Here’s The Context: My friend and mentor Luke Hohman, inventor of the Innovation Games technique, recently blogged the provocative idea that Agility is Making You Less Innovative. To summarize, he has observed that several Agile teams are busy plugging away at their short-term product backlogs and delivering software every few weeks, but are plagued by the strange sensation that incremental value delivery is not real, proper innovation.
Here’s the Deep Insight: The post offers the following:
Unfortunately, while customers often enjoy small, incremental improvements, what they really want are big chunky innovations.
He’s totally correct about the people’s expectations, but in order to manage those expectations, I will offer this additional corollary
The only difference between incremental innovation and break-through innovation is perception. Create the perception of innovation, and your increments will be received as break-through.
Here’s An Example from Apple: We love to talk up the rivalry between Apple vs. Google. But stop to consider their very different product management approaches. For many cultural and historical reasons, Apple is the closed-door super-secret product development shop. The market was never really sure about the iMac, iPod, iPhone, or iPad until the big release party. That gives you a lot to work with when creating the *perception* of break-through innovation. For example, the iPad 3 is merely a collection of several incremental improvements on the iPad 2. But, there are so many of these bundled into the product, and there is such a big bonanza around the new product, most critics were willing to say the new whole sum is much more than the sum of those incremental improvements. Yes, the secretiveness is their culture, but it also serves as a great innovation strategy.
Here’s An Example from Google: On the other hand, with Google every nascent idea is thrown out to the market, as early and as soon as possible. A couple years ago, Google Apps launched as a way to offer a full suite of tools for businesses. It was such a simple idea, that barely anyone took notice: bundle Gmail, Google Docs, Google Groups, and offer it to businesses on their own domain name. It’s a great product offering, but because it was just a subtle, incremental step beyond what was already there, it got nowhere near the same mindshare or attention as the iPad 3.
Here’s how the Product Plan Achieves the Perception: Take a look at the Microsoft Product Roadmap below:
Note the following attributes, which you yourself can copy in your own roadmap:
- Each milestone is forecast in quarters. If can shoot for the first month of the quarter, but then tack on another increment if you want to add wow factor
- Each product line is broken into several milestones (e.g. Windows Embedded). This gives the marketing team time to prepare for creating the buzz.
- Each milestone is labeled only at a high-level (e.g. Windows Embedded developer update). This allows you to be non-committal about the actual contents of the release, so you can exceed expectations or quietly defer something until the next milestone
You may be delivering great product by using an agile implementation approach. BUT if you want your product to be perceived as big chunky break-through innovation, whether by customers or employees, then a product roadmap is an absolute must-have for creating that perception.
This is the latest entry in my occasional series on Innovation. For other related items, click here: http://jessefewell.com/tag/innovation/