Remember this time about two years ago? It might as well have been 50 years ago, to be honest — the world as we knew it seems to have dissipated. For product managers, 2020 was about identifying pandemic-related customer challenges, and 2021 was about solving them. In 2022, product managers now have a solid foundation to drive unprecedented innovation. To do that, however, they have to move with collaboration, efficiency and curiosity.
With that in mind, here are five suggestions every product manager should consider to fuel innovation management in the coming year.
1. Think in terms of a single smart product team
In 2022, product managers would be wise to optimize smart product development to unleash innovation more efficiently. It starts with identifying the best ways for teams on the physical and digital sides to work together. As we know, different processes and cultures exist between those making the refrigerator and those connecting it to the internet.
However, that doesn't mean the physical and digital teams are parallel lines. The best product managers are masters at finding synergies between teams and creating conditions for collaboration. Innovation rests in unexplored areas. It's vital to bring teams together to understand each other's pain points and determine the best ways to work. Some processes will always have to stay the same, but true collaboration will reveal areas for adjustments that everyone can make to create efficiency.
When you facilitate trust, sharing and communicating between teams, you move away from "us and them" and build a single product sphere — and you may find the next great idea amid those discussions.
2. Focus on problems, not buzzwords
A product manager's superpower is identifying customer problems. However, it's very easy to get caught up in the race to incorporate the latest and greatest technology and lose sight of simply solving a problem that makes life easier and creates value in a customer's life. Yes, artificial intelligence, machine learning, design thinking, augmented reality and blockchain are exciting and hold great promise, but will they help you develop a better mousetrap?
If the answer's yes, then move forward with vigor. Determine which new technologies or what combination of technologies will most efficiently solve a customer's problem. You may even find that less is more and previous products would be more attractive from a customer experience standpoint and price point when simplified.
If the answer's no, you're probably creating a solution in search of a problem — and that's the antithesis of innovation.
3. Embrace automated innovation solutions
Despite the veritable avalanche of automated solutions out there, many product managers are still using office tools to manage workflows, which raises a simple question: Why? Familiarity is a hard habit to break, but antiquated tools can prevent your team from quickly unlocking innovation. In a business environment where better products are going to market faster, collaboration and efficiency are gold.
If you think about it, product managers are ideally suited to move forward with new technology because they're skilled in identifying client pain points and empowering the right people to solve them. Take that same approach with your team members — treat them like internal clients. Have consistent conversations to identify friction that slows innovation and deliberately evaluate the technology that best addresses your team's specific concerns.
Solutions run the gamut, from road mapping, project management and collaboration tools to product analytics and business intelligence. The right solution depends on the specific obstacles your team is facing.
4. Create a culture that embraces new idea development from everyone
Yes, you hire people for what they can do — but also for what they know. If you work under that principle, it's reasonable to expect everyone on your team to have a great idea just waiting to be unearthed. Encourage everyone to throw ideas against the wall at will. Once people are in the habit of doing so, you'll have a repository of interesting insights that would have otherwise remained in the shadows.
It's also important not to punish folks when they share a clunker. Your team members will be more reluctant to raise their hands, which will create an even less effective environment for idea management. Another thing to remember: Even if a new idea isn't "the one," there may be a nugget of truth in there that, when combined with other nuggets, creates a brilliant solution.
5. Acquire innovation strategy expertise from other industries
In his book, In Search of Excellence, noted business writer Tom Peters detailed his belief to learn about companies and industries outside of your own to excel. This suggestion has stuck with me for years, and product managers should heed this advice. Innovation doesn't happen in a silo.
In the coming year, challenge yourself every day to consume content about market sectors you know nothing about. New insights can help give you perspective on how you approach innovation. Perhaps other industries are solving similar problems but differently. Read an article, watch a video or listen to a podcast — perspective can spark innovative ideas that you can apply to your customers' problems.
Use the Mondelēz International case study as an example.
In a typical year, Mondelēz conducts more than 6,500 product-related project activities. However, without clear visibility of product strategy and insights, NPD decisions cannot be made based on real-time information.
See how Mondelēz International achieve:
- 100% global visibility for all new product initiatives
- 50% reduction in time prepping for gate meetings
- Better process automation
If the last two years have taught us anything, it's that radical change can happen in an instant. The product managers who continue to innovate amid the chaos will enable collaboration and be open to new ideas and methodologies. There's a lot of great insight from customers, team members and other industries to sharpen your product management skills in the coming year. Take advantage of them — they could change 2022's trajectory dramatically.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.