I recently participated in a discussion on a Yahoo! developer group list on the question of who owns innovation. There was consensus that creative ideas can come from anywhere and everyone is responsible for contributing to innovative outcomes. There also needs to be an owner, and for me, that owner should be the product manager. But, innovation does not happen just by telling the product team to be innovative. It is a discipline with its own techniques and skills that can and need to be learned.
This discussion got me thinking because although I stated that product management should own the innovation process including the idea pipeline and innovation portfolio, I wondered how many companies take the time to teach their product managers how to be innovation leaders, equipping them with the skills necessary to facilitate the creative process in their teams and deliver innovative products and services. In practice, the majority of product management work focuses around existing products and incremental improvement. This makes it hard to get into the mindset of nurturing a breakthrough product that delivers substantially more value than the alternatives. Further, there is little discussion within product management about the mechanics of innovation. In fact, almost all my knowledge of innovation has come from adjacent fields to product management such as market research, strategy, psychology, product development, and design.
One practice that has been widely accepted in our product management discipline is to get out of the building and talk to customers. This is a great technique and one in which we often need to be reminded. But this method to identify new opportunities, which was a ground breaking idea in the early ‘90’s when many product managers spent all their time in the office, is widely adopted and practiced. If you want to gain an edge on your competition, you need to go further, to gain more insight and tap the creative potential of your team.
I’ll be sharing more about innovation in future posts, but if your team is struggling to develop innovative solutions that are superior to the competition, give us a call.