Have you ever felt the feelings of being disconnected? Maybe from a loved one. Maybe from work. Maybe from yourself.
I have. I do.
Well, not disconnected in all areas. Or maybe … not sure; kind of the topic that inspired me to bang away at my keyboard for a bit in a “stream of consciousness” writing exercise.
For months now, I have had this feeling. It has been difficult for me to describe this feeling to others. I have been unsuccessful in finding the words that appropriately and accurately describe the feeling. Honestly, I think I just need to talk out loud to a loved one (I know who) in an out loud stream of consciousness about this too. I hope to do so sometime within the next day or two.
And I am fortunate that just a bit ago today, I had a moment of extreme clarity, in a word that I think explains my feelings, at least to me. That word is “disconnected”.
Allow me to elaborate.
Many years ago, I had this idea for a software product that I believed would help medical device professionals. Eventually, I connected with others who appreciated this vision, and we started a company. Soon thereafter, the product vision I had became a product reality. Fast forward many years later: The product has been implemented at hundreds of companies across the globe and has forever and positively changed and influenced. We built a solution that solves a real problem and addresses a real need for medical device product developers.
After that, we expanded our product vision and roadmap, influenced by other contributors added to the team. While some of the new workflows and features seemed to have a place, I personally did not resonate as much with those features. Had I lived the “pain” that these additional features solved? Yes, very much so. I just didn’t have the passion in these areas. Also, it felt like those features were more of “me too” and playing catch up with some of the other software products that were already on the market.
To me, the real fun is envisioning new solutions that do not exist.
And once those have been realized, how can we continue to iterate and evolve and improve upon this? How can we continue to strengthen our position of strength?
We made a meaningful mark and established a meaningful presence in solving a previously unmet need. As our product evolved, it felt as though we migrated away from this position and became more of a me too, commodity type of product offering. It felt like we were starting to blend into the woodwork and become another choice in a field of dozens of options.
As the the product evolved, it felt like we abandoned our core. Because we did not iterate and evolve our strengths. We moved on to develop other things that, in my strong opinion, were just not all that innovative. And as I am writing, I’m just now beginning to realize consciously that this is when I first started to have feelings of being disconnected.
Several years later, we started to feel pain around this. The customers who adopted our revolutionary solutions were being quite vocal about their displeasure in our product roadmap and decisions and areas of focus. In some cases, they were so disenfranchised that they moved on to something else. Eventually, the pain we were feeling because of this did slightly change our decision-making process. We did decide to re-invest in improving on our initial product offering. Or least with part of it. (Today, it feels like we have truly abandoned arguably one of the most meaningful, revolutionary, and impactful product development related workflows. It has not really been improved upon in over six years. Yes, it is slated for an overhaul but not until 2022.)
I can go on and on about this, and maybe there is personal value in doing so at some point. For now, let me get back to this current present moment.
The company continued to grow. We continued to add key resources and expertise in a variety of business areas. We shored up some key areas of the business and became performance based in those parts of the business.
Yet our industry leadership in products and innovation languished. And today, the rest of the business is really feeling this. To be blunt, our internal product development has a ways to go to be considered performance-based. Yeah, I get the perspectives shared from the leadership. Product development is very hard. It is very challenging to be predictable and to develop a high quality, meaningful product against a timeline.
Except that I also don’t get it at the same time. Why not? I spent a good part of my career, especially the most formative years, as a product development engineer and project manager. My management gave me the project due date before the project started on nearly every single project that I was assigned to lead. My #1 job was to make that a reality. Or at least assess the possibilities of it becoming a reality. I was charged with building out a schedule and plan to make it happen. And if I discovered reasons why that date was not feasible, my job was to communicate what was feasible and to establish mitigation plans and strategies.
New product development and the resulting products that are the outcome are the lifeblood of a successful and innovative company. New products directly contribute to top line growth. When new products languish or are not coming out of the product development pipeline, growth can plateau.
Interestingly, and being self critical, I was the one who decided to become disconnected from our products and development efforts. I can argue and justify that I did so for the greater good of the company. That I did so to get out of the way of the new team members. And so on and so on.
And with today’s moment of clarity, me being so disconnected is not helping the company.