Continuous Innovation in Product Management

Henrik Ståhl, Dagens industri

In today’s world of fast-paced digital transformation, we often take innovation for granted. Not only do we expect Apple or Samsung or HTC to revolutionize the smartphone market with every single product release, but also to revolutionize other markets with completely new products.

We expect Google to make groundbreaking progress with the continuous development of an advanced ecosystem for the entire internet. We expect Facebook to figure out our online social networking needs before we even knew we had them.

Most of us working in tech never materialize that particular kind of innovation — the kind that has such great impact on our lives that it changes the entire world.

As a Product Owner of editorial products — systems, tools, and services used by editors and journalists—within a news corporation, most of my time is spent on managing and refining existing products. When I was Product Owner of a Swedish news site, it was basically the same.

According to Wikipedia,

Innovation is often viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

In this sense, yes — even managing and refining existing systems, tools, and services requires a certain amount of innovation. However, the game changers, those truly revolutionizing ideas, are rarely created in this context.

But we need them. And we need them badly. So how do we continue to foster innovation in product management?

Hackathons are one way to go. As an engine or accelerator for innovation, it’s great — as long as the ideas, the hacks, get the required attention and resources after the hackathon as well. Injecting innovation into the everyday workflow is trickier.

The team I currently work with used to be divided into three squads. To encourage a cross functional workflow, something called Chapter Day was created. On Chapter Days, team members of different squads formed cross functional chapters, working exclusively on innovative ideas. They effectively established a weekly hackathon.

Since then, the squads have vanished and we now work as a single unit, but the Chapter Days live on. Every Friday, we turn a blind eye to the backlog and focus our efforts on exploring new technologies, trying to figure out unarticulated needs.

Just to take an example: in our text editor, journalists have the ability to make soft crops with a set of different aspect ratios on images selected for an article. One of the many things created during a Chapter Day was an algorithm that detects faces and automatically places the soft crop coordinates accordingly, to make sure that no images of headless people are published by mistake.

Had I known earlier that it was possible — and necessary — to organize weekly hackathons, I would’ve spared myself hours of creative frustration during my early days as a Product Owner.

And who knows — the next big game changer might actually be the result of a successful Chapter Day.

Source: Noteworthy – The Journal Blog

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