Igniting More Innovation in Your Product Teams

Christopher Barcelona
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Innovation. Everyone wants it. But is your company investing in it? Eureka moments surface in product teams that prioritize innovation on their to-do lists to ensure their customers stay engaged and loyal. But how do you keep the innovation flame alive with everything else required to keep your business running?

Here we explore important innovation principles to infuse into your product teams to keep your company at the forefront of your customers' needs.

Innovation. It’s a big word with little definition. It can mean progress or technological advancement or even looking at an idea in a new way. However you define it, innovation is a challenge to ignite and even more difficult to maintain. With the ever-present mindset of ‘what’s next,’ it’s difficult to keep an eye on the future while focusing on the very real and present needs of growing a business.

We all know the story of Blockbuster, a company that adapted quickly from VHS to DVDs, but failed to see the future in digital, leaving the path wide open for Netflix to lead the market with streaming. Or Kodak, whose breakthroughs included Kodachrome color film, the handheld movie camera, and the Instamatic camera. And then … nothing to compete in the world of digital media.

A more relevant example can be found in Zoom. During 2020, Zoom played host to countless birthday parties, meetings, concerts and classes. But Zoom has struggled to convert its user base into paying customers. Zoom recently reported its slowest quarter ever, showing us that constantly improving is key to successful innovation.

So how do businesses keep the fire of innovation lit?

How do we make improvement continuous and always with the customer in mind? Whether you’re just starting out, breathing new life into an existing product or at the top of your game, the companies who foster a culture of innovation, who make it a continual focus will be the ones that stay relevant.

Overcome the Product Innovation Obstacles

Budget, size, risk and bureaucracy are all innovation roadblocks you can overcome, with the right mindset.

First, and most importantly, you need to look for the opportunities to impact. If your “innovation” consists of ideas pushed by internal stakeholders, rather than creatively approaching your customers’ problems, chances are, your competitors will eat your lunch.

It’s important to understand that all companies, big or small, can run into innovation roadblocks. Whether it’s a startup having hustle but not enough budget to turn the idea into a product or a big company moving cautiously with more revenue at risk, today’s customer-centric world is constantly looking for products and services to solve their ever-changing problems. Innovation does that.

It Starts at the Top

Innovation must be a top-down initiative. Leaders must guide by example and hold their teams accountable for innovation. And it needs to happen on two levels, the macro and the micro.

First, lay out a vision. Paint the broad picture forward while articulating the benefits of innovation, reinforcing its worth within your team. Speak to the emotion and the potential that innovation can bring.

But you must also keep it actionable. Innovation can easily feel overwhelming; describe clear, bite-sized milestones and hold the team responsible for reaching them. These are the logical, action-oriented steps people can visualize and move forward with.

The book, Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard, by authors Chip and Dan Heath, describes these two aspects of human nature in detail. Once you speak to both the emotional and logical aspects of innovation, only then can you begin to align your teams and propel them toward creative endeavors.

Customer First. Customer Always.

Innovate from the customer’s point of view. First, that means you need to get to know them. Through direct customer research, you can better understand what your customer needs. Only then can you get to work solving their real problems. Remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about them. Without them, you don’t exist.

This may require a customer-centric perspective shift to begin looking at all problems through the lens of your customer. Some companies find value from customer-centric or design thinking workshops to help kickstart and cultivate that perspective company-wide.

Besides talking to your customers, don’t forget to network with peers and cultivate relationships with people who know cutting-edge technology better than anyone. You may make a match between a tech solution and a customer need that you haven’t thought of before.

Innovation Through Data

Innovation is creativity bound by reality – innovation is by nature loose, free-flowing, and out of the box and stretches what is possible. But innovation for innovation’s sake never pays off.

Innovation should be guided by data to keep you innovating within a defined space. Does your data tell you where there is a break in the customer journey? Does it point you to a touchpoint that is disruptive? This data shows you where innovation is needed. This helps ensure that what you create is valuable rather than flashy.

Turn Your Ideas into Action

Sometimes ideas are not the problem. In fact, ideas often come flooding in. But ideas are a dime a dozen without action. True innovation means finding a way to turn the right ideas into results that support your vision.

Ben Foster, the author of Build What Matters said in his Industry Product Conference 2022 talk that effective innovation in almost every form (new products, new markets, and new capabilities) should be linked to your product strategy. Let the strategy be the engine for the innovation as the execution work unfolds.

Make innovation an intentional, top down part of the execution plan. When a new product is in early stage development, innovation efforts should be prioritized, possibly 90% or more of the team’s time. As the product reaches maturity, innovation efforts may fall to 10% or below as innovation efforts move on to your new products and markets.

Effective product strategies are phased with built-in checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints allow your team to celebrate innovation milestones while revisiting the strategy to ensure you are still on course.

Invest in Innovation

It’s an investment. As in a put-it-in-your-yearly-budget investment. Often, not enough money or time is devoted to the innovative process, making any efforts almost guaranteed to fail. To win the game, you have to get skin in the game.

It’s important to incentivize and invest in your teams. You not only have to give your team the space to creatively iterate, you have to actively encourage them and then reward them for doing so.

Find a Product Innovation Guide

That’s us. At G2O, we’ve guided countless teams to innovation. We can help you put on a customer-centric hat to truly understand and meet their changing needs with our Innovation Accelerator and other Product Workshops.

Learn more about Innovation Acceleration by contacting us here.