Innovation vs. The Product Management Lifecycle

Faster Horses Henry Ford Product Innovation

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford*

I’d like to hear this quote less in the tech product world.

Actually, the problem was that it took too long to get places. The horses were fine. I bet Henry Ford listened to customers.

Successful products solve problems. They do it better than the alternatives and are worth the money.

Development teams are generally too sheltered from the customer’s problems to be their advocate when building products. Don’t let your team hide behind the notion that innovation cannot be lead by the customer. An easy way to build a successful product is to solve your own problem since you completely understand why what you’re building is valuable.

When you are asked to build a product to solve a problem you don’t understand, you are in big trouble. This is when the product management team has to force engineers out into the field (or at least onto the phone) with the customer. Have you ever noticed that backlog features that the engineering team “dreams up” after speaking with a prospect or customer usually become the darlings of the next release?

People love to solve problems. It’s how we find value in our work. Engineers especially like to solve problems! Bring them to the problems, and you’ll crush it.

Read More: From HBR: "An innovator should have understanding of one’s customers and their problems via empirical, observational, anecdotal methods or even intuition."

* Henry Ford didn't even say this.

Seek out the customer. Get on the sales call. Travel. Do the work.