When Innovation Programs Fail

When Brant Cooper typically speaks to innovation practitioners, he usually tells them to “stop innovating”. He says this because they typically fail to define what they mean by the word innovation. At #mtpcon in San Francisco, he helped product practitioners to understand what innovation is, why innovation programs fail, and how we can help to change the conversation[1].

According to Cooper, innovation teams are too often charged with delivering breakthrough innovation that should come with a longer time horizon, but they’re asked to deliver the return on investment immediately like companies expect from products with a short-term horizon. He believes that product managers are the solution. But how can product managers help companies better manage innovation within differing horizons? Brant gives us four tips for better innovation.

  • Tip 1: Be Bold in Experiments. Too often, we rely on A/B testing as the only method of experimentation. But it is only one way of experimenting, and is purely good for optimization. We should take a rigorous approach – brainstorming assumptions, prioritizing the riskiest assumption by asking “What must be true for this product to work in the marketplace?” – and design an experiment that measures customer behavior to validate or invalidate an assumption. 
  • Tip 2: Go Deeper in Empathy. As product teams, we often talk about finding “empathy” with our users. Brant points out that what we really need understand are not just our users’ feelings, but their aspirations and motivations as well. Simply asking customers what they want is not enough; we also need to spend time observing their behavior and determining what drives them.
  • Tip 3: Move Beyond Vanity Metrics… Internally. In modern product development, we talk a lot about metrics and data. We’re at a point where we understand that we shouldn’t be using vanity metrics to measure the success of our product. However we still use vanity metrics in the way we work inside our organizations. As we try to move beyond waterfall ways of working and being measured by outputs and long-term forecasts, what measures can we track that indicate our leadership buys into this new way of working? What can we look to as an indicator that our teams are fully adopting new goals like achieving deeper empathy, rather than just measuring velocity? How can we see that we are not just optimizing, but running big experiments that might help us to accelerate growth? As we transform our teams, we need to turn our product techniques and metric knowledge internally to ensure that we are actually changing team behavior.
  • Tip 4: Implement Radical Restructuring. The way we structure our companies today tends to be based on the assembly line of the industrial age. We focus on specialization of trade, and split teams accordingly: marketing, sales, development, facilities, etc. The very nature of that structure is what makes us slow and keeps us from being able to adjust our processes when we get new information. Culture comes out of the structure of the company. Rather than building silos based on specialities, we must look at cross-functional teams who are focused on a specific mission tied to a metric, and have all the specialities needed to achieve them. The specialties may loosely associate in the form of a “guild” to keep up with best practices, but the power moves to the team.

Brant Cooper
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Moves The Needle

Click here to read or listen to the entire speech on Mind The Product Blog.

[1]: Tate, Emily, When Innovation Programs Fail by Brant Cooper, Blog, Mind The Product, September 14, 2018.

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