Whether explicitly stated in your job description or not, one of the primary responsibilities of a product manager is driving innovation within an organization.
By definition, PMs work to synthesize the whys of a product with the hows. That most often means collaborating with other departments and subject matter experts, but it also means diving headfirst into researching what other organizations are producing.
In other words, learning how other players are being innovative and transferring those practices to your own organization.
We’ve found that in the current technological climate, disruptive companies and the products they offer, whether it’s a service or a physical piece of technology, always drive large-scale change across multiple industries. The most obvious examples of innovative companies—like Netflix‘s virtual entertainment model toppling Blockbuster’s physical media model—are important to note, but we believe that viewing the large-scale change between multiple industries is a more valuable perspective.
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When PMs do that, they’ll be able to leverage that data for innovation in their own organization. Here’s how they can do it.
Researching External Market Innovations and Their Outcomes
One of the most vital working processes product managers exercise is market research, gathering information about what consumers want and what they’re lacking from current companies.
It’s the same process innovators go through when developing a new product or service. Consumer needs and desires are studied, tested, and met, which helps one company differentiate themselves from others.
This is a successful process, and we believe product managers should follow suit.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Denise Lee Yohn writes that in order for an organization to create such a product, they must invest in the practice of generating ideas:
“Understanding people’s fundamental needs and drivers, identifying customers, and developing the entire go-to-market and usage ecosystem are … essential aspects … and the ones that the success of innovations, especially breakthrough ones, hinge upon.”
This statement highlights the are two potential outcomes PMs can experience from market research: market discovery, finding voids left by now-obsolete companies and products, and product discovery.
Market discovery is, simply put, the process identifying open opportunities in either well-established markets or relatively untapped ones. It values what customers need and are missing from what markets are currently offering.
The Nintendo Wii, for example, didn’t enter an untapped market—they were plenty of other gaming consoles when it was introduced. Where the product succeeded, however, was its remote control-esque controller with motion sensing capabilities. The Wii delivered to gamers who wanted a different, more interactive gaming experience.
Product discovery, on the other hand, is the focus on what customers want and are missing from the products currently on the market.
Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, the smart phone, or the laptop, but they revised and marketed their products such that they exceeded similar but lacking products on the market.
Whichever of the two outcomes, the process of market research requires collaboration between product, engineering, and usability—and an eye for innovation in outside industries and understanding the interplay between other industries.
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The Ecosystemic Approach
Innovative products and companies rarely touch just one industry, and understanding the nuances of industry interplay can more clearly define product opportunities.
For example, innovative companies like Netflix and Uber seem to disrupt single industries, the former home entertainment and the latter public transportation. However, upon closer inspection, they both produced change in at least one adjoining industry—the mobile app industry, which had been boosted by digital entertainment and transportation downloads.
This perspective is referred to as the ecosystemic approach.
As defined by Accenture, describes this as striving “to meet multiple objectives, such as reaching the digital consumer or mastering mobile commerce,” and that “future growth opportunities … increasingly emerge outside a company’s traditional business.”
This wide-angle approach is beneficial for PMs, whose goal is to break molds and achieve customer desires.
In the world of product management, staying up-to-date on innovative practices within your portfolio will pave the way for innovative practices in your own organization.
Writing for Product Plan, Shaun Juncal argues that “innovation doesn’t happen in a silo[.] … [Breakthough] ideas, like the market knowledge that leads to them, come from collaboration. Product innovation is a team sport, involving many people”—and many industries.
Setting aside some time to read the latest news, press releases, and articles from organizations you’ve decided to follow is a simple but effective way to keep innovation at the forefront of a Product Managers’ working day.
Bringing It Together
Every company wants to innovate, but not many lack encouragement for their employees, including PMs, to act innovative—sometimes even actively discouraging it in more risk-averse organizations.
Even if your organization lacks a formal innovation process, you and your employees can still be innovative. Lending some time for PMs to research and test inspired, novel product ideas can lead your culture down an innovative path and build the vaulted Culture of Innovation.
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Meet Carter Liebscher
Carter Liebscher is the Growth Analyst and Copywriter for Ideawake, a technology company offering idea management software for enterprise organizations. He believes that all employees have valuable ideas and that, when listened to and acted upon, their organization builds a Culture of Innovation.
You can read more about innovation news, employee engagement, and company culture here.