Enabling Innovation

I'm in the camp that there is no shortage of innovative ideas, just a shortage of backbone and ability to execute on those ideas. It does leave one question... just how do you tap those ideas?

Most people will say "just brainstorm." Those that study the innovation space are ok with brainstorming as part of a more structured innovation process that tests and refines brainstormed ideas. And, if brainstorming is an effective technique, it leaves a question of

For this posts sake I am going to restrict the scope of innovate to within a product, meaning, the product has been defined at a high level and the innovation occurs within that product context.

An effective technique I just successfully oversaw was a variation of the "empowering your team to innovate" mantra. It's simple - as product manager, I kept product requirements thin. Just enough to define breadth of product, and certainl enough to define the consumer and business problems. But, not deep on the requirements side. I gave the team freedom to innovate. And I accepted the risks associated with such an approach. It was simple: we knew the goal, we knew the problems. We had a fairly large team (upwards of 10+ program managers and developers), we needed to tap those creative minds if we were going to catch up to our competitors.

To be sure, there are those that don't like that approach. Those fall into two buckets: a) those that don't like that level of empowerment given themselves, and b) those that are not comfortable watching from afar the level of empowerment granted to the entire team.

For a), the solution was straightfoward: have those invididuals engage other individuals on the team that are comfortable making decisions in this space. Those inddividuals were all too happy to provide input!

For b), only two ways to make that crowd comfortable: ensure that the accountability structure is still in place, and show them the benefits with tangible results!

How did the product turn out? As one customer said: "Wow, this puts you 10 times beyond (competitor X)!" We did missfire on a few cylinders. A couple innovations did not pass the innovation bar. However, the breadth and depth of innovation outside of that more than made up for the few misses we had. Not to mention the morale benefits of enabling a team to make product decisions. Definitely a learning experience for me. It's a strategy I will pursue on all future products.

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