Can Product Managers Drive Product Innovation & Boost Quality At The Same Time?

by drjim on October 7, 2009

How To Capture Innovation Without Going Broke

How To Capture Innovation Without Making Your Product Too Expensive

How are you at walking and chewing gum at the same time? It’s sorta a classic challenge – do two different things simultaneously and do them well. Product managers are facing the challenge today – cut the cost of their product and simultaneously use innovation in order to make their product more competitive. How hard can that be?

Say Hello To Six Sigma

If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for the “next big thing” in product management techniques. I do most of my research at the bookstore. If you’ve been to a book store recently and looked at any of the books in the business section, you may have been overwhelmed by the number of titles that had the words “Six Sigma” in them. Six Sigma is an approach to business that makes use of constant measurement and analysis in order to continue to optimize business operations.

Dr. Sara Beckman has researched this technique and points out that Six Sigma was invented at Motorola and popularized by Jack Welch at GE. If you can get your product teams to apply it to how your product gets built, it can be a great way to drive out costs and boost quality. However, it will do nothing to boost innovation.

Say Hello To Design Thinking

Innovation is not something that you often hear about when people are talking about product managers. However, since we are the CEOs of our products we are the ones that are responsible for making sure that our products remain attractive to our customers.

Innovation is how this will happen. One way for product managers to work innovation into their products is to use the “design thinking” technique.

Design thinking is a new set of skills that are designed to drive innovative thinking. The starting point for design thinking is for solution designers (who else?) to start by focusing on what problems their customers are having on a daily basis. Once they understand the problems, the next step is to consider the wide universe of possible ways to change your product to solve these problems.

The Problem

Here in lies the problem. If you go out and talk to today’s product managers you’ll find that their companies may have implemented one of these two different solutions (Six Sigma is more popular because it’s easier to understand and measure).

This causes problems. It is possible to focus too much on driving out costs and then lose your way and not be able to provide the innovation that is needed to keep your product competitive – this is the problem that HP is currently facing.

Likewise, if a product team is too innovative and doesn’t watch the bottom line closely enough, then they can quickly drive themselves and the company out of business. The dot.com fiasco was a great example of this.

What’s The Correct Solution To This Problem?

You may have already guessed it, but the right way to solve this challenge is for product managers to take the time to find a way to incorporate both the design thinking and the Six Sigma approaches into how they manage their products.

The design thinking technique allows a product manager to find ways to explore new approaches to solving the problems that the business is facing. Six Sigma techniques allow an product team to find ways to improve how they are currently doing things.

Final Thoughts

Product Managers can’t allow their product teams to become too focused on just one approach or they risk failing. Design thinking tries to find out what product features will provide a good solution to a problem is while Six Sigma assumes that a product is good and then goes about trying to make it an even better product.

Product managers who can find ways to use both cost cutting and innovation capturing techniques at the same time will have have found yet another way that great product managers make their product(s) fantastically successful.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just how many ads for products do you get hit with each day? 10? 100? 500? No matter what the number is, the end result is the same – you shut down. Something in your brain switches off and you stop “seeing” ads because you are in overload…

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