How Product Managers Can Bring Innovation To Their Products

by drjim on July 30, 2012

Making product innovation happen is the hard part…

Making product innovation happen is the hard part…

“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.

Say Hello To Scenarios

What is innovation? I think that we can all agree that true innovation is when members of a product team have a breakthrough idea about how to make the product even better. The challenge is in finding ways to boost the probability that someone on your team will have one of these ideas. If you could make this happen, then you’d have something to add to your product manager resume.

One way to make this happen is to take the time to create scenarios. Scenarios are very detailed written views of what the future may look like for your customers. The goal here is to make it so that the reader of the scenario can actually picture themselves in the future that is being described.

This level of detail will allow members of your product team to “become” the customer and to exist in the future. This will allow them to experience what the customer will experience and may lead them to having a breakthrough innovation idea.

Use That Internet Thing

Yes, someone on your product team may have an innovative idea. However, what are you going to do if they don’t?

It stands to reason that if you had more people on your product team, then the chances of someone having a breakthrough innovative idea would be that much greater. It turns out that by using the power of the Internet, you can increase the size of your team.

When your product team is faced with a challenge that only innovative thinking can help to solve, turn to the Internet. Ask for help and offer a prize or cash for the winning submission. You’ll be amazed at how many submissions you get and it just might turn out that the innovative idea that you were looking for was out there – all you had to do was to ask.

Have Your Power Users Show You The Way

Not all users of your product are created the same. For every product there is one category of users, the power users, who are innovators when it comes to using your product.

This type of user is not satisfied. The current product is not meeting their needs and so they are being driven to use it in ways that you had not anticipated. This is where innovation can happen.

What you need to do as a product manager is to identify these types of users. Then you need to reach out to them and find out more about what types of problems they are trying to solve. Once you understand this, take a look at how they are using your product. You just might be surprised at what you discover – they might be using your product in innovative new ways.

What All Of This Means For You

Yes, all of us product managers would like to find a way to harness some innovation and apply it to our products in order to make them more successful — it really should be a part of our product manager job description. However, the hard part is trying to understand just exactly how to make this happen.

One way to set yourself up to make innovation happen for your product is to take the time to create detailed scenarios of how your customers go about doing their jobs both today and in the future. You can also use the Internet to reach out to people outside of your company and enlist them to see if they can provide solutions to product problems that you’ve not been able to solve. Finally, current power users of your product may have the ability to tap into the innovation energy that you are looking to find.

Product innovation is not something that you can go online and buy. Instead, it’s something that just seems to happen. This means that as a product manager if you want it to happen for your product you need to set the stage. Follow these three suggestions and you just might be surprised at how quickly innovation transforms your product.

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

Question For You: Once you have scenarios of how your customers will operate in the future created, who should you share them with?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

“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.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Evans August 2, 2012 at 1:04 am

Hi Jim

I think too often people get stuck on the new/inventive/creative definition of innovation and forget the key point of doing something new or creative. The reason for doing something new/inventive/creative is to solve market problems, which means that product managers play a key role in the overall Innovation Value Chain.

You hit the nail on the head by saying that product managers make a huge contribution to innovation by discovering scenarios of what customers need to be able to do, both today and in the future.

http://www.slideshare.net/tevanstx/going-beyond-innovation

Thanks
Tom

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson August 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Tom: thanks for your input — you hit the nail on the head! It’s what you can make happen that really counts, not how you make it happen. I am always most impressed when product managers are able to take what is already there and find a clever way to solve a problem!

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