How Product Managers can avoid innovation traps #part 1

Product Managers often need to collaborate, co-ordinate, drive, release and launch innovative ideas into the market place. However there are pitfalls that product management need to avoid if success is be to secured. This is a two part series based on Rosabeth Moss Kanter article in Harvard Business Review entitled Innovation: The Classic Traps. The article focuses on four areas: Strategy, Process, Structure and Skills.

Strategy Mistakes
It is not possible for every innovative idea to be a huge success such as the new iPod - therefore Product Managers, Business and Product Owners should be careful not to reject opportunities that at first appear too small because they do not have the inherent promise of being the next killer app. A number of small incremental wins to a product feature set could ultimately result in overall product success - especially with online products.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter states that:
Not every offering [feature, enhancement or new product] will be a blockbuster, but 'Time Incorporated' had learned what successful innovators know. To get more success you have to be willing to risk more failures, Rosabeth quotes the following example from the traditional media business as a case in point:

"Time Incorporated, the magazine wing of Time Warner, for a long time was slow to develop new publications because managers wanted any start-up to have the potential to grow into another People or Sports Illustrated, two of the company’s legendary successes. During the period before Don Logan took the helm in 1992, almost no new magazines were launched. After Logan brought a different innovation strategy to the magazine group, Time developed (or bought) about 100 magazines, which dramatically increased the company’s revenues, cash flow, and profits."
The same would naturally be true for on-line media companies aiming to increase revenue by innovation– whether it’s adding new enhancements, functionality or widgets to an existing website or launching a new on-line product in a new or related market area. The balance will be the risk and reward of innovative ventures versus the risk of the traditional and status quo which could result in the risk of loosing market share to a number of younger meaner online publishing machines.

Process Mistakes
There is a risk of stifling innovation by subjecting it to tight controls and procedures of existing businesses. Again Rosabeth Moss Kanter gives us a practical example:

"AlliedSignal (now Honeywell) in 2000 sought new Internet-based products and services using established strategic-planning and budgeting processes through existing business units. The CEO asked the divisions to bring their best ideas for Internet-related innovations to the quarterly budget reviews. Although designated as a priority, these innovation projects were subjected to the same financial metrics the established businesses were. Budgets contained no additional funds for investment; managers working on innovations had to find their own sources of funding through savings or internal transfers. What emerged were often retrofitted versions of ideas that had been in the pipeline anyway."
Product Managers would do well to justify time for engineering teams to carry out research and therefore help secure budget for both pure and applied research. It would also be advantageous to map the areas of applied research to future product functionality in order to demonstrate transparency..
See also
Innovation the classic trap
The Innovation Value Chain and Product Management
How Product Managers can avoid innovation traps #part2

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