The Susan Goebel Hypothesis: Bringing Structure to Startup Chaos Helps Teams Develop Breakthrough Growth

Susan Goebel (GO-bull) is a 20 year veteran at bringing products to market around the world. This leader in the field of bioscience research and product development uncovers global market opportunities and partnerships to help inventors and entrepreneurs bring ideas to fruition, with experience in biotech, pharma, and software development. In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we talk about the differences between product management in pharma versus tech and what she’s learned along the way.

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Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Susan Goebel Hypothesis: Bringing Structure to Startup Chaos Helps Teams Develop Breakthrough GrowthWhat are the differences between pharma and software from a product management and product development perspective? What skills have carried over into software? What are the core concepts that stay the same and what are the differences in execution? How does age play a part in those differences? How are the timelines different? What is it like to work your way up in a pharma context? How does that compare to digital marketing?

What determines the speed at which you can move in product development? What was the transition like from pharma to software? What is the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)? What does EOS look like in practice? What does the “bomb squad” do on Susan’s team?

How does Susan coach teams through managing stakeholders? What habits does Susan build in her team to sort through ideas? What can we learn from ISS missions? How do you create an environment where your team is empowered? How do you deal with a team member with a good idea that can’t be done at the present moment?

How do you make sure that your team feels heard? How do you deal with disconnects within your team? What are the challenges of how young people in software development are? How do you work through issues in your team? How do you make management decisions data-driven?

Quotes From This Episode

“Once you get to a certain point, after you’ve had months and months of this hyper-growth, then things start to either hit a glass ceiling or they level out, and you have to bring structure to the chaos in order to move forward.” – Susan Goebel

“In a chaotic startup everybody’s so busy doing, they forget to just take their time. It’s valuable to take a step back and go, ‘Do I have the data? Do I have KPIs? Do I have metrics? Am I using the right metrics, the leading metrics, the lagging metrics? Am I using vanity metrics?'” – Susan Goebel

“We all communicate with others the way we think, and sometimes we need to take that moment to communicate with them on the way they need to be heard, not the other way around. Not the way I want to be communicated to.” – Susan Goebel


Holly: Hi, and welcome to the Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations with the people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science. All right. Well, welcome to the Product Science Podcast. My guest today is Susan Goebel. Susan, I’m excited to have you on, especially because before working with digital companies, you’ve worked in pharma, and as my listeners know, I’m sure we were … I’m all about the science side of things. Can we start with just a little bit of a background? So what you do, and how you got there.
Susan: Sure thing, and thank you very much for inviting me on the podcast. It’s very exciting to be here. I’m a pretty nontraditional pathway person, as it turns out. Graduated with science degree. That’s awesome. Went into biology and the field of pharma in particular, and I started out in the veterinary field, developing products, and my goodness, from a digital perspective to pharma, totally different worlds from a product management product development perspective. I’m sure we’re going to talk about this more, which is exciting.
Susan: So I’ve been very blessed over the course of the last 20 years, to move from the veterinary field to the human health field to … There’s a place in between that lovingly known as the one health field, which is really the interaction between the veterinary and the animal health world and the human health world. So diseases or things that are not an issue for the animals, but they pass it on to us people, and all of a sudden we have illnesses that are a problem, and so we have to come up with some creative solution or product to address that for the protection of the people. Usually it’s delivered at the animal phase though.
Susan: Then I moved away from the pharma world a little bit from being inside the pharma business to being a consultant with the pharma business, and I still do that. Then moving into having other clients because really my focus has been from concept to commercialization. One of my big clients right now is in the digital marketing product space, and it’s a wild ride. It is such a cool space. It moves at such a different pace, and you get to talk to so many more unique individuals when you really contrast pharma and digital marketing and products. Wow. Night and day. In a lot of ways, except that the core concepts tend to be the same, we just execute on them very differently.
Holly: Yes. Absolutely. That resonates for me. I moved into specifically the ad tech part, which is digital marketing tech part of the tech space, not too long after having been in environmental remediation. I think it felt very similar in terms of just the pace in environmental remediation is a completely different game. The people you see, the whole thing, it’s just very, very different. I know in the pre chat, you and I were talking about this a little bit. I think this might resonate as well. Just the culture and the people too, the people in the workspaces, are so much more mature and skew older in some of these longer standing industries. Then you go into the startup and it’s full of young people.
Susan: It’s so true, and it’s interesting the demographics that that really builds around, because I walk in in a pharma world where I am still the youngest person in the room and often only one or two women in the room compared to really the digital space where I’m the grandma, which is funny. So I’m making references perhaps in my jokes where these guys are giving me completely blank stares because they have no idea. They’re not old enough to have either seen that TV show or that movie, and they’re emerging leaders, which means that they really haven’t had the work life experience yet, as brilliant as they are.
Susan: It’s fascinating to have that speed that they come in with such enthusiasm compared to the pharma world. I know I’ll use that a lot here. Where a project, you come in and you go, “I’m going to develop this drug or device for some cat problem or a horse problem,” and you’re going, “okay, now I’m going to go from a project management perspective. Now let’s look at this from a regulatory start to stop fully on the market. That’s going to be about … Oh wait. A couple billion dollars and a decade.”
Susan: Well, I mean, that doesn’t work in the digital marketing space. [inaudible] That’s unheard of, right? Digital marketing space, you’re sitting there with, “Okay, on Monday I came up with a plan for a product, and I’m going to execute on this, and by Wednesday I’m going to have my minimum viable product out there, and I’m going to have the first iteration and feedback by Friday.” I don’t mind, as a youngster, working at that peak, at that pace and that speed, and I consume the information very differently than in the pharma world, and I don’t mean to say that the pharma world is made up with dinosaurs, because there are a lot of really great people. It just takes a lot longer for them to emerge as leaders compared to the bench top scientists.
Holly: Tell us a little bit more about that, because that’s going to be fairly unknown to a lot of our listeners. Paint a picture a little bit of what was it like transitioning to the workplace, and getting your foot in in that world, and how do they tell us about what kind of projects you were doing, and what that was like.
Susan: It’s interesting, because when I went into the organizations, I started out just as a bench top scientist. Yap. You’re just the lab tech, you’re just doing this. You come in and you’re washing dishes. I mean, it’s not exciting. It is key to the development of the product that things don’t get cross contaminated, but you’re just the low man on the totem pole. You slowly work your way up, and I know that this is going to sound slow for some of the people listening, but it’s very fast paced for the pharma world. I usually change roles with every three to six months, moving up the ladder and developing and getting different experience and expertise.
Susan: That’s really fast for pharma. You would normally see somebody sit in a role for five to seven years. Digital marketing, when I look at that sort of a business in contrast, you have products come in and you have life cycles go through, and by the time five or seven years goes by, the company could have been sold and acquired by somebody else. I mean, the whole thing has shifted and changed, and technology shifts and change at such a great pace compared to the evolution of human biology or animal biology doesn’t really change that much.
Susan: Although, antimicrobial resistance has certainly forced an awful lot of people developing products to become a lot more innovative faster, because they will, in terms of little bacteria, they evolve really quick. So you can sit there, and I’ve seen this on YouTube where they have these long gels and they’ve put bacteria on the gels and they’ve let the bacteria go and they’ll have lines on each of the gels at evenly paced amount. So every one foot, for instance, and you can see the bacteria consume the gel and grow, and they hit the line, and when they hit the line, they stop because they’ve hit that line is usually an antibiotic of some sort.
Susan: Then all of a sudden, you’ll see it spurt to the other side, and then it will go again and it will be incredibly fast. I saw one go through seven of these different evolutions within a … It was a fast paced video, so it was about 10 minutes. Really it was a couple of days, but in the life cycle of a human, you’d be looking at it from 10,000 to 15,000 years of evolution. So the pace at which you need to come up with a new drug or a new product in order to address this or to get creative, and I’ll tell you a story about that in a minute, really is quickening compared to what it used to be. Certainly nowhere near the days or weeks that it would take in terms of the digital product space.
Holly: That’s still really fast though. I can imagine seven evolutions of the microbes in just a few days, and then knowing that you’ve got to go through all the regulatory things to put drugs out on the market. That sounds very challenging. So tell us more about how you’ve been through that.
Susan: So it’s really a fascinating process, and we’ve got a gentleman … For instance, E. coli 157 is a pathogen. It’s a nasty bacteria. It’s in the cattle gut. It does not harm the cow, but if it’s shed into the environment, out of the backend of the cow and it gets into the food or the water or the environment and we touch it, it only takes about eight bacteria to make us sick and sick to the point where we are almost terminal. In a lot of cases, if you’re under five, it is terminal. If you’re in the elderly age, you’re also terminal.
Susan: So it’s really bad for us, not bad for the cow. It’s a microbe though, and it evolved. 40 years ago, that microbe didn’t exist. It just plain wasn’t there. So, okay, how do you address something that has a great deal of ability to evolve at a past pace? Get something to the market where you can have an impact, knowing that you’ve got to, right behind it, have that second generation product coming in. So this is where one health comes in as a concept because this is the perfect case study for, we developed a product, it was a vaccine you give to an animal so that it no longer shed the organism into the environment. So rather than having one bacteria being consumed by the cow as they’re grazing along in the field, and having a million come out the other end, now you have one coming in and one going out.
Susan: So you don’t have that environmental load that exists knowing of course that you’re going to have continual evolution because even as we worked on the product and you have all this long period of time where you’re doing this, we saw seven more nano 157 E. colis, but they’re still … they’re called the S techs, for the type of the toxin that they produce that kills us, and they came up in prevalence as we are trying to combat the first one. So we’ve got the first one, okay, we’ve got a bit of a solution but now we’ve got seven more coming. What do you do? How do you address this in a way that’s really going to make an impact?
Holly: Yeah. It sounds a bit like digital security, as well. There’s certainly a lot of parts of the world, where, even in the digital space, people are worrying with that kind of thing. Like, “Okay, we squash that vulnerability or that … we’re protected against that kind of attack,” then someone comes up with a new kind and they’ve got to do that too. Both sides of the ecosystem are constantly evolving and battling.
Susan: That’s a perfect analogy. I was watching a show on Netflix on the weekend about Cambridge Analytica, and before that I’d watched one on Snowden, and I was sitting there going, “Wow, where does this end, and how do you actually protect yourself from all of these different possible sources where information could get leaked, in the digital age, knowing that as soon as you close that one door, somebody’s going to go under the fence? How do you fix that?” The speed at which you need, from a digital product solution, to come up with that is so quick.
Holly: Yeah. In the space that you were in in pharma, one of the things that I think is interesting about it is the regulatory hurdles and the environment. Because I know I definitely talk with people in technology jobs that face regulatory hurdles and struggle with it, and maybe chafe or complain about it, and I’m curious what it was like for you in pharma and how that was worked with.
Susan: The regulatory folks were really good. They’re not there … I know a lot of people when they talk regulatory and they hear regulatory, they go, “I don’t want to go and touch that with a 10 foot pole.” Right? But they’re not there to be your gatekeeper and say, “You can’t come in.” They’re there to help you and go, “Okay, so you have this product. This product unfortunately, when you’re talking about one health, doesn’t actually fit in our 50 or 60 year old guidelines.” So we have to get creative at how things evolve, and we need to move and help usher this forward.
Susan: So they were actually really helpful at saying it needs to be this or it needs to be that here in Canada. I will say that it was far more challenging in the US for this perspective because there is a very distinct separation between the USDA and the FDA. Because you are in this one health space and it touches both animals and humans, there is a little bit of, “Well, no, this is mine. No, this is mine, or I don’t want it.” It’s a hot potato. Right? Because when you have an outbreak, all of a sudden, now the funding might flow along with this, so which regulatory agency gets it, gets the funding. When it’s not in the news, then they don’t get the funding. It’s the hot potato.
Susan: Nah, you can go to that agency. That’s okay. In Europe, it was an entirely different beast. Totally easy to do, from the perspective of getting it through, because their regulations are reviewed. I feel a little bit more with flexibility to understand the evolution of the product and how it has to come to be, and there are far more willing to work with you from an elimination perspective. I felt. Maybe not everybody feels that way.
Holly: What is an elimination perspective?
Susan: That’s a great question. When you have a vaccine, for example, or a product that you’re coming and you bring into market, you can reduce the burden or you can try eliminate the problem. European legislation is more focused on eliminating the problem. So for example, if we have a cattle virus product for viral diseases that are at a certain level, a prevalence over here, so they’re 10% of any herd in any given environment in North America will have this book. We go over to Europe, and we say, “Hey, we have this great product,” and Europe says, “well, we eliminated that 20 years ago.” Their regulations are very different from how we deal with things over here.
Holly: Wow. That is so fascinating. Bear with me for a second. I know this isn’t really our core topic, but why does a bug get eliminated from Europe and still exist over here? What got in the way to eliminating it here or do we think that wasn’t a good plan? Why does that happen?
Susan: European legislation tends to be a lot more advanced than ours in North America, and people won’t want to hear that. Their systems though from an agriculture perspective are more integrated. So when we talk about an integrated system in North America, thinking about poultry would be a good example. So the person who buys the egg, raises the chicken, and then gets the meat to sell to you is the same company. The person that raises the cow … I mean that buys the cow, that then raises the cow, that sends it to a slaughter and become meat and sells the meat and different types of meat, those are such a fragmented industry.
Susan: Everybody’s got to have their margin, and they have no control over who sent them the product that they need for their [inaudible] material. For the chicken, you say, “Okay, if salmonella is a problem, and we know it’s this specific pathogen, here is the solution that we have, and we are going to implement this,” and all of a sudden as a corporation, it’s done. In terms of E. coli 157 from cattle, you say, “Okay, well, that is something that happens in the food chain. So it’s at the last step, and it’s on the cow, which is certainly throughout the chain.” But the person who buys the meat doesn’t have any way to say back to the person who raises the cow, “You need to do this.”
Holly: [crosstalk]
Susan: It’s an extra cost to me with no benefit. I’m going to sell my meat elsewhere.
Holly: Yeah. I find this all extremely fascinating because I do see …I’m very interested in the developing safety mechanisms and regulations for digital work in America and the world, and I think we’ve got … One of the things that we’re seeing is that we don’t have nearly enough collaboration and savviness between the people who make the rules and the people who build the technology, and so it often comes off as not … Well, people often think they’re not good plans or things like that. I went to this forum at Columbia about the digital future and listen to some people really get pretty fiery about GDPR and laws around regulations around the digital and all. I just came away from it like, “Wow, we’ve just begun this conversation. It’s very early.”
Susan: So many different perspectives, and you really need to have buy in for most of them. You have people who are on one end and people who are on the other end of the spectrum, and they’re very unwilling to move. So how do you build that consensus to say, “Well, first of all, can we agree that there’s even an issue here?” So in the example that you were using, it’s a perfect example because what I’ve seen with my other client is that GDPR came into play and all of a sudden now we have to plan for, “Okay, now, how is that going to affect product sales in that region? How are we going to make sure that we are 100% compliant? Well, what if, when we’re doing the marketing, we’ve missed something somewhere in the gazillion of different funnels and ways that people can enter our ecosystem?”
Susan: How do you make sure you are 100% compliant, and what costs? Or do we just pull out from that area, which you don’t want to do? Right? As a digital marketing space, which is the beauty of that which I love so much, is that it’s global, right? The pharma world, you have to fragment it country by country by country. Digital, it’s everywhere, and you can do it just once, and you can do it quickly, once. You just need to make sure that you have a full understanding and appreciation of the guidelines so that you are compliant, and somebody doesn’t go, “Hey, I’ve seen that you used my address, you did not get permission from me at all, and now we’re going to start initiating something that we’ll wind up with quite the fine, or the complaint.”
Holly: I think that’s one of the things that’s beautiful about it, and also tricky, is just it’s so powerful, right? The idea that we can copy information and services and products across the world in an instant and have them available to anybody anywhere, I mean, it’s like something out of a sci-fi, right?
Susan: It is.
Holly: It really is. There’s a lot of amazing things we can do with that, and there’s a lot of crappy things we can do with that. Yeah.
Susan: From a security perspective, some of the people that I’ve spoken to in the science world are dealing with the digital health and the records, and some of these … So we go back to security and the evolution of the products and the processes that they’re using. Right? In some countries like Canada, for instance, it’s much more government-based. So the speed at which you can move depends often on how quickly they are allowed to move from a bureaucratic and administrative perspective.
Susan: Whereas if you have other regions which are much more for-profit based, the flexibility and the innovation that might exist there is a different beast, not better or worse, but your number of stakeholders of course always changes, and what they’re concerned about will change. I’m concerned about my for-profit brand is important. I do not want anybody’s information stolen so that all of a sudden I then lose faith from my customers. They do not have the trust in me that I can protect them. That’s a big deal.
Holly: Yeah. So tell me more about the transition to working with the marketing client, and working in this digital space.
Susan: It was a fun transition, Holly. I’ll say. When I went out on my own, of course, I’ve gone through … I’ve been a co-founder of a company. It’s also in the pharma space and whatnot, and so it’s quite the learning curve and the learning experience. When I decided to step away from that company, because it just wasn’t fulfilling me anymore, and I’m sure many of your listeners can understand that as well, that when you lose that passion, it’s time to move on. So I decided then to go into consulting and work very much focused on the bio-science space concept to commercialization because I’ve been very blessed to see all of the different pieces, whether it’s the manufacturing, or the regulatory, or the project management, or acquisitions and mergers and all of that.
Susan: So it’s a nice skill set to have. The one thing that I learned quite quickly, although I would say not quickly enough, was that I had specifically stayed away from sales skills. I’m having a lot of really great lunches and teas and coffees, but I am not closing a single deal, so I need to fix that. [inaudible] So I went ahead and I got myself some sales skills. In doing that, of course, you then start to enter a whole new ecosystem where really nobody’s in the science realm. Everybody’s doing different things there. What we would call an influencer, for instance. So they’ve got coaching packages or they’ve got whatever. So you connect with these different people, and you’re like, “Oh, would you be able to help me with this?” “Yes, I can help you with that.” So that’s how I tripped into it.
Holly: [inaudible]
Susan: Uh-huh (affirmative) Bit of being a rebel because everybody looked at me and said, “You’re doing what? But you’re a veterinary epidemiologist by your training. What are you doing in there?” That evolution has been a lot of fun because as I become a little bit more involved with the company day by day, month by month, one of the things that I’ve been doing as well is implementing a system called EOS, and so that’s the entrepreneurial operating system. That’s a great way to take an organization that tends to be a bit chaotic at startup, which most do, right?
Susan: You have one person that starts, or a couple of co-founders that start, and then all of a sudden, your product takes off and you’ve got hyper-growth, and you’re going, “Oh my God. I don’t have enough time in my day. I need help,” and so what do you do? Once you get to a certain point, after you’ve had months and months of this hyper-growth, then things start to either hit a glass ceiling or they level out, and you have to bring some level of structure to the chaos in order to break through and move forward from that. That’s the fun part that I’ve been working on now, is really trying to take that chaos and make it something that we can eventually go, “Hey, this’ll be $1 billion company.”
Holly: Yeah, I love that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with … There’s a podcast … Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, has a podcast called Masters of Scale. One of the things he talked about in there is to embrace the chaos, and I just loved that. I thought that’s … I love the chaos because honestly I get bored. I need a certain amount of chaos that needs some deep thinking and complex work to keep me entertained. So tell us more about the entrepreneurs operating system. I know I had come across it in reading, but I’ve never come across a company, until talking to you, where I could actually talk to somebody who was applying it. So tell us a little bit about that.
Susan: Okay. EOS is a system that takes that chaos, brings it to order, but it keeps the values and the core of the company intact and on point. So what do I mean when I say that? We’ve got really several different types of processes, right? You go into an organization and you say, “I need to make sure that I have the right butts in the right seat. Well, how do I do that? How do I make that happen?” So EOS helps with that. You need to have the right structure within the corporation. That’s where you have what’s called an accountability chart.
Susan: Now, in this case, a lot of people would say, “Well, an accountability chart is the same thing as an org chart,” and I certainly said that at the very beginning too, and then I went, “Oh, this is nothing like that.” So it’s not about titles, it’s about functionalities. It’s about the structure of the company to make sure you’re going to hit the goals. Okay, well that makes a lot of sense, and then you build things out in saying, “Well, each person has to have five to seven accountabilities, things that they are responsible for with the health of the team to really implement that vision, that the entrepreneur, the visionary.”
Susan: So you build that out, and now everybody’s very clear on the ship and the structure of the ship. You also have to have the component of the vision. So if you take the vision and you really focus it down on core values, and when I sit there and I say 10 years out, three years out, one year out, “Where am I going to be?” You have to be able to feel that in your core. If you can’t feel it in your core after going through all the processes and the exercises that the EOS would take you through, you haven’t got it yet. Right?
Susan: There’s really key questions. There’s eight of them that they ask when we’re working on the vision, and those key questions will focus you in on who are you serving, who is your client? Making sure that when you have those great … and I know product teams do this. “I found the next best thing since slice bread, it’s the best ever,” and you sit there and you go, “Okay, but does it fit within our sweet spots?” The team we have, this is our defined sweet spot, and sometimes it’s a yes and sometimes it’s a no. That goes into, for us, for our team, we call it the bomb squad.
Susan: So the visionary comes in and he’s got a thousand great ideas, and he comes over to the bomb squad and the bomb squad sifts and sorts with the vision and the document of what the values, and this idea when we measure it up, this works and this one we really can’t resource it yet. It’s a good idea, but we’re going to put it on the shelf for just a minute, and we’re going to focus in on these ideas when we go through growth hacking and when we go through product iteration. So let’s make sure we’ve done a really good job at evaluating our resources. Let’s make sure that we have absolutely everything that we need in order to successfully iterate. Right?
Susan: I find that that is one of the big challenges with the chaotic startup, is everybody’s so busy doing, they forget to just take their time. It really is valuable to take the step back and go, “Do I have the data? Do I have KPIs? Do I have metrics? Am I using the right metrics, the leading metrics, the lagging metrics? Am I using vanity metrics?” That’s really where EOS starts to come in and go, “People, vision, data, processes,” and when that all hits the road, now you’ve got traction.
Holly: Yeah. That has a lot in common with the frameworks that I teach and use. I think when I had come across it, I think I remember reading and thinking it sounded solid. There’s a couple things in there that are really critical. I think listeners of this podcast, if they’ve made it this far through the podcast series, then they probably are big believers in product discovery and figuring out what you should build. Although everybody comes across and has their own moments where they forget to do that and just get excited by the shiny idea or the excitement of the idea.
Holly: But then, if we’re good at what we do, we go from there to stopping and asking ourselves, “How could we prove this wrong? How could we realize if this is actually not the best thing for us to be doing?” I love how you said that it’s not just about what value that thing could provide, but also about how it fits with the sweet spot that both the company and the team have. Maybe you could walk us through, have you coached teams through how to assess and then respond to that stakeholder who’s excited, and tell them that maybe you’re not going to do this yet?
Susan: We always want to be careful when we do that, right?
Holly: Yes.
Susan: Sometimes people talk about usually that’s the CEO or the visionary and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a team member who’s had a really great idea, and they are so passionate and you do not want to dampen that enthusiasm at all. The habit that we have within the teams that I work with are, okay, so we need one person to catch the idea. We need one person who’s going to lead that within the defined team, and who’s in the team will really depend on a project per company basis. Right? In my digital experience, it’s actually the leadership team that does all of the sifting and sorting. In the pharma world, it’s not the leadership team that does the sifting and sorting, they do the final approval. In the pharma world, it will be the team of subject matter experts.
Susan: So you bring it in, and if we talk to those two different teams for a second, it comes in in the digital world, in my experience with my clients, that the idea comes in on day one, the meeting is held on a weekly basis. There’s no ad hoc, so that’s the first rule. No end runs. You can give all the ideas, submit them all, and that’s perfect. But they will all be evaluated on the weekly meeting. No going around that system anymore. So from there, you then go, “Okay, so this new idea, I’m presenting it to the team. I’ve had to do some basic research. I’ve had to ask some questions,” because you better come to the team prepared and you need to know how many resources or the general scope of the project. How long it’s going to take. Is this something that’s an hour or is it something that’s two months? Right?
Susan: Because that will be very different for how we evaluate it. Then we do something called RICE. So your reach, and your impact, and your confidence, and your ability to execute on this. So we put it through a sift and sort process there. One of the great things that I love with that RICE component is that if you’re looking for an end objective that is specific. So for example, if you’re looking to create a modification to your digital product that will increase engagement and retention, you may want something … not just sorting it from the whole RICE component, but you may want to say, “I want something with the highest impact, the highest high score.”
Susan: So you really have to go through figuring out what those processes are for your organization because it’s going to be unique how everybody sifts and sorts and evaluates for them, even though the framework will be the same. Then as we say, “Okay, these are the top three ideas we’re going to implement on this week,” then the plan is made, the resources are granted, and you’ve got to come back with, and I love how you said this because it’s so science, I love it, Hypothesis. Here’s the hypothesis. Okay? When we get the results and this is all done, how do we know if we failed or if we’ve succeeded? So many people that I’ve talked to, they don’t do that last part. They go, “I got a great idea. I’m going to go do it. I did it,” and you’re like, “did it work?” “I don’t know.” Okay.
Holly: Yes.
Susan: That’s a problem. How do you know what to keep, what to kill? Still, if I look at the pharma world, it’s a little bit of a lengthy process, right? So now you’ve got the meeting that happens, and it’s usually once a month, because by the time you have your monthly meeting, and you tell people, “Okay, here’s the product we’re going to develop, here’s the issue we are addressing,” each of the project people need to go back, and they go, “okay, I need to talk to my team because I don’t know if it’s feasible, I don’t know if there’s regulations that will go for this, I don’t know if we have the manufacturing capacity, I don’t know if we even have the in house research expertise.”
Susan: So it comes back on a monthly basis, because of course you are looking at almost a decade to create something, and you say, “Okay, so now, if we’ve said yes to this, it’s one a year, not three a week, not three a day.” The iteration that you have to go through is very different. But you do have to, with both of these, have check-ins. You got to make sure you’re on track. I think somebody said, “The space shuttle is on track about 5% of the time,” but because they have the KPIs and the metrics, they can always do those little course adjustments that put it right on back on track in order to get to the ISS, the International Space Station.
Holly: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. One of the things that stuck with me in the beginning of that is in the digital companies that I’ve worked with, they’re not all the same in terms of where that sifting and sorting happens and how they go through that, right? One of the things that a lot of us talk about in product leadership is creating an environment where your teams are empowered, making sure that they’re measured on what kind of outcome they want to drive, but then letting some of that sifting and sorting actually happen at the team level, because just like in the pharma company where some of that would happen with the subject matter experts, we do see the actual digital team that has to … that should be talking to the customer, talking to the business, and having engineers and knowing what’s feasible.
Holly: They’re essentially your subject matter experts, and so they have the richest information to really make that case. But in a lot of ways, many digital companies are just not as mature in how they operate. Right? So we haven’t yet, as an industry, come together to say, “Oh, this is the best practice and it works better because here’s the data.” A lot of times people think about the visionary founder and think that that founder knows everything and therefore should always be consulted.
Susan: It’s tough when you’re going to have to go back and you’re going to have to say to either the team member that came up with the idea, “Okay, so we’ve looked at it and we think it’s a good idea, but we can’t do it right now,” and I hate to use the word but, “and we’re going to do it later.” Right? We want to continue to empower them to come up with the wonderful ideas, so we also need them to understand in the current ecosystem we have, we only have the resources to do three, and when we raced it out, when we looked at the impact, when we looked at what we wanted to do for the objective, yours was number four.
Susan: So we’re going to come back to it at the next meeting. We have not forgotten about it. We want to make sure that we’re empowering you to come up with more ideas. Just don’t go running around [inaudible] with your head cut off, coming up with ideas, so that we have to go through 5,000 of them. Here’s the thought process we have. So you can do your own sifting and sorting of all those ideas and things that pop into your mind in the day and bring us the best.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I think whether that is happening or not throughout an entire digital company or company that has a digital product, is actually one of the strong indicators of their health as a product led organization. If you walk in and you talk to people, and you go … As a consultant, I’m sure you’ve experienced this. A lot of times we’ll do a lot of interviews to get a sense of how things are working at this company, and just listening to people. Right?
Holly: If you go in and you listen to people and what you’re hearing is no one’s ideas ever get executed, I’m so frustrated, I don’t think they’re hearing mem, they didn’t know, I saw all the problems with that before they came and they didn’t listen and then they built it and then it had those problems. That isn’t an uncommon situation. I’ve seen that many times and it’s not good. We’ve got a fine line to walk.
Susan: Yes. You know that a lot of this comes down to communication. No two people can communicate the same way. We all communicate with others the way we think, and sometimes we need to take that moment to stop and go, “Okay, I need this message to be delivered. I need it to be heard. How do they receive messages best? And so I need to be able to communicate with them on the way they need to be heard, not the other way around. Not the way I want to be communicated to.” Because if you are just simply talking and nobody is understanding you … and I do see this a lot with clients.
Susan: You go in and you talk to a team member A, and team member A has an entirely different message than team member B. You’re going, “Ooh, there’s a bit of a disconnect here. How come I can see it and you can’t see it? Ah, okay. We have an issue to address. It’s around communication. If we can resolve the communication, get everybody on the same page, rolling in the same direction, we’re going to speed up the iterations and the growth.”
Holly: Yeah. Have you had to educate people about that at all? What do you find when you come into a tech startup?
Susan: You’re right, and because … I find it more in a tech startup that I do in the pharma world, and I think it goes back to the emerging leaders in the tech world that I’ve experienced are much younger. They just haven’t had the experiences that a lot of the pharma people I deal with have had because they’re in their 40s, 50s, 60s. So they come out, they’re enthusiastic, but they go through school and school doesn’t really teach you about communication. It doesn’t really teach you about how to be engaged on a product or a project, or how to really schedule your time for productivity.
Susan: Yes, you’re all sitting in your cubicles in the same row. That doesn’t mean that, Johnny, you go over to Suzy constantly and bugger. Suzy is a bit of an introvert or she needs to focus on this for block time in order for her to be productive. I know you, Johnny, like to be the talkative guy and that’s how you process information, but maybe we could find a better outlet for you, because Suzy is getting distracted and now we’re having communication issues and productivity issues.
Holly: Yeah. What would you do? Have you had that sort of situation, and how do you work through it with the two people?
Susan: One on one coaching and communication. It’s fascinating, because EOS is very much about team health. They’re also very much about transparency, and so when you have the data and you can say to the person, “Okay, Johnny, we’re going to sit down and we’re going to talk about this behavior, and here’s three instances.” Now, why three instances? In the EOS system, it’s three instances because the first one, [inaudible] that could be dismissed. The second one, I had a bad day that day. So the first one’s dismissed, the second one’s got an excuse. The third one, now we’re seeing a pattern.
Susan: Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’ve got this amount of time, let’s find a plan together. Yes, I probably already have one in my head, but let’s find a plan together that will work and we’ll reconvene in 30 days. Hopefully, by that point in time, you will have made some modifications and the issue is going to be addressed and the whole team will support you in that in the following way. So you need to talk about it from a team perspective as well. So the one on one is important, the team is important.
Susan: Then as long as everybody comes back in 30 days and you’re looking at the metrics again, right? Not subjective, we really needed to be data-driven, then you know where you’re going. Frankly, if in the EOS world, if you find that people do not live your core values after you go through the process of enumerating what those core values are, and the people don’t get it, want it and can do it, after a couple of those sessions, they’re not the right fit. Let’s help them move on.
Holly: I had that conversation recently … Well, a conversation about that recently where that’s also a sign that I do come across. Companies that are too slow to let go, and just let it fester. You do have to realize that someone who’s struggling in your environment doesn’t mean that you’re doing them a favor by keeping them around.
Susan: And that is so tough, because if you’re bringing this system in, if you’re bringing these conversations and consultants in, and the people who’ve been around and they’ve been a problem for years, now it’s been a really big issue. Well first of all, how much has that cost you, in time, in speed, in actual revenue, in some cases? Top Grading is a great example of a book I would highly recommend people to read. Top Grading. It really talks about how to make sure you’ve got the right person in the seat from the very beginning.
Susan: One of my clients likes to use a system called culture index, and that’s a fun one. We call it the dots, and so really making sure that you can dial in on, “Do you fit? Do you have the skills? Do you want to do it?” Because some people, they’re just want the job, and they don’t want to do it. They don’t feel the passion. But that really creates disharmony within the team. Now you’ve got a team member you might like personally, but from a functional perspective, it’s not a good fit. Then you’re going to ask, “Is it a fit within the organization? Yes or no? Is it that you have another seat? It’s just not the right seat.”
Susan: So when you’re looking at people issues, there’s a couple of different things, as the leader, the team leader, and the leader of the organization, right? Speaking to your CEOs here, that you really need to evaluate. Do I have the right person on the team in the wrong seat, or do I have the wrong person on the team?
Holly: Yeah. That sounds good. I will check out that book.
Susan: It was good. It was a good read.
Holly: Good. I don’t know if you feel like we’ve covered this in the other topics, but I’m curious what was most surprising to you transitioning into tech after having a success in pharma. What surprised you in the tech world?
Susan: I’m going to go with being the old person in the room.
Holly: Yeah.
Susan: [inaudible] We work as a virtual organization, right? So I do this … all of my clients are virtual clients. This one organization, when I went to meet with them, there’s a team that started out as 12, and now it’s at 23, and I walk into the room and the first thing I do is meet the first three people who are 6’3, and I’m 5’4. Okay, you’re really tall. Then I’m looking around the room as I have my cup of tea, and I’m sipping it and I’m like, “Wow, I think I’m the grandma.” They’re talking about this guy over here who they’re just waiting for him to get out of high school.
Holly: Whoa!
Susan: Okay. I’m really not that old. But I’m almost 10 years older than the rest of that team was. So there was a guy on YouTube that I came across. He was calling himself the Gen Y Guy. Okay, so I’m a Gen Xer, I’m an old girl. I got it. All of these guys are either millennials or they’re Gen Ys, and I’m looking at that going, “I need to figure out how to communicate properly with them.” So there’s this 20 minute video of the Gen Y Guy explaining the key pieces with his own cohort for the demographics.
Susan: He’s talking about there, and he’s like, “Yeah, please finish this sentence. The current … the Gen Ys and the millennials, they are tech …” And what do people mostly say? Savvy. He says, “No, I’m sorry. They’re tech dependent. They’re not tech savvy.” Okay. Well, I’ve seen that a lot of time in my daughter’s classroom, when the smart board goes down and the teacher say, “I don’t know how to teach the rest of the class,” and I’m like, “whoa. You’re in grade one, man. How is that possible?”
Holly: Are you serious that happened?
Susan: It did. I was sitting there volunteering that day going, “Oh, I know I’m old when.” So then-
Holly: Yes.
Susan: [crosstalk] okay. Then they were referring to a ditto machine, and yes, as a small child, I was for a couple of years, I did see the ditto machine. I know what they were talking about, but he was saying, “We’d send you a text, and in that text, there’s lots of little emojis and there are acronyms, and you send us back a note, in cursive.” I don’t know what that is. I looked at that, and I was talking to some of the people on the various productivity apps that we use, whether it’s Slack or Telegram or whatever it is. The difference in how they communicate with these short form, emojis, and … I don’t even know if it’s a GIF or GIF. I’m sorry. I’ve never had anybody actually say the word. I just know how to spell it.
Holly: Oh, I’ve heard people say it both ways.
Susan: Okay. I may not be totally lost, and I write back and I’m in full sentences, because that’s how I communicated. So the Gen Y Guy was saying, “So when you want one of us, the millennials or the Gen Ys to really speak to you and be productive, you have to talk to us about being outcome-driven. There’s seven steps in this process. You have to start at step seven, and talk backwards to us.” In order to get this result, I need to do this step. In order to do that step, I have to do this step.
Susan: Whereas where you’re talking to me, I don’t need that. You normally just need to either outline the steps, or just tell me the outcome and I’ll get there. When you communicate with these different pieces, it’s really fascinating within a team environment, and I promise I’m coming to a point, the team environment for communication is where it’s at. If you want success, you need everybody to be able to see and articulate the vision and make sure it’s the same vision.
Holly: It sounds so simple, but it’s actually … it’s a lot [inaudible] than it should be.
Susan: It is. But as a coach and a consultant, you come in, that’s 80% of my time is really spent on people.
Holly: Yeah. Everything else comes from that, right? So it is a lot of that. Yeah. Well, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for coming and talking about it all with me.
Susan: Thank you so much, Holly. I’ve really had a lot of fun today. I appreciate it.
Holly: Wonderful. Me too. So do you have any final thoughts or messages you want to share with people before we sign off?
Susan: Well, I liked recommendations and final messages that way. So if I can make some recommendations to the people listening, it would be go to a library because I’m all about the free stuff. Go to the library and get yourself out an EOS book, Traction or Get a Grip. Learn about the systems, if you have a little bit of chaos where you are. I would definitely say we need more growth hacking in the world, because that really spurs more product development and addresses more issues. The other one, right butts, right seats, investigate Topgrading, is a book as well.
Holly: Awesome. Well, and we will put those links in the show notes as well. So if anybody finds it easier to go that way, you can check us out online and find it there. How can people find you if they want to follow you or reach out?
Susan: That’s a great question. So my E-mail address, We’ll put that in the show notes as well. Feel free to reach out with anything you want. I do have a website, and I’d be happy to talk. There’s a link there, booking link, for some free time for me. Like I said, I’m all about the free, and so we’ll put that in the show notes as well. So if you want to connect, please feel free to do so.
Holly: Okay, great. What’s the address for the website?
Susan:, and I don’t remember the slash off the top of my head, but I think it’s
Holly: Okay. Let us know, and we’ll put that in the show notes.
Susan: Perfect. We’ll do.
Holly: Okay. Awesome. All right, well, thank you so much for your time today, Susan. This was lovely.
Susan: Thank you, Holly. Take care.
Holly: You too. Bye.
Susan: Bye.
Holly: The Product Science Podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and products leaders how to use the product science methods to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high-growth products, teams, and businesses. Learn more at Enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s episode. I also encourage you to visit us at to sign up for more information and resources from me and our guests. If you love the show, a rating and review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.