Innovation is often viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

It could be argued that innovation is the very essence of Product Management. Yet it is rarely explicitly discussed, we are usually more focused on the more practical details of how we work. But how can we work in a that that truly supports innovation?

To a large extent agile ways of working are great at supporting innovation. We have for example principles and practices like these:

  • Trust empowered teams to deliver
  • Fast feedback loops on multiple levels
  • See failure as opportunity to learn
  • Working software over extensive documentation
  • Highest priority to satisfy customer
  • Simplicity
  • Continuous improvement

All these principles and practices are very supportive of innovation. But we don’t so often talk or train explicitly on innovation, why is this?

I believe it might be because to some extent we have seen requirements as something to be discovered. If we just communicate with the intended end-users in the correct way they will describe the requirements to us and we will implement them for them and everyone will be happy. But in reality it doesn’t really work this way. End-users are individuals with different ideas and preferences. The usually tend to describe solution that may or may not be a good fit to their problem and quite often not such a good fit to the general target groups problems. The trick is to interview many users and on a deep level try to understand problems and opportunities so that we as product development experts can build solutions for the most interesting problems.

Another issue is that most companies are too rigid in terms of what they want to do and how they control this. Innovation needs space, not restrictions. At least at early stages.

So how can we as a community become better at innovation? I think a couple of things will help:

  • Be more open to investigate all kinds of opportunities and allow more freedom in the company
  • Create new processes and controls are that are more supportive of innovation, but make sure you are not just playing around
  • Talk to end-users and really try to understand them
  • Iterate fast with the smallest things you need to do to learn – this might often not be code, it can be interviews, mock-ups and clever tricks as well