3 Steps Product Managers Can Take To Make Innovation Happen For Their Product

by drjim on August 13, 2012

You never can tell where innovation will show up…

You never can tell where innovation will show up…

“Be more innovative” – how many times has your management told you that? Although being innovative isn’t really part of the product development definition, product managers still want their products to always be ahead of what their customers want. We’d like to be able to have our products solve problems that our customers might not even know that they have. However, it turns out that being innovative is very hard to do. Good news – I’ve got three ways that product manager can capture some of that innovation stuff and apply it to their products.

Ignite The Entrepreneur Spirit

Making innovation happen within a product team is all about getting the individual members of the team to start to think in different ways. This is the kind of skill that we’d all like to be able to add to our product manager resume. What can get overlooked all too often by product managers is that this kind of thinking requires time.

In order to allow innovative thinking to occur, you need to free up your product team to spend time thinking in innovative ways. Lots of companies such as Google and 3M have formalized programs to do this. They allocate a percentage of their staff’s time (ranging from 15% to 20%) to work on project of their own choosing.

You may not be able to let your product team free up that much of their time; however, any time that you can allow them to use to work on projects of their own choosing can only help to drive innovation. Simply showing your commitment to allowing them to be innovative will sometimes be enough to light the spark of innovation.

It’s All About Words

Just exactly where does an innovation start? We’d like to think that it first shows up as a flash of insight in the mind of a solitary worker. However, more than often it really gets its start as the result of a conversation between two workers. Someone says something that gets the other person thinking and things take off from there.

As a product manager, you need to figure out a way to make sure that these types of conversations happen more often. One of the best sources for innovation causing conversations is when members of your product team talk with people from different departments.

Depending on the size and the layout of your company, it can be difficult to set things up so that these types of conversations occur. However, thanks to online tools such as web sites and knowledge repositories, members of different departments can easily interact and share ideas.

You’re Not Like Me

Finally, people who are similar to other people have very little to say to each other – they already know what the other person is thinking. As a product manager, you need to make sure that the product team doesn’t find itself in this kind of rut.

One way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is to make sure that the people who are on the product team are diverse. They may all look the same, but you want them to have different ways of looking at the world and different ways of thinking.

Reaching outside of the company to get in contact with teams that have different jobs or different outlooks can also help. Hospital emergency room teams have talked with racing team pit crews in order to better understand how more can be done in less time. Your product team could talk with a team from another industry to gain similar insights.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product manager would like their product team to be more innovative, but exactly how to go about making this happen is something that too many of us struggle with even if our company believes that it is a part of our product manager job description. It turns out that it’s not hard to do once you know how.

Three different ways to make innovation happen for your product include diving deep and really getting to know how your customer is using your product. You can build on this information and create probe projects that try out innovative new ideas with the expectation that most will fail, but all will produce good learning opportunities. Finally, you can tap into the power of your in-house staff: put their minds to work on how your product can be more innovative.

Everything is possible, the trick is in finding out how to make it happen for your product. Take the time to investigate these three suggestions and see if you can use them to add some innovation to your product in order to make it even more successful!

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to free up your product team’s time to be innovative while still making sure that they completed the work that needs to be done?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers we all know by now that social media, in all of its different flavors, is hot, hot, hot. We are being encouraged by our companies to do more social media activities in support of our products: blogging, facebooking (is that even a word?), using Tumbler, and perhaps even spending time on LinkedIn all as part of the product development definition. This is all fine and good, but is there a chance that because of all of this online social media activity you might end up going to jail?

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