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Get innovation-ready, your product manager is on fire! by Julia Shalet "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 6 July 2022 True #mtpcon, Innovation, Premium Content, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 870 Get innovation-ready, your product manager is on fire! by Julia Shalet Product Management 3.48

Get innovation-ready, your product manager is on fire! by Julia Shalet

You have the power to be the most innovative version of a product manager that you can be. But if the organisation around you isn’t ready to play ball, then your ideas may not even get off the starting block. In this #mtpcon Digital Americas session, Juliet Shalet, author of The Really Good Idea Test, talks about what you can do to start to knock down the blockers and get your organisation ready to receive!

Watch the session in full to see her talk or read on for an overview of her key points:

  • What is innovation?
  • Ways organizations kill innovation
  • Angles to help break down barriers

What is innovation?

Julia begins by explaining she found herself in a position that many product managers likely find themselves in. After being told to innovate by her company, she was told that it was off-strategy after she came up with the idea. To help other product managers avoid being stuck in a similar situation, Julia provides a few tips.

The first step is to define innovation, which is about “looking at products across the whole lifecycle and finding ways to improve at each stage.” In some situations, even killing a product can be an innovative thing because it allows you to put your energy into new products. Innovation solves problems and creates value for groups of people, whether those are external or internal customers.

While some companies may have dedicated innovation teams, everyone has an opportunity and obligation to innovate, no matter how big or small.

Ways organizations kill innovation

Some of the ways organizations kill innovation include:

  • JDI’s rule: The “just do it” rule, where new managers come in and tell you to stop everything you’re doing and work on another task.
  • Risk Aversity: Not doing anything outside of your comfort zone.
  • Demanding Business Case Too Early: Trying to act on an idea without validating it or understanding who your customers are.
  • Board Say Opportunity Is Too Small: Some organizations are unwilling to pursue ideas that won’t make large capital gains.
  • No Resources Available: A lack of time or resources to pursue an idea.
  • Fear of Failure: Believing that some things might not be successful or damaging to the brand.

Angles to help break down barriers

Julia provides nine angles to help organizations break down barriers to innovation:

Make all ideas equal

Whenever an idea comes up, whether it’s from senior management, yourself, or elsewhere, present the idea in simple terms what it might mean for the business. Hypothesis = Goal + Idea + Value Proposition + Desired Action. “If we’re to reach this goal, with this idea and deliver this benefit, we’re going to need these customers who are getting the benefit to do this thing.”

Address biggest unknowns first

Most new products fail because we misunderstand what customers really want and need. Julia suggests four questions she always begins with when pursuing a new idea:

  • Does the problem exist?
  • Is it big enough?
  • Are existing solutions adequate?
  • Will “they” take action?

Answering these questions puts you in the right mindset.

Question, learn and discover mindset

When you think you know something, it’s essential to ask questions about it.

  • Question what you think you know
  • Learn what you know you don’t know
  • Discover what you didn’t know you didn’t know

Practice evidence-based decision making

Do you have the evidence to actually do this? Julia mentions some points from her book which help to identify your riskiest assumptions:

Start with quick, cost-effective, DIY research:

  • 7 simple, iterative steps (no prior experience required)
  • Thoughtfully recruit a mix of respondents – start with 5
  • Create research scripts that reduce bias and get rich insight
  • Tips for conversations you need to have with your organization

Right question at the right time

If you’re still on the left of the product lifecycle stages: ‘Idea – Explore – Validate’, then you’ll ask for smaller incremental investment while discovering product-market fit, testing the market, solutions & business model.

If you’re on the right side, having already launched a product: ‘Grow – Sustain – Retire’, then you’ll ask for larger incremental investment based on real product traction, customer insight, and profit and losses.

Small, local budgets to test before you invest

Rather than have innovative ideas killed too early, test them with smaller budgets. Julia suggests writing a hypothesis, testing the problem hypothesis, testing solution benefits, and validating the idea. Using prototypes helps you to fail quickly and get feedback quickly while remaining on strategy.

Make your “ask” about reducing risk

Julian explains that when you’re asking for money for an idea, present evidence that reduces any previous risks and provides resources to reduce the next set of risks.

Question and evaluate WIP

If you find yourself in a situation where you aren’t sure if you have the right resources, you can ask if you are hedging bets and working on many different ideas at once. In this case, you should try to finish things you’ve started.

Change “failure” mindset

Finally, Julia suggests focusing on eliminating the failure mindset to innovate by instead thinking of it as learning.

The key takeaways are that you can take the negative blockers of innovation and instead do positive actions to help bring innovation to your organization.


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