What is Innovation vs. Product Management


Just the other day I saw yet another conversation on “What Is Innovation”. There seems to be a select committee making the call on what passes for Innovation and what is just good market driven product management. At first I thought how arrogant of a market outsider to make this type of call but then the word has entered the overused buzz word status I guess.

It is easier to see when innovation is “Disruptive” than when it is just great innovation. The finer line is between good market focused product lifecycle advances and Innovation. So the big question is, “What is Innovation?”

Innovation is:
• Innovation is significant valuable invention in a product or service
• Innovation is cultural – team based and cross functional at the core
• Innovation does change the way things have been done
• Innovation can replace activity or become an alternative choice
• Can be an extension of an existing product if it is disruptive enough to the market
• Innovation is delivered to the market and received enthusiastically
• Innovation must be complete if only in Minimally Viable components.

Innovation may be but not always:
• Internally driven – Ideas and solutions from everywhere inside/outside always market driven
• Tiger teams or an established team – Innovation should also be repeatable part for all employees
• The product of a Lab, Accelerator/Incubator – the environment does not determine innovation
• The result of a given framework – Many frameworks are effective in different situations
• A single Ah Ha moment – Now more than ever innovation must be reproducible and more flexible

The first step in achieving innovation is the hardest for governments and large companies, embracing failure! Successful work fails, great innovative companies always fail forward! Experimentation and failure is the result of taking predictive risk or as I like to say, “Thinking outside the box working inside”

Try breaking down the user or functional flow for your product into each area and innovate within each before bringing them together. This requires the identification of less than great process and its’ need to be changed. What helps is to have first the Crazy moonshot vision like say driverless cars. Now you can break down every step of driving and automate it! This is how Detroit can truly innovate.

Innovation is about changing the market it is not about the structure of the team. Yes there are best practices that fill many bookshelves including mine but the secret is which, when and why. That said, some are important such as sponsorship from the executives or business unit. There should be agreements on funding and revenue targets. Company legal frameworks should govern partnerships and lastly sales to existing customers or marketing needs to reflect an agreement with sales or sun setting product teams.

There are two items that are important also culturally. Innovation teams that are separated will eventually create cultural dysfunction. We are all human and judge what we don’t understand. Labs that work on sabbatical basis and always open to opportunity excel over isolated teams. Innovation often happens dynamically therefore nurture and capture are critical in their own time. Flow across units can help establish new cultural glossary throughout the entire company.

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