When New Tools Mean New Products: Energy Business Lessons For Product Managers

New energy tools have created new product opportunities
New energy tools have created new product opportunities

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As product managers we’d like to think that the new product creation process and its product development definition process are a neat, orderly process. However, the reality is often quite different. New products have a nasty habit of popping up all of a sudden and as product managers, we need to be able to react to this and deal with it. The energy generation and distribution business is currently providing us with a very good example of this…

Say Hello To The Smart Grid

Have you heard about the “smart grid”? This is a revolution that is sweeping though the electricity generation and distribution business. Power companies are swapping out the old simple meters that consumers have had attached to their houses forever with new smarter digital meters. These new meters provide both the home owner and the power company with a great deal more information about how much power the house is using, and when it is being used.

The thinking goes that with this type of information, the power companies can now start to charge their customers different prices for energy depending on when they use it: it will cost more during business hours and less during the night. This will become a bigger deal when you start to plug your electric car in at night.

A side effect of building this new smart grid is that energy company product managers all of a sudden have a new product to manage. Exactly what to do with this product or what customer problems it can solve is not 100% clear at this point in time. However, that is what these product managers are racing to find out.

New Products That The Smart Grid Has Created

Through a process of experimentation, energy company product managers are gradually finding different ways that the smart grid can be used to create new products. One such product has to do with how the power company deals with customer adds, moves, and changes. In the old days, when a customer moved into or out of a house, the power company had to send a truck out to make changes. However, now with the smart grid in place, these changes can be done via a few commands entered on a keyboard.

The smart grid allows customers to see how much energy their home is using in real time. By deploying incentive programs, the power company can now get their customers to lower their energy usage during peak hours in order to save money. This benefits the energy company because it means that they can put off having to build more expensive energy generating capacity.

Finally, before energy reaches a customer’s house, it has to pass through a transformer. Power companies were never able to determine how well a transformer was operating before the smart grid was installed. However, now that they can monitor the customer end points, they are better able to monitor the transformer’s operation remotely.

What All Of This Means For You

New products can drop into a product manager’s lap unexpectedly at any time. What this means is that a new part of every product manager job description is having the ability to deal with this when it happens.

The energy industry has invested a great deal of time and money in rolling out their new smart grid system. This is providing energy industry product managers with a once-in-a-career opportunity to create and deliver a number of new and innovative products. Their challenge is to match the capabilities of the company’s new tool with the needs of their customers.

Customers will always have needs that a product manager cannot address with their current set of products. When a new product arrives, the real challenge is to identify what customer problems can now be solved. Do this correctly, and you’ll have one more thing to add to your product manager resume.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that customers will push back on the energy industry if they know too much about their energy usage?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Product managers are NOT sales professionals. We pride ourselves on being marketing professionals and we don’t think of ourselves as being a part of our company’s sales team no matter how closely we may work with them. However, we do play a key role in the success of our sales teams and this is because they control how successful our product is going to be. This means that the big changes that are sweeping though the world of sales are going to change how we help our sales teams to be successful.