What product managers need to know about the journey from idea to product
This is another episode in the series on the product management body of knowledge I’m doing every other week. We are exploring the Product Development and Management Association’s (PDMA) guide to the body of knowledge for product managers and innovators. If you are unfamiliar with PDMA, they are the longest running volunteer-led professional association for product managers, existing since 1976. We started in episode 307 with an introduction to the body of knowledge, explored strategy in episode 309, portfolio management in 311, and today we are discussing Product Innovation Process. These are the processes and tools for making a product real.
Our guest is Jean-Jacques Verhaeghe, who authored the new chapter on process in the PDMA body of knowledge book. He has many years of experience in a variety of senior product roles and is now serving as the Research, Development, and Innovation Program Manager for the Minerals Council in South Africa, with a focus on Digitalization, IoT, AI, and Technology Research.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:24] What is the purpose of product innovation process?
Product innovation process takes us on the journey from an idea to putting the product in the customers’ hands. The purpose of process is aligning our organization and team around a common goal. It creates a baseline of consistency and repeatability while allowing for change, and it allows us to balance reward and risk when developing products.
[5:22] What is the Product Innovation Charter (PIC)?
The front end of product design is uncertain or fuzzy, and the PIC allows us to get what’s in people’s minds into a structured format on paper. It causes the team to think about key elements like the goals and metrics they want to achieve, sustainability factors, the rationale for doing the work, and assumptions that need to be tested. The PIC validates what’s in scope and what’s not and explores the environment. It shows the direction we’re heading. It also elaborates on day-to-day management of the product.
Let’s walk through a few product innovation processes.
[9:18] Stage Gate
The idea behind Stage Gate is managing uncertainty along the journey. Typically, the first stage is about discovering and exploring. Then we reach a gate, which is a decision-making event. The team uses criteria to determine what they need to get out of each stage and how to proceed going forward. The focus of Stage Gate is quality decision making. Stage Gate is very transparent and adaptable. Recently, a methodology has been created combining Agile and Stage Gate; in this methodology, the team always thinks in terms of customer needs. Stage Gate increases team morale and improves communication. People know what to expect; quality decisions can be made and focus is maintained.
[14:34] Lean Product Innovation
Lean Product Innovation originated in companies like Toyota where eradicating waste in production and innovation is of primary importance. Lean Product Innovation is about gathering information and knowledge as early as possible. It’s unique in that it includes gathering knowledge all the time and incorporating it back into the process of eradicating waste and improving. In this process, the team develops a sense of ownership, so it doesn’t require heavy governance. It does take time for the team to buy into it, but it’s a fantastic way of managing risk, quality, and performance in the long run. It’s also easy to scale.
Agile is an iterative approach, a quick way of achieving milestones and iteratively checking what’s working and what’s not throughout the life of the product. Agile was made to be done by self-organizing teams who collaborate, share ideas, and develop solutions that fail fast and fix fast. Working in small stages allows you to change plans quickly, so it’s especially useful in an unpredictable environment. You can’t spend too much time on any one phase, so you work in sprints. Agile is underpinned by pillars. One pillar is the interactions of individuals—the team players work in specific roles. Another pillar is the heavy customer involvement in product development.
[25:02] What do you tell organizations that want to improve their innovation process?
- First, evaluate the problem with the existing methodology.
- Remember that culture is key; it is people who create, ideate, and innovate.
- Include all the stakeholders on the journey to improving the innovation process, and don’t bring in anyone who would disrupt the process.
- Be clear about the roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities that everyone has in the process.
- Be clear about the product—remember that any process is a means to an end.
- Give the new process time and check it again.
Action Guide: Put the information Jean-Jacques shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Jean-Jacques on LinkedIn
“The most important invention Thomas Edison gave us was not an invention at all. It was the process of invention, the codification of the discrete steps to take a raw idea to a commercial product.” – Harry Roman, in an IEEE publication
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.