reduce the cognitive load on people, freeing them up to do more things within the three circles.
  • It provides a framework to experiment, learn and refine your threes circles of excellence.

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