Product Thinking for Innovation Led Growth
I was invited to conduct a workshop on Product Thinking for NASSCOM GIC in Bangalore last week. The audience were mostly middle to senior management leaders at captive centers who have established R&D centers and looking to drive innovation out of these centers of growth. This blog describes the key points shared in the workshop. It begins with the reasons for emphasizing product thinking, a quick comparison of product and services mindset and followed by highlights from the panel discussion on the Role of Management in Nurturing Product Thinking!
A quick note – product thinking and product mindsets are used interchangeably as they mean the same thing.
Any attempt to compare product mindset and services mindset should be seen in the context of why we are having this problem? The two are as different as chalk and cheese as explained later below! Lets first take a look at the evolving state of the product ecosystem in India.
The evolving state of the product ecosystem
The reasons driving comparison, viewing from the growing products industry perspective, can be attributed to couple of factors –
- There is a large supply of engineers from the services sector.
- Fresh engineering graduates are trained to solve problems and not to identify problems.
- MBA schools mostly teach product marketing and entrepreneurship but leave out the details of what to build that is required in product management or innovation.
- Most of the captives of product organizations operate in a services delivery mode building to specifications. This also introduces a services mindset over a period of time.
Products, Services and Mindsets
A quick dive into products and services shows many differences but the main highlights are listed below:
- Scalability factor: In services, customization is at scale through resources, whereas in products, repeatability is at scale through aggregating needs.
- Resources allocation: In services, resources are dedicated to a client whereas in products they are dedicated to a product or product line.
- Revenues: In services, after you begin work on a project, revenues are guaranteed, whereas in products, there are no guarantees that you will find paying customers regardless of your pricing model.
- Scope: In services, scope is fixed and unambiguous to a point, whereas in products, scope is ambiguous and flexible.
- Deliverables: In services, deliverables are non-negotiable , whereas in products, deliverables are iterative by design and choice for various reasons.
Imagine how working in either of these sectors would fashion one’s mind – what questions are asked, how do business and team conversations begin and end, etc? This is as different as chalk and cheese! We need to acknowledge the differences and work towards unlearning and learning the new mindset needed.
I delved into aspects of why it is important to recognize the need to shift to the right mindset. In the words of Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It doesn’t matter if the organization has the best strategy. A negative or poor culture will stifle the strategy. But, what is culture? Isn’t culture the manifestation of a collective mindset? May be, “Mindset eats culture for breakfast”. (Somebody is hungry!) Carol Dweck, in her seminal book, Mindset, makes a very interesting point when she says – Mindset changes the meaning of failure! We need to ponder this over a bit on how organizations identify and react to failure in each of the services and product mindsets. Failure in services is chastised as detrimental to survival of the business but failure in product is considered as experiment in learning!
So, how does one introduce product mindset in organizations? The first thing is to recognize the fundamentals of product mindset such as distinguishing between customer needs Vs wants. Pravi Solutions specializes in building and nurturing product mindset in organizations. We have identified four pillars that we think are critical for a product organization to be successful. They are customer empathy, ownership, organizational design and experiment-oriented! (If you are interested to learn more about the pillars, email me.)
Vijay Paul, COO, SM NetServ, presented case studies emphasizing the pillars of customer empathy and ownership.
Highlights from the panel discussion
Soon after the workshop, there was a panel discussion on the “Role of management in nurturing product thinking”. The panelists were Ms. Ushasri, SVP & GM, Manhattan Associates, Mr. Avaneesh Dubey, CEO at Helioc, formerly SVP at SAP, Mr. Vijay Paul, COO at SM NetServ Technologies, a product engineering company. The panel was moderated by me. Here are the highlights:
On the role of management in nurturing product thinking:
Usha mentioned the need to encourage teams to develop deep understanding of customer need or business drivers that will help them build empathy. Encouraging innovation culture and sustaining the management initiatives is the key. Avaneesh wants management to get out of the way of teams in building and shipping products. If anything, Avaneesh wants the management to break silos between organizations and encourage collaboration.Vijay thinks management should create visibility and have the humility to learn about customers, markets and situations.
On product thinking initiatives that yielded positive results, all of them encouraged pursuing ideas that benefited the customers and business. Some of them are listed below:
- Encouraging pursual of new technologies
- Creating sandboxes for innovation
- Encouraging skunkworks projects that 3M famously pursued
- Open communication
Creative confidence is a term coined by David & Tom Kelley. In his book David Kelley talks about how one can build creative confidence. The panelists were asked to pick characteristics of a creatively confident organization. Their responses are below:
- Everyone can create, not just few individuals designated as “innovators”.
- Creatively confident are not afraid of failures. They have a “Fail-Fast” attitude
- Keep creating, experimenting using design thinking approach
- Identify and surface problems
On the need to balance innovation initiatives for nurturing product thinking while still delivering on the roadmap, the panelists were of the opinion that the captive has a great opportunity to step up and deliver to the mandate given by the parent company. In this regard, the conversations need to move from cost arbitrage to value arbitrage!
And finally on recognizing and reward talent to foster product thinking, the panelists reiterated the need to de-emphasize monetary rewards and emphasize motivational rewards such as creating greater visibility and profile for the top contributors along with higher responsibilities. Allowing contributors to simply ship their ideas and watch their dreams come true is the biggest reward and recognition one can give, says Avaneesh.
The author is founder of Pravi Solutions, an Innovation and Marketing Consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org