Product Management at Nestlé: The Horizons of Innovation

Product Management looks different at every company, and can even vary across teams at the same company. While the craft of Product Management is held together by a set of core principles, each team has to find their own nuance. It could depend on their industry, the size of their company, and the type of tech they’re working with.

So we decided to sit down with three different organizations, to discover what Product Management means to them.

Today, we’re talking to Luca Dell’Orletta, Product Leader and Head of IT Innovation at Nestlé. We dove into what innovation looks like at large organizations, his approach to Product Management, and how to mitigate the risk of failure.

About Luca Dell’Orletta

Luca Dell'Orletta

Luca is currently Head of IT Innovation for the Nestlé Group. In this role he is in a mission to unlock tech-powered innovation enabling new business models and continuously future ready Tech Products, in the world’s largest food and beverage company, with 2,000+ brands and present in 186 countries. Prior to this role he has been leading the Nestlé IT Transformation to a Product based operating model (in a context of over 200 Tech Product Teams), and he has been Product Group Manager for the Global Nestlé Mobile Applications Platforms.

How do you define innovation?

I like to define innovation as solving problems that matter, in new ways. When I talk about solving problems that matter it’s basically problems that, if solved in a drastically different way, result in a drastically increased outcome. A new way could be something like through a new mindset, new framework, new perspective, or new technology. And so my mission is really to unlock tech powered innovation enabling new business models and continuously future ready Tech Products.

You might also be interested in: Innovating at a 101-Year-Old Company by Forbes Director of Product

What does tech look like for Nestlé?

It being Nestlé, we delight our consumers with the next KitKat or the next cup of Nespresso, but there is a lot of tech behind it. Today pretty much every company is something of a software company. There is a lot of tech to support our supply chain, our factories, our logistics, our HR systems, our finance systems, and then our consumer facing systems like websites, mobile applications.

We were talking with Carlos last time about having more than 2000 brand websites for Nestlé, and more than 100 mobile applications for the group. So you can imagine the scale of tech in a company as big as Nestlé, we run one of the biggest SAP landscapes in the world. So basically everything is somehow powered by software powered by tech. And in Nestlé IT, we are in an incredible journey also from a digital transformation perspective.

In such a huge company with so many employees, and so many different product teams, there’s no one way or one approach to Product Management. Everyone’s got their own style. But are there any core principles or a core ethos that you follow as a company when it comes to your approach to product? 

Definitely. I would say that first of all, diversity. We have around 200 Tech Product Managers at Nestlé, and diversity makes it even greater. When hiring we look to bring in people that have different incoming paths to product management. You can come from basically everywhere, UX, Tech, Business, etc.

So we look after that, and every product manager is flavored in a different way. You know, you might have the data centers or platform products that are more technical versus products that are more on the customer experience side. What they all have in common is really making sure that we don’t fall in love with the product, but with the problem we are trying to solve with the opportunity that we see. What I tend to say to every product manager is that we are there to give a value in a specific business capability. And we need to be the first ones to make the tough calls and sunset products that aren’t giving us that value.

What does it take to be a Product Manager at Nestlé?

Well I think what really makes a great product manager in an organization the size of Nestlé, is the capability of being inspiring and executing at the same time. So having a forward-looking vision, but also being able to translate that vision into strategy and actionable activities that then drives toward that direction. Good Product Managers, good Product Leaders, are people that can give directions which are very inspiring, but can also make sure that the product teams go in the right direction concretely. That’s a difficult balance.

We often say in Product that you have to fall in love with the problem and not the solution. What are some of the problems that you’re obsessed with?

I would say problems that require a different way of thinking. Long lasting problems that people care about. Something that I learned over the past 15 years is that there are tons of problems that are there, but that you can live with. What I’m obsessed with are the problems that will really make a difference when they’re solved, and that solving them with a certain process or in a certain way will really delight our customers. At Nestlé, we delight our consumers on a daily basis. As part of the Nestlé IT organization, I’m very passionate about bringing in new perspectives, new frameworks, new solutions that can change things drastically in a breakthrough manner.

How do you infuse innovation in tech products?

That’s not necessarily easy. I talk a lot about the three horizons of innovation. 

One is that natural, incremental evolution of the product in the present or the near future. And then we have horizons two and three. So bringing new innovation from outside into, in this case Nestlé, or innovation that is really new to Nestlé but is also new to the world. Most Product Teams actually get stuck in horizon one. Sometimes they go into horizon two, but it’s very difficult to go across to horizon three. So for me it’s key to take some moments to really look forward and think differently, and not just focus on problems of the present and near future.

Nestle chocolate

Many Product teams would love to be more innovative, and get to the second and third horizons. But the biggest challenge they face is time. How can Product Leaders make sure their teams have the breathing room to be forward thinking, and not just focus on ‘making the thing’.

And that’s a situation that is, I would say common to every single product team in the world. ‘We have so many customers to serve that are asking for a new feature or that specific backlog item to be solved.’ And then you can get easily stuck in the operational side of things, or thinking about the very next thing that needs to be done.

There comes a moment where you need to have courage to face change, where you know that you constantly have a particular problem in a certain space. Or say in one area you’re getting just 2% better every month, and you need to do drastically better. Then there are moments where a Product Leader needs to stop the wheel and start rethinking, re-shifting, replanning, and if you ask me that requires a little bit of experience and a ton of courage. Sometimes it requires a lot of saying no to some of the customers and having some tough conversations, but that’s absolutely needed for the health of the product, and also to stay fit for the future.

You might also be interested in: Leadership In Tumultuous Times

What are some of the biggest threats to innovation in an organization?

It’s really two things. Like we were saying before, it’s being stuck in the present. Being in the present, not having the time for the forward thinking it requires to get to the next horizon, that kills innovation. You need a balanced portfolio across the three horizons.

Second, it’s the operational complexity. So the more complex the product, the more effort it requires to be maintained for instance, the less innovation can happen within that organization. I think every product leader today should be thinking ‘What I’m doing in horizon one, in two, and in three? What am I doing across the three horizons?’ If you don’t have any answer for horizon two and three, now you know that you are stuck in the present, and in the operational.

Innovation and the fear of failure often come hand in hand. How can Product Leaders balance those two things? Pushing their teams to innovate whilst understanding that they may fail?

I think there are different fields. So when it comes to incremental innovation, when I talk about horizon one the risk is minimal there. But also innovating there will bring you to a smaller improvement. So the thing is, when you innovate in the incremental evolution of your product, I would say that you should go for it. Then there are other levels of transformation, the breakthrough things, I think that the risk of there is much higher. And also the risk of failure is of course higher.

So you try things out, maybe not in the most critical lines of your business, and if that works and you feel that it could be exported or easily adapted to other lines of business, then move forward with it and allow it to be more impactful. Start out small, that’s where breakthrough innovation comes from.

coporate training pm

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: