The book “Inspired – how to develop tech products customers love” (by Marty Cagan) is full of insights into the reasons products and product companies succeed or fail.
One of the interesting analyses in the book refers to the question –
why companies lose their ability to innovate at scale
(spoiler – when they open innovation centers, it is already a red alert).
This is not inevitable, as some of the most innovative companies are very large… (amazon, Google, etc.), so why does it happen to so many companies?
In short, they lose those attributes that keep the culture of consistent innovation in organizations:
The customer centric culture and the passion to delight the customer,
the compelling product vision,
the focus and clarity,
the empowerment of product teams,
the ability to take risks,
the time to innovate.
Instead they focus on leveraging the value and the brand that is already created, they are not trying to build something new, they get confused about what’s next, and they are too impacted by the stakeholders that are protecting the existing.
Organizations that lose the ability to innovate are missing one or more of the following attributes:
- Customer centric culture – understanding the real needs and pains of the customers and wanting to delight them. This is what leads us to innovate on behalf of our customers, and when it is missing, the passion to innovate reduces.
- Compelling product vision – As the initial vision realized, many product companies are confused about what’s next? This is where the leadership must step up and fill the void by defining a new ore renewed vision that is exciting and clear enough.
- Focused product strategy – One of the significant causes to product failures is trying to please everyone. Trying to meet everyone’s needs blurs the focus on specific challenges and it is much harder to innovate.
- Strong product managers – such that can step into the shoes of the founders that have created the initial vision and continue to lead the product and innovate.
- Stable product teams – The prerequisite for innovation is the ability to learn and understand the framework and the background and to have enough knowledge of the product. This is achieved much better with stable teams.
- Engineers in discovery – The engineering team is often the key to innovation. Including them in the process from the beginning is key. On going collaboration will complement all teams.
- Corporate courage – As companies grow, they have much more to lose and as such they become risk averse. But the riskiest strategy is to stop taking risks. It should be done in a smart way, but taking risks is essential for consistence innovation.
- Empowered product teams – Don’t make the roadmap and features the only thing product teams manage, remember they should be able to get outside the lines to solve business problems in the way they see fit.
- Product mindset – The focus of product teams should be how the product serves customers in a way that meet the needs of the business (rather than focus on business goals first).
- Time to innovate – At scale, some product teams are totally consumed with implementing capabilities, fixing bugs, addressing technical dept, etc. when this is the case, it is impossible to innovate. Leaders should ensure that the teams have the time to pursue more impactful items.
To sum, strong tech product companies keep consistent product innovation culture. They make it a point not to “fall” to the many traps on the way and chose innovative culture over any other factor, every day. Other companies who do not chose innovation over other factors, with time, lose their innovative edge. When it happens and culture has changed, it is much harder to fix and requires big changes.