Review: ‘The Innovation Factory’ Posits The Product Manager As King

What’s innovation? New products, new features and new ways to develop, make, market and distribute them. It’s a buzzword and often misapplied, but innovation obviously plays a key role in company growth and competitiveness — whether you are Google, Yelp, LL Bean or H&R Block.

R&D budgets are focused on innovation. Sometimes, company energies and industry groups focus on Innovation Labs – often staffed by outside experts who think outside the box (think sociologist). In the interest of saving money and time, and being closer to market realities, some companies simply set up “sandboxes,” where they can test products and services internally.

AI, Machine Learning, Big Data and social media make it easier to innovate and adjust products. These can make sandboxes a better and cheaper bet than labs for near-term products and features.

Many companies just throw things out there and see what sticks. Mantras like “fail fast, fail often” have been embraced by many industry cowboys. But an innovation process that leverages all the technology tools and learning that are available is the focus of The Innovation Factory: Game Changing Innovation at Scale, a compelling white paper by The Innovation Scout’s Michael Glavich and Annette Tonti.

“What is needed in today’s internet-speed environment is people who can turn ideas directly into customer-focused solutions.” note the authors. “Solutions that fit within both the incremental improvement portfolio and the disruption innovations portfolio. This new reality requires a very different mindset. “

To the authors, AI /Machine Learning is the game changer. It allows companies to “automate some parts of the factory (like using AI to find new ideas in the Emerging Innovation Marketplace) and augment other parts of the process with the art & science of human experience and ingenuity.”

“Today, you can develop faster connections with prospective customers using market tools such as: crowdsourcing, social media and search marketing. Market tests can be done in hours not days, and at a much lower cost than the in-person test market of the ‘old days’.

The clear focus, then, becomes on “products”, broadly defined to include services. In a way, they argue, the lowly product manager has become king. “In the Innovation Factory structure, Product Management replaces Project Management,” note the authors. “This is an important moving part as Product Managers are absolutely pivotal for speed, agility and customer focus.

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