On face value, you might push back against this statement. You might point to your R&D team, your engineering team, or, most obviously if applicable, your innovation team.
After all, those are the teams whose work, in way or another, affects other departments’ work.
That’s true to an extent, meaning it’s true idealistically.
Idealistically, an innovative, well-run organization will have subject matter experts performing predominantly one type of necessary task and pass it off to the other focused department until whatever product or service they’re all working on reaches the market in a finished state.
Often, though, that’s not the case. Most employees—especially those on the frontlines—either have to be generalists or toe the line between being a generalist and being an expert. They have to have:
• A granular understanding of their organization as a whole and the product(s) and service(s) they offer.
• The ability to explain that understanding to customers.
• An answer to the biggest potential customer question: “What sets you apart from your competitors?”
Taking that into consideration, then, product management teams may be the most innovative. They interact with their organization’s offerings from both an employee’s and a customer’s perspective, and they’re customer-facing in ways other internal teams aren’t. Through all of the data they take in, product managers can identify new spaces in seemingly crowded markets, whether it’s an entirely new product or simply a few tweaks.
We’ve put together a few specific functions of product management teams that allow them to be effective drivers of innovation in any organization.
Actively Identifying Unmet Customer Needs
Successful, innovative products are the result of creativity, available resources, and a lot of research.
While market research and analysis is often a function of marketing departments, not every marketing employee has direct interaction with customers. Your product team, on other hand, takes the data marketing has compiled along with engineering’s latest product update and sees if it all aligns with customers’ needs and expectations.
If customers are unsatisfied, it’s back to the drawing board—which, while not immediately beneficial, actually makes more room for innovation.
Product management’s multiplicity in roles—they’re analysts, customer service reps, and non-technical engineers—not only has impact on innovation on their side of their organization, but all other departments they interact with.
Inherent Interdepartmental Collaboration
Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo. Unfortunately, a lot of departments operate that way, often not because they want to but because of the culture set in place at their organization.
Product management teams, on the other hand, often function as intermediaries, whether their organization promotes a culture of sharing or not. As mentioned above, taking a product from engineering and/or R&D to customers, then delivering customer insights to marketing is product management’s bread and butter.
Innovative Even When Making Small Changes
Idealistically, innovation materializes in a new, trailblazing product or service that no other company has yet fully realized or even thought of before.
Often, though, innovation happens incrementally, spurred by small but impactful ideas. While that’s not a glamorous path toward innovation success, it’s a well-worn path that any organization should consider going down.
Numerous breakthrough innovations have improved our lives in significant and profound ways. However, these developments often started with a basic platform which provided an initial framework for additional innovations and improvements. Once these ideas were further improved and enhanced, the path was paved to enable their widespread use and subsequent monetization of these innovations. These incremental improvements often hold the key to mass adoption.“The Power of Incremental Innovation,” Sandeep Kishore, Wired
Because of their closeness to the product and how consumers feel about it, product managers themselves hold the keys to which small but effective tweaks could—and should—be made.
How to Engage Your Product Management Team
Engaging your product team is the same as engaging all of your other teams: Allow for a space that encourages freely sharing ideas on potential product updates or even company operations.
Having a platform available for use by all employees, regardless of their official role title or department-specific responsibilities, unveils the proverbial curtains that prevent your organization from achieving innovation goals as an organization.