Reading Marty Cagan's article on PM problem areas, one particularly caught my attention - optimization versus innovation. Numerous product managers face this problem. Sometimes the choice is clear (a startup building their first product), some other times it's a struggle (a mature company with multiple products).
Firstly, let's clear the definitions.
To Optimise your product you need
- to have a product
- to have users/customers
- to have time to run multiple iterations
The process of optimising is rather simple:
- Map the process you want to improve
- Measure current performance
- Introduce changes
- Measure impact
- Repeat until the desired impact is reached
Now to Discovery
- you have to accept risks
- you got to go big
- you should be flexible and focused on learning
Discovery process is easy to describe but tricky to do
- Uncover a poorly satisfied customer need/problem
- Understand current solutions
- Design a radically better solution that will convince customers to switch
Now back to Marty's observation that product teams often confuse increasing existing value by optimising and creating new value by innovating.
I think the confusion is driven by PM leadership and a company's culture.
If you have a company in a dominant market position with leadership focused on retaining the status quo - you almost guaranteed to be doing only optimisation work. Often in such situations, a company's culture prioritises safety with little to no growth rather than taking any kind of risks. In such environments innovation even when happens - never sees the light of day. Think Kodac and their digital camera fiasco.
Major breakthroughs happen when leadership recognises the value of rapid learning which inevitably means taking risks. In such environments, product people are encouraged to experiment, fail, learn from it and try again.
Reading this you might think that Discovery (innovation) is always better than Optimisation. That is not the case. The real product management mastery is to identify when to use what method. It's by combining innovation and optimisation (into true Discovery) a product team reaches great success.
To identify the right approach you need
- to understand the current state of your product
- to detect the situation on the market and competitive landscape
- to learn how customer needs are changing
- to identify your technical and financial possibilities
- to make sure your team has a skill-set needed to innovate or/and optimise