Innovation: The Key Ingredient In The Making Of A Great Product Manager

Andrew Cheung

13 Apr 2021

Great product managers are not necessarily technical experts of the product that they manage. For instance, American tech magnate Steve Jobs was not a designer, programmer, or engineer. However, he pulled off an unprecedented feat with the iPhone. This example goes to prove that simply knowing the ins and outs of the product is enough to orchestrate the hype surrounding it. And more importantly, every successful product manager has two qualities in common - creativity and innovation in leading the carnival.

With all the hue and cry surrounding creativity and innovation, let’s take a look at how organisations can use it to drive results:

The Importance of Creativity and Innovation in Business

Let’s circle back to Steve Jobs, who once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

His words ring true to this day.

Businesses that have managed to leverage innovation and creativity have overcome the direst of challenges to emerge as global leaders.

Importance of Creativity and Innovation

Unsurprisingly, creativity and innovation coexist through a symbiotic relation - one supporting the other and vice versa. On the one hand, creativity introduces new solutions, ideas, products, and processes; on the other hand, creativity acts as the driving force that necessitates innovation and thinking outside the box. Accordingly, they establish a sustainable loop that results in the growth, development, and maturation of the business.

Apart from this obvious benefit, here are a few ways in which creativity and innovation add value to businesses:

  • Creativity and innovation streamline products and processes, which in turn boosts overall productivity.

  • It unifies diverse and cross-functional teams to create a strongly linked, forward-facing workforce.

  • It blends divergent and convergent thinking at the individual, team, and organizational levels, which lays the path for excellent problem-solving capabilities.

  • Organizations can scale new heights through product/process improvement, productivity jump, and accelerated sales and marketing.

  • It puts the business on the track of continuous development, which will support long-term and tenable growth.

In a nutshell, the key way to keep running your business successfully even when the tide is against you is creativity and innovation.

Role of Innovation in product management

What is the Role of Creativity and Innovation in Product Management?

As the name indicates, product management’s role is simple - to conceptualise, realise, and refine the product.

As such, the product management team is responsible for continuously developing the product right from its nascence to its peak usage and then to the ultimate end of the product cycle. They may even attempt to revive or revamp the product and reintroduce it into the market in response to the user feedback.

Eventually, the purpose is to keep the product fresh and relevant for the longest possible time.

Thus, product management involves four stages, which incorporate innovation and creativity at almost every level. The steps in the cyclic flow include:

Idea Phase

In the ideation phase, product managers study data points derived from market research and observations, customer surveys and feedback, contextual inquiries, and other similar sources to identify creative and innovative solutions to the problems and devise a plan to build on and develop the same.

The ideation stage also requires the assessment of the viability of the product. The product’s potential is measured in market size for the solution, the value of the problem, and the price that they are willing to pay to solve it.

Product Development Strategy Phase

Once you complete scouting for solutions and filter in the feasible ones, the next stage of product management strategy involves an elaborate study on these ideas. At this point, skilled product managers employ innovation and creativity to create a detailed proposal of the idea and the surrounding logistics, such as the ROI, delivery costs, market potential, etc., of developing a product.

It is imperative that creativity and innovation strike a harmonious chord at this stage. No matter how creative or lucrative the solution appears, if it does not have the backing of innovation, it is as good as dead.

Product Planning Phase

In the product planning stage, the product management team steps into the shoes of the customer to examine the solution. Once again, innovation and creativity are necessary during this new product development process to identify any hidden potential of the product. Flipping the narrative allows the innovation manager to define scope and user requirements for the product.

Product Definition Phase

The culmination of all the above activities leads to the product definition phase. It is the crux of the product management exercise where the business takes a call on whether it will continue or discontinue with the launch.

Suppose the company was to go ahead with the plan. In that case, the product management team should develop a product requirement document, which will contain all the features, functions, and specifications in detail. Based on these inputs, the development team will then create a high-fidelity prototype to test the idea. The continuous innovation will then further refine the product until the business obtains a practical, low-fidelity solution.


Read Also:How to become a Product Manager in Hong Kong


Project Managers Drive Innovation

How Can Product Managers Drive Innovation?

As one can see from above, creativity and innovation go hand in hand with the product development process and management. Hence, it comes as no surprise that product managers have also earned the title of innovation managers.

To retain the status of innovation managers, product managers can promote innovation and creativity in the following ways:

Encouraging the Exchange of Ideas

You could be the leader of your product management team, but you never know who could get the next big idea for a viable product! It could be someone from customer support who was struck by an idea while servicing a customer. Or it could be the sales manager who read an interesting review submitted by a user. Such eureka moments can take place in any department of the company. Hence, it is crucial that the entire organisation fosters a culture of exchanging ideas on a regular basis.

Ask Interesting Questions to Find Interesting Solutions

Quite often, the solutions that we seek are often camouflaged within the problem. Thus, if you wish to spearhead your product manager’s creative abilities, you need to ask them interesting questions. Follow an elaborate who, what, why, when, how analysis surrounding the problem and ask questions that are completely unthought of before. Such questions will lend unique perspectives on even the most routine objects, and in the process, bloom into unexpected solutions.

Incentivize Innovative and Creative Thinking Across All Verticals

One cannot force an individual to think creatively. However, incenting employees. Given its contagious nature, it is only a matter of time until everyone seeks creativity and innovation.

In some cases, innovation does not necessarily have to be within the realm of new product development and can diversify beyond the product portfolio. Eventually, every form of innovation shall enhance your business.

Involve the Entire Team in the Product Management Process

As you would do during the product development process, tap into your company’s creative reserves by involving them in the product management team experiments. Share the upgraded product with the employees and ask them to list down the details of the products, their features, and functionalities, any recent modifications, changes that they wish were a part of the product, etc. Through this initiative, you can prevent future breakdowns and failures at the client end.

Cross-Functional Collaborations

Foster Cross-Functional Team Collaborations

Since we are already talking about collaborations, product management can also work closely with other departments to understand their experience with the product in their respective fields. Naturally, every cross-functional team would have a completely different viewpoint on the product, and as such, can offer multi-dimensional, cross-functional team feedback.


Read Also:4 Tools for More Collaborative and Customer-Focused Teams


Focus on Your Vision and Think Beyond Products

Even though your primary focus is the products, the business vision overshadows everything else. Simply viewing everything from the product’s viewpoint shall create a limited tunnel vision. Hence, unlock greater potential by focusing on the larger business goals. Find creative and innovative ways to align products and solutions with the company’s high-level objectives.

Maintain Present and Future Innovation Balance

Maintain a Present-Future Balance

Sure, you have yourself an excellent product that is highly in demand right now. But what about its future? Companies like Kodak and Nokia are classic examples of how businesses must account for future innovations and their corresponding disruptions. Hence, convert today’s revenue into tomorrow’s investment by monitoring the ongoing hard and soft trends.

Establish an Innovation Lab

As mentioned over and over again, any individual across the organisation could conceive the next big idea. Hence, to erase the limitations posed by team accessibility, you can constitute an innovation lab where interested parties can meet and brainstorm at a recurring time. These team members can then undergo training and gain support to develop a proof of concept before taking their proposal forward.

Address Creative Burnout

As much as we may like it otherwise, we cannot be at our creative best at every given point in time. Hence, even a great product manager needs to take a break every once in a while to unwind and gather their bearings. In some cases, the roadblocks could be present within a team as some members may be opposed to creative changes. In such situations, it is best to take a step back and gain perspective on how to address issues.


Read Also:Top Tech Skills for Aspiring Product Managers


The Bottom Line

In the current age and time, a product manager’s role is not merely to manage a product. They also have to double as an innovative manager and lead the innovative and creative development of the product management process. And while it is not mandatory, innovation can bring about exciting changes, which makes it absolutely worth the effort that goes into it. Involve as many people as possible and reward all the brave attempts at creativity to nurture a thriving work culture.

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Andrew Cheung

13 Apr 2021

培育未來人才 加速創新科技