The Crash Davis Approach to Strategic Product Development

baseball on ground

Jonathan Miller

  • Reading Time  Min Read
  • Publish Date August 12, 2014

Last week I gathered a few members of the Business Development and Product Strategy teams for a night of baseball. The Charlotte Knights’ uptown stadium is only a few blocks from the office and Skookum has seats along the first base line and they were playing the Durham Bulls. As we sat behind the dugout eating hotdogs and enjoying malt beverages, I started thinking about one of the greatest baseball movies of all time; Bull Durham.

In the movie, veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is asked to work with an obviously talented pitcher, Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). The assignment? To hone the rookie’s minor league skills for the Durham Bulls and make him a major league pitcher. As I thought more about the relationship between Davis and LaLoosh, it dawned on me how their arrangement is not unlike how the Product Strategy team at Skookum works with a client. A talented client has gratuitous knowledge and skills in their field, yet often needs a Crash Davis to help them put it all together into a great product.
What’s more, the movie is saturated with terrific quotes that further illustrate my thinking! The best are delivered from Davis to LaLoosh and I’ve picked a few below to illustrate this relationship.

Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.
In Product Strategy, it is important to actually be strategic. When two or more groups converge to bring a product to life, tension can sometimes build as everyone jockeys to make sure their idea of what is ‘best for the product’ is reflected in the final deliverable. While at Skookum we have years of experience in what is ‘best’ for a product, to neglect a client’s idea of ‘best’ would be a foolhardy venture. Clients are also experts in their field and the inherent collaboration among disparate groups during product creation is what makes a product great. By necessity, that means a give and take is essential as features are discussed and product direction is created. Small concessions can aid in establishing trust and a sense of true collaboration. That trust and collaboration often gives us breathing room to push for something more aggressive somewhere else in the product. More ground balls, less strikeouts.

Don’t think. It can only hurt the ball club.
Oftentimes in Product Strategy it is easy to overthink a specific interview, user group, feature, etc. This can happen on purpose or accidentally. Maybe the mix of your interviews is off and one group is more heavily represented though their actual use of the product is less. Perhaps a particularly inspiring interviewee gets you thinking about what is largely an insignificant feature. As a strategic partner, it is Product Strategy’s mandate to identify overthinking and course correct to maintain a project’s success in the long term.

I can get us a rainout…
A Product Strategy engagement is an arduous process of interviews, brainstorming, collaboration and presentations. It’s as intense for a client as it is for a Strategist. Knowing when to pull back and take a break during an engagement can sometimes spell success for the overall project. This can be achieved at the micro level by reading non-verbal cues during a meeting and volunteering a break be taken. It can also happen on the macro by strategically planning out interviews, meetings and deliverables at times when everyone will be the most focused.

And when you speak of me, speak well…
Creating a product does not happen in a vacuum. It is a highly collaborative process engaging not only cross-functional teams on the Product Strategy side but also many departments within a client organization. Often this includes other third party companies or resources. The point? It is a mistake to reflexively dismiss the opinions or knowledge of any one group. Great products are built when everyone works well together. However, building camaraderie and respect among peers is not always easy. By creating a shared understanding, Product Strategists can keep the team moving in the same direction to make the product great. In other words, speaking well of one another, realizing you’re all on the same team makes all the difference in the end product.

Any I missed? A ton I know… Comment below with some of your favs.

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