“How do we compare vs. world class?” 

Making a difference by design…

“How do we compare vs. world class with our product development?” 

In talking with an innovation manager, he asked a question that regularly pops up. It typically comes from a Board member or Senior leader.

“How do we stack up vs. world class with our product development?” 

How do you answer that one?

The innovation manager felt both intrigued and frustrated by the question. I get that. There’s something cool and unfair about the question. Cool, because world class is inspiring. Right?

It makes me wonder why the question was asked.  I can guess: most likely it’s because product development can come across as quite a fluid, creative, hard-to-manage and hard-to-control process. Which might make one try to get a ‘peg in the ground’ and at least have something to compare it against to see how we’re doing and if we’re improving.

To me the question is a bit like asking someone who loves to go for a regular jog how they stack up vs. an Olympic marathon runner. It’s the wrong question. I’m not in that game, comparing me to the Kenyans doesn’t make sense. It’s a question that just confuses and frustrates.

Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I behave. 
If you measure me in an illogical way…     
do not complain about illogical behavior…
– Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt

It’s different of course when you are seriously trying to get to Olympic level. Ask the high school kid who just won a scholarship with his running and he’ll tell you exactly what his times are, how that stacks up vs. the best in NZ and vs. the best in the world. He can name the best in the world and he probably has met some of the best New Zealand’s best runners.

When you’re on that journey it makes sense to learn from the best, to surround yourself with them and learn their tips & tricks.

Can you name the best NZ product development companies? Those that are the best in the world?

And that’s the difference: when you’re serious about the journey, you’ll know your data and you’ll know who the best are and how you compare. Until then, there’s no point comparing vs. world class. You need something else to measure your progress against.

So, first step: decide as a company, are you on that journey? Are you a regular jogger or an aspiring Olympian, or somewhere in between?

Set the goal: Where does your business want to be in 3 or 5 years from now? How will new products help you to get there?
Which projects do you need? Which ones can you deliver this year?
Track your progress every quarter, see how you’re performing. Learn.

And if you, as a team, decide you do want to get better at product development, work out what you can do to reach your goals faster and with better solutions.

Because it’s not about being the best, it’s about continuously getting better. Always improving, learning!

The best are not measuring against world class. They’re measuring how much they’re improving.

Consider Sir Peter Blake, who was constantly asking himself:

Have I done everything I can to make this boat go faster?
– Sir Peter Blake

You can learn faster when you hang out with the best. Which is why in martial arts you learn from the black belts.
But set your own goal, understand the mindset of the best, then decide if that is the journey you want to be on. Are you a happy jogger, or an aspiring Olympian, or somewhere in between?

Decide is the first step.
Next is practice. Practice at the right level.

So next time you get asked the question of ‘how do we compare’, here are some options:

  • Make it go away: put your head in sand, mumble something, wait for them to forget not so strong.
  • Flip the question: ask why they’re asking, what are they trying to achieve? – learn!
  • Take the inspiration: Wow, are we on a journey to world class? How cool! – a tad sarcastic, but creates the opportunity to ask: What journey are we on? 
  • Give a short & sweet answer: we don’t stack up well – we need help to improve. – clever.
  • Grab the opportunity: It’s not fair to compare vs. world class. We can compare vs. our own goals, then decide as a team, if we want to improve. Let’s work out our goals and innovation strategy. – Team action!

Let’s design for the better!

Onwards & upwards,


Feel free to: 

(1) Set up a time to talk, give me a call, send an email or book a time with me here.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

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(4) Connect with me on LinkedIn, you’ll also find me regularly posting there.

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