2022 in review: Everything on innovation strategies and processes

As 2022 draws to a close, let’s take a moment to look back at some of this year’s conversations and ideas, around effective innovation strategy and the processes used to manage products and execute initiatives.

If your organization uses innovation to drive business growth, you can take these key learnings with you into the new year. 

Product management challenges are persistent but fixable

Product managers get praise when a product succeeds and, often, get the blame when it doesn’t. That’s no surprise. But many people outside of the product bubble may not realize that product managers don’t make big product-related decisions.

Besides understanding what products make the most sense within a portfolio, their job is to convince decision-makers that their vision is the right one. Product managers must have accurate, up-to-date data to back their intuition.

As Sopheon CEO Greg Coticchia wrote: 

“It’s surprising that so many organizations still have siloed data, but it is a real obstacle Product Managers face every day. To devise a product plan that aligns with the company’s mission, solves a real customer problem, and is positioned to hit revenue goals, PMs need access to data from all relevant stakeholders.”

Time management is another challenge for product managers. It’s very clear that many spend an excessive amount of time managing JIRA tickets. Product management is not project management. As Greg Coticchia, the 2022 winner of Product Camp award, also pointed out, JIRA isn’t an optimal product management tool—here’s why.

“JIRA has many positive attributes, but they don’t help product managers to conceptualize big-picture product strategy. However, JIRA isn’t going away, so it’s incumbent upon organizations to supplement it with other product management tools that work with JIRA to give them the visibility they need to conceptualize the next market-disrupting product.”

Product managers are becoming more concerned about how to pull organizations out of the ‘feature factory’ trap. Unfortunately, many companies take a cue from the iPhone and tend to go overboard, and may even incentivize product managers for how many features they push out on time. Many PMs begin to question if the role should still be called ‘product manager.’ Greg noted:

“They’re no longer dreaming up new solutions but instead managing v34.4. This conundrum plays a significant role in product manager burnout, as the job they were hired to do moves from a creative process into a succession of box-checking.”

Organizations looking to regain their footing as new product innovators should look no further than at their product managers and ensure that they have the right tool to help create innovative offerings.

Having the right product management tools in place can help eliminate many challenges, giving PMs the data and extra time necessary to champion disruptive new products.

Critical to success: optimizing how the innovation process is managed

This last year proved to be a job seeker’s market across industries, leaving many organizations wondering how to maintain innovation with new team members coming on board. To reduce risk, companies are finding new ways to advance innovation and new product development with as little disruption as possible.

Innovation management systems reduce turnover challenges. A collaborative workflow helps eliminate the issue of knowledge loss when an organization’s system records and preserves innovative ideas, features search functionality and updates innovation governance frameworks.

Sopheon Chief Evangelist Paul Heller wrote:

“Having the appropriate innovation management system in place that captures information in context and time can alleviate many of the problems associated with a valued team member moving on and allowing their replacement to jump into existing innovation projects more efficiently.”

It’s not uncommon to see that many companies have—with new employees or cross-functional teams—a challenge when it comes to collaboration. But just as the right innovation management software can decrease disruptions, it can also increase company collaboration. According to Paul, one of the most important pieces to promoting collaboration is innovation governance:

“A good governance structure recognizes and fosters the need for cross-functional collaboration. With these rules in place, you can make better, faster decisions because all stakeholders understand which decisions they need to make and who they need to involve in those decisions—with the data and information they need to make them.”

Many organizations still rely on manual processes to help keep projects on time and on budget—which can be the antithesis of innovation. There is an increasing number of problems with manual checklists, according to Paul:

“Businesses must be agile and capable of pivoting when markets and circumstances require it. That’s why all project data needs to get out of Excel and into a single innovation system so it’s preserved and easily accessible when needed. People can’t afford to waste time looking for templates and folders.”

Another innovation process challenge is flexibility. Rigidity comes to mind when one thinks of governance and repeatable processes—especially for large, complex organizations. However, innovation thrives when companies employ the right mix of structure and flexibility to adjust to unforeseen circumstances. In fact, according to Paul, we see more cases for a hybrid approach to innovation and new product development.

“Adding an extra layer of governance through a gated process establishes guardrails, fosters coordination, and helps with launch preparations and decisions by providing the necessary structure. And making the gated process flexible leverages the knowledge of the innovation teams and improves time to market.”

As organizations streamline the ways they forward innovation, many will closely examine the tools they use to create conditions for creativity and structure to live hand-in-hand. It will be interesting to see how large organizations optimize systems and processes via new technology in 2023. 

The search for innovation strategies is on-going

As we know, innovation is more than an idea. While idea management is critical to success, innovation is the process that helps transform an idea into a viable product.

In 2022, looking for strategies to accelerate innovation and meet market expectations was, and will continue to be, imperative. There are six critical questions for successful product innovation that will help determine the next product development steps. Paul Heller wrote that the ‘how’ is one of the most important areas to address:

“It’s critical to determine how you will define, design, engineer, manufacture, release, and sell the product. But the ‘how’ extends to other areas like funding and decision-making.  Good rules of governance address these dimensions and organize how you fund a product, how you make decisions around it, and how you measure it.”

We’ve addressed the importance of speed and agility in today’s ever-changing business environment. As Paul points out, it’s important to identify innovation strategies to promote more profitable new product development:

“The consumer desire for the newest and best offerings is insatiable in today’s business environment. The organizations that streamline NPD processes and reduce time to market will be more likely to win. As a result, enterprises are transforming themselves from the inside out to boost agile capabilities in order to meet consumer demands, often resulting in organizational changes to operating models, programs, and portfolios.“

Sustainability remains a key strategy for many organizations

By definition, innovation is the never-ending search for something new, so it stands to reason that those in the innovation sector are naturally inclined to seek new ways to bring products to market. Sustainable innovation is perhaps the best example of how organizations are implementing brand-new standards to bring products to market.

Carbon-neutral and environmentally-friendly innovation programs and initiatives are no longer viewed as a “nice to have” benefit or differentiator; they are the “cost of entry” and an expected part of doing business. As Paul pointed out, companies need to start prioritizing sustainability in new product development strategies

“For many companies, the intersection of exciting new product development and a zero-carbon footprint may be far down the road—or even unachievable in some cases. But when every company prioritizes sustainability in their culture, processes and the kinds of products they bring forth to the market, we can significantly address long-term environmental concerns more easily.”

2023 will require a tightly honed innovation system to accelerate through tough markets

2022 was a year of change and disruption, but a year of growth. And although, organizations face many obstacles walking into 2023, there are ways to overcome those challenges by delivering innovation with confidence and consistency.

Learn more about how Sopheon can help you predictably introduce products, do it faster, and improve your success rates.