Innovation is Good Product Management

For those of you who don’t know, @cindyfsolomon and Adrienne run a weekly Product Management Twitter Talk. We invite notable Product Management professionals to lead and join discussions that hopefully enlighten and delight.

This is a summary of the 4th Product Management Twitter Talk held on 1 March 2011 (Sydney date). Here’s the full transcript.

This week’s topic on Innovation and Product Management was led by Roger Cauvin, Product Strategist Consultant.

The first question for the group to consider “Are Product Managers innovators or innovation enablers?”

There were some fantastic, well thought out responses, to Roger’s question:

  • Brainmates: Product Managers are both! They innovate when they seek new problems to solve. They are enablers when kick off prod development process. Innovation can happen anywhere in the Product Management cycle.
  • paulalexgray: I say Product Managers are innovation enablers. They touch all parts of the business. Their customer focus help drive multiple innovations.
  • rcauvin: In my opinion, Product Management both innovates and enables others to innovate. Product Management innovates when it synthesizes market data into new insights that drive product decisions. Product Management fosters innovation by communicating market problems to those who can design and build solutions.
  • stacymonarko: They MUST be an enabler, even better if they are innovative as well.
  • macmyday: I think they should be both, innovators and enablers. When it comes to innovation no one should step back.
  • sehlhorst: Product Managers are enablers when ‘making it happen’ and innovators when ‘connecting the dots’
  • brioneja: A common definition is that to achieve innovation you need the right culture, people and process. I see the Product Manager as the primary individual leading the innovation process and as an influencer in the culture and people. A leader is not required to innovate. The leader, however is responsible to coax the best out of the team, including best ideas, best solutions.
  • rich_velazquez: Whether Product Managers are innovators or innovation enablers depends on the organisation & size of your group. Additionally some orgs have a Product Planning role which precedes Product Managers, moving them to an innovation enabler role.
  • cindyfsolomon: It depends on the lifecycle of the product.
  • roadmapwarrior: If Product Management uses market problems to get to innovation then yes.
  • erikalandersen: I would think both – product managers should be creative enough to innovate, open-minded enough to enable innovation.
  • michaelrhopkin: Product Managers should lead the innovation process; a key aspect is gaining trust of other teams & getting their best

Roger’s 2nd question “What do great product managers do to innovate or foster innovation?

  • roadmapwarrior: Listen (to market, clients, internal, etc.), keep current on not only technology but conversations.
  • stacymonarko: Ensure clear communication channels across the organisation and must relay customer knowledge to the organisation.
  • sehlhorst: Discover the natural of matings of technology and valuable problems in the market, tell the story internally to get agreement. Innovation is combining solution with problem.
  • rcauvin: True innovation comes from understanding the problem in solution-neutral terms. So Product Management first attempts to understand the problem thoroughly & communicate it to designers. By framing the problem clearly, Product Management enables designers to unleash their creativity & skills. Peter Drucker speaks of “purposeful”, systematic innovation. Product Management is a big part of systematising innovation.
  • macmyday: Product Managers need to be across product and people. Need to tap into people’s mind & ideas.
  • barrypaquet: Synthesise and lead. Product Managers need vision, not necessarily the answers — and that’s OK. Innovation — you can’t create it, you need to deliver it (implies validation).
  • Brainmates: Product Managers need to know ask the right questions.
  • bdoctor: Product Managers foster innovation by listening to the market (not only customers) seeking unfilled needs.
  • stacymonarko: I can go around creating really cool features but its only innovative when it answers a need.
  • brioneja: Innovation has to be tied to value delivered which is tied to desirability and need.

Roger’s 3rd question for the group “What is the relationship between requirements and innovation?

  • rcauvin: A requirement defines a problem in terms of the conditions indicating its absence. So a requirement is only “innovative” insofar as it yields new insight on a problem. Once we start into innovative *solutions*, we’re no longer in the realm of requirements. Part of the Product Management role in enabling innovation is to define requirements in solution-neutral manner for designers to innovate.
  • stacymonarko: The Product Manager is responsible for confirming the requirements meet the customer’s unmet need.
  • sehlhorst: Requirements is half of innovation. Requirements + invention = innovation. Feature + requirement = innovation. feature is a solution, not a need.
  • Macmyday: Innovation can relate to the requirements or the process behind gathering them.
  • stacymonarko: We should ensure that requirements are met while delivering a 1 of a kind solution that no one else can provide.
  • bdoctor: Some innovations are dreamt up and confirmed or tweaked by talking with the market.
  • Brioneja: The definition of the requirements sets in place the type of solution that you will get. In a similar manner, the type of process you use to manage innovation sets in place the type of innovation you get. Innovation is a combination of requirements that deliver value and the invention that meets them. A requirement is tied to a need. A feature is how the offering meets the requirement.
  • jidoctor: If the requirements drive the solution, isn’t’ that the innovation source? Requirements become the method for achieving.
  • lmckeogh: Innovation is the ‘what’ & requirements are the ‘how’.
  • Brainmates: Requirements inform the solution whilst ‘innovation’ is the outcome of a successful solution.

Roger’s 4th question, a question that we can dedicate a whole hour of debate to, “Does agile product management foster or hinder innovation?”

  • rcauvin: Agile enables Product Management to uncover unanticipated market problems by demoing solutions to customers and getting feedback from the customers that lead to innovative insights. Fundamental part of agile is deciding what risks/unknowns to tackle.
  • Brainmates: It neither hinders nor fosters. There are so many factors that enables innovation.
  • sehlhorst: Real agile Product Management fosters in spite of the pressure (from others) to focus on the short term.
  • brioneja: My view on agile is that it works very well on incremental or sustaining innovations.
  • roadmapwarrior: If done right it should enable innovation – the more you learn the better you define.
  • jidoctor: Too much emphasis on customer feedback will only have current interested in potential innovation…your market is bigger.
  • bdoctor: I’d like to think all PMs (agile or not) foster #innovation. Agile is just a more conducive environment for innovation.
  • brioneja: All methods lead to learning. But who you talk to and what questions you ask fix the outcome. Mainly because to set an agile system in place you need to have decided the segment where you will focus on. Thus you already made decisions that are constraining the outcome. Thus the need for another process prior to agile to define the best areas of opportunity.
  • pgopalan: Agile = process. Innovation = outcome. They can be mutually exclusive.
  • JanelleTNoble: Depends on how its done. Agile development keeps u in tune w/customers but don’t ignore a larger roadmap/vision.

Final question for the day “What are some examples of things Product Managers do to stifle innovation?

  • paulalexgray: Product Managers (or any part of business) that demands detailed biz cases for disruptive or
    startup ideas can kill innovation.
  • cindyfsolomon: Not allowing enough time for creative discussion…
  • sehlhorst: Stifling: a) interlock b) design by committee c) HiPPOs d)current-customer fixation e)ignoring not-yet-your-market.
  • roadmapwarrior: Sometimes it’s saying “no” too soon, and sometimes it’s saying “yes” too soon!
  • Brainmates: Decision making by committee.
  • michaelrhopkin: #1 way orgs & pm stifle innovation? using the words “we can’t”.
  • bdoctor: We’ve never done it that way.
  • macmyday: Being caught up in day-2-day biz, forcing #innovation + probably many others
  • rcauvin: By pre-emptively designing & not letting designers design.
  • jidoctor: Stopping the creative discussions…at any level. Stop the fear!

That’s it for this week. Please join us for Product Management Talk next Tuesday 10 AM Sydney time. We have Saeed Khan on Creating an Effective Product Management Organisation.

To join us, we recommend you use Tweetchat and simply type in the #prodmgmttalk to follow the discussion.

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