How Product Managers can avoid innovation traps #part2

How Product Managers can avoid innovation traps Part#1 touched on two innovative traps that ProductManagers may encounter:

#1. Strategy: the misconception that every innovative idea has to be a blockbuster – where as a number of small incremental innovations could lead to over all product success. And
#2. Process: subjecting innovative efforts and projects to the same rigor, reviews and filters as standard business as usual (BAU) will stifle innovative growth.
Part #2 will now deal with the innovative traps of Structure and Skills.
The wrong company structure could easily hinder innovation. However a key part of the Product Management function is to collaborate with stakeholders from across the company in order to collate possible ideas for future product development and product enhancement as well as to smooth the way for the implementation of such ideas.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter gives example of companies that setup innovative projects that included individuals from across various functions [sales, marketing, production…] with in an organization. These individuals worked apart from the traditional company structure in order to avoid a company culture that would hinder innovation. The ideas that were most innovative and promising from the various areas [sales, customer support, marketing…] would be introduced back into the main company. However Kanter reports that the projects failed to integrate the new ideas back into the mainstream part of the firms. The key reason, for failure, was put down to a poor connection between the experimenting innovative team and the mainstream company. Product Management by its very nature seeks buy-in from across various cross functional areas and acts as the oil to smooth the way for such changes in order to ensure products experience constant improvement at each point their life cycle.
The Product Management function also needs to be able to review activity from various divisions across an organization – divisions that will probably be working with various technologies and/or operating in different markets. Kanter gives examples of CBS and Gillette who failed to bring various technologies together from its various divisions in order to come up with cutting edge products.
CBS was once the world’s largest broadcaster and owned the world’s largest record company, yet it failed to invent music video, losing this opportunity to MTV. In the late 1990s, Gillette had a toothbrush unit (Oral B), an appliance unit (Braun), and a battery unit (Duracell), but lagged in introducing a battery-powered toothbrush. The likelihood that companies will miss or stifle innovations increases when the potential innovations involve expertise from different industries or knowledge of different technologies. Managers at established organizations may both fail to understand the nature of a new idea and feel threatened by it.
Possible lessons learnt for CBS and Gillette would be enable Product Management to operate horizontally across the enterprises various divisions in order come up with innovative ideas. This means that the Product Manager would need to have at least an appreciation of the various markets and technology from across the enterprise.
The 4th and final innovation traps that Kanter list is Communication and leadership Skills:
Being able to innovate is one thing but having the ability to convince others of your innovative idea is another. Failure to be able to sell your idea to internal stakeholders will probably result your innovative ideas not making itto market - and by chance they do they are in danger of being a commercial failure. I worked for a company where the engineers came up with a fabulous idea – it was designed – manufactured – was displayed at exhibitions but was not a commercial success, simply because the Sales Director did not understand or believe in it. I’ve also worked for a different company where a particular engineering team continuously produced competitive products that earned the company substantial revenue. However the team failed (for one reason or another) to gel with the rest of the company. The result was that the team was dismantled by senior management. Strong management including Product Management is required to complement innovation.
  • Relationships need to be built and maintained,
  • People need to buy-in to the ideas,
  • Colleagues need to speak up for your innovative ideas at meeting that you don’t attend,
  • Unhealthy competition between R&D teams needs to be put to rest.
Micheal in his blog High tech Product Management who owns innovation in your company writes:
"In most high-tech companies, the Product Management/Marketing team has the best view of the cross-functional processes of the organization - across Development, Marketing, Distribution, Operations, Sales and Support."
In short Product Management needs to drive innovation through various stages by using their soft ‘people skills’. Chief being the ability to communicate at all levels through out the organization.
Read also:
How Product Managers can avoid innovation traps #part 1
The innovation value chain and Product Management

Innovation the classic traps

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