How do you build a great product? How do you ensure that your users love what you build and are willing to spend money on it and even act as your virtual sales force and spread the word? How do you ensure that you stay one step ahead of competition? The answer is simple: innovation and execution.
And I don’t mean you need to come up with breakthrough technology or something no one has ever thought of before. You just need to make sure you don’t get too comfortable with where you are today. Once you fall into “let’s just continue to do what we do today” trap, chances are that the performance will slowly degrade, motivation of the team evaporate, and before you know it you have a crappy products that not only your customers but also your team doesn’t care about.
Lack of time
Great way to build a culture of innovation and strong execution is to work with limited resources. And that starts with time. To build the sense of urgency you need to set really tough deadlines and explain why it is critical to be so aggressive. You can see this in almost every start up that has limited budget. If you don’t ship first version of the product before the money runs out you will never ship it and will have to start looking for a new job.
When the companies get bigger it is far too easy to ask for more time or more money to get your product off the ground. If you argue well enough your case you may get couple of weeks, months, even quarters of extension. The consequence? You will not try hard enough when it comes to tough choices and prioritization. Because you know that you can have more time, you try to pack the product with features that might be cool but are not necessary. Or you may over engineer the technology so it is “future-proof” (assuming such a thing exists) but takes twice as much long to build and brings zero value to customer.
Having to work within a limited timeframe forces your team to think about faster ways how to get the same job done. It sparks innovation.
Lack of budget
Pouring tons of money on a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you get it solved. Chances are that eventually with enough money spend and given enough time you will reach the results you want but is it really the most effective way? The best ideas very often come not from well-funded research but rather from a starving student or entrepreneur who is passionate about some topic and because of lack of money comes up with innovative way how to solve the problem. Just look at most of the technology start-ups.
The same goes to big organizations. If you want your team to be innovative and build a new product or service it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a big budget to do so. It just needs a bunch of enthusiastic guys within the organization who go out and build a small prototype of the idea often without any need of financing. Or even things like various team building and social events to get the team together are often much better when being subjected to low budget rule.
Yes, you can spend tens of thousands dollars to lease a fancy hotel, hire a professional rock band for a weekend and the team will have a good time. But at the same time giving them just hundred dollars may spark a level of creativity that will lead for the team not just to enjoy the actual event but all of them participate even in preparation and organization of the event which leads to even higher level of team building.
Lack of manpower
Number of people you throw at the problem is related to amount of money you are willing to spend on it but not completely. This is mostly visible in software development where doubling the size of the team doesn’t automatically leads to doubling the number of features or awesomeness of the product. Fred Brooks in his 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month proposes that at some point adding more people to a problem will not make it solved sooner but in fact will delay the solution. Or as he puts it “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”
Small, agile, and laser focused teams often outperform big organizations. The trick here is that you need to have the right set of people on the problem, give them the right tools and freedom to get the job done the way that is most effective. That is why hiring the right people to the company is such a critical process that needs every leader’s attention and why interviewing is such a critical skill to learn.
So if you are leading a product development effort and the product manager comes back to you and asks for more people so he can deliver more features start asking very hard questions and even propose that you are actually thinking about taking some people away from his team. Do whatever you can to force everyone on the team to take a hard look at how things are done today, what features are really important for the customers, what the MVP (minimum viable product) looks like, and what innovative way of work will allow the team to reach the goal without adding more manpower.
How do you spark innovation in your company? What tricks do you use to allow your team to be creative? How do you ensure that what you build really brings value to your customers?
Originally posted at LinkedIn.