Jack The Ripper, H.G. Wells, And Choosing The Right Strategic Partner

Yesterday we summarized “Time After Time” In 10 Screencaps Or Less™. Today, we extract a product management lesson from that 1970’s time travel mash-up.

In the opening scenes of Time After Time, H.G. Wells introduces his dinner guests to the new Time Machine that he’s invented. Unfortunately, one of his guests is secretly Jack The Ripper who promptly steals the Time Machine to continue his serial killings in modern-day San Francisco.

To the best of my knowledge, no product that I’ve ever worked on has been linked to time traveling serial killings. However, I have been involved in at least one strategic partnership that was disastrous.

Now, I wasn’t involved with vetting or approving the partner; it was thrust upon me and I did what I could to mitigate the oncoming storm. But in the end, there was no choice but to ride it out, which put a tremendous burden on everyone involved internally as well as on our customers.

What went wrong? Like H.G. Wells, we trusted someone we shouldn’t have–and had to live with the consequences.

When it comes time to make a buy/build/partner decision, there are a number of questions that must be asked–and, sometimes, the reality is that the Product Manager’s answers may fall upon deaf ears. However, you need to be prepared: It’s your job to lead the product and, in dire straits, do what you can to mitigate the bad stuff.

Never automatically assume you need to partner. Always go through the exercise of properly determining whether to Buy, Build, or Partner. See Build, Buy or Partner: So Many Choices, So Little Time for more information.

When you’re faced with the choice of selecting a strategic partner, I recommend asking the following three questions:

  • Do you like them–AND trust them?
    Your potential partner must demonstrate that they are principled, honorable, and ethical–and that they can live up to their promises and deliver the agreed-upon deliverables. (To be fair, you should prove the same to them.)
  • Are they in it for the long haul?
    Who invests in this company, or purchases products from them? Who are the owners? What’s their market share? Do they have the financial backing to weather the economic turmoil making headlines across the world?
  • Are you strategic to one another?
    You’ve determined that you need them, but do they need you? How open are they to sharing information, executing changes, and working collaboratively?

Fortunately, in the situation I referenced above, we were able to weather the storm and disentangle ourselves from the strategic partner that was a very bad fit.

I then researched, vetted, and partnered with a different company with a proven track record and a shared sense of strategic values.

This second partnership has proven beneficial to both sides, with incentives for both parties to work continuously on improving the product experience and share in the resulting revenue. That’s an example of strategic partnership at its finest.

Partners can help you reduce time to market and reduce risk–but only if they’re the right fit for your product and your business.

Never make strategic decisions half-cocked or under pressure. Otherwise, you may find out that the partner you’re courting isn’t quite who you thought they were–and your product will be the worse for it.

Additional Resources

What’s your experience been like in selecting strategic partners? Any horror stories to share? Or successes to trumpet?

3 thoughts on “Jack The Ripper, H.G. Wells, And Choosing The Right Strategic Partner

  1. Love your site. Do you have advice for someone who sounds as though they are in the same situation you were in with that “bad” partner? I have been asked/told to push through a deal that I don’t feel is a good one for my product, but the order is coming directly from the CEO so I’m not sure what to do. Please respond.

  2. Hi Brenda –

    Thanks for your feedback. Sounds like you’re in a tough spot…

    If you haven’t already spoken about this with your manager and/or your CEO, you need to. But you need to be careful, obviously, since disagreeing with the boss in public is never a good idea.

    Conflict911 has several good ideas on this topic that you may want to check out: http://conflict911.com/cgi-bin/links/jump.cgi?ID=5080

    I think the key is to approach it respectfully and carefully–and make sure you have solid arguments for why this is a bad fit, what the impact will be on the product and the users of your product, and ideas on how to proceed. Make sure you listen to their feedback on why this partner was selected, and keep the conversation constructive.

    It’s not easy, but it is possible to get through this.

    Even if you don’t succeed in deterring them from this particular partner (because, for example, they have information that maybe you don’t), your willingness to listen and provide constructive feedback will demonstrate your ability to consider the business aspects of product management, and build management’s belief in your ability to do right by the company.

    Good luck!

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