Marty Cagan’s Best Innovation Principles and Strategies

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What ten innovation principles can help your company with the product discovery process? What two strategies can help your teams innovate?

In the book Inspired, Marty Cagan shares the innovation principles and strategies that will help your company through the discovery process. Additionally, he helps wean your team off of roadmaps with two strategies.

Continue reading for Marty Cagan’s advice from Inspired.

Changing How We Work

Implementing the discovery method of product development often requires changing company culture. This article provides tools and tips for overcoming resistance and aversion to risk on the way to building a more successful culture. 

First, we’ll discuss why some teams have trouble innovating and using the discovery process. Then, we’ll examine ways to get employees interested in the discovery process and weaned off of roadmaps, including two specific strategies called discovery sprints and pilot teams. 

The 10 Innovation Principles

Companies that constantly innovate share many of the same characteristics. To build a strong culture, companies must innovate and execute. When companies have trouble with innovation it means they lack some of the following innovation principles:

  1. A culture that understands the customer is at the center of their business. Some customers are always annoyed with the current product, always asking for something new, and are always curious about new innovations, so they can be a great resource if companies listen to them. 
  2. A clear vision. For many companies, starting to significantly scale means that they’ve achieved their first vision as a startup. They don’t adopt a new vision, and they start to get stuck.
  3. A clear product strategy. This means prioritizing one market rather than trying to please every possible customer.
  4. Capable product managers. As we’ve discussed, the product manager is at the heart of every good product team’s success. They are ultra-competent.
  5. Product teams without too much turnover. Teams that innovate can learn from one another and build up relationships. 
  6. Engineers engaged in the discovery process. For reasons we’ve outlined, engineers are involved in discovery and innovation, not just building.
  7. Courage. Good companies continue to take risks, even as they grow. 
  8. Product teams that feel empowered. Again, this means that stakeholders shouldn’t just be handing down orders based on roadmaps. Product teams should know they can innovate. 
  9. A product-first mindset. Product teams must know that they’re serving the product, and thus the customers, before protecting the business.
  10. Time to accomplish goals. Product teams need time to innovate. This means not constantly bogging them down with work like fixing bugs in the existing program. Obviously, there will be some of this, but teams that consistently innovate have enough people to multitask. 

Additionally, as teams grow, they sometimes lose velocity, or an ability to innovate quickly. There are a few more success attributes that are specific to speed: 

  1. Technical capability. If the existing technological architecture doesn’t properly allow for development, innovation will slow down to rebuild it. 
  2. Maintaining priorities. If a company’s priorities are constantly changing, it’s going to slow down innovation, because teams will constantly be switching gears.
  3. Innovation-first culture. Some organizations, in order to create a pleasant work environment, are always looking for consensus. Striving for consensus rather than innovation, though, will stop companies from considering innovative ideas as quickly as they should. 

Innovation Strategies

It’s not easy to change a company’s culture so that it takes on all of the above attributes. But there are some strategies that can help employees get interested in the discovery process, which in turn will lead to an improvement in a company’s ability to innovate. 

Discovery Sprints

Discovery sprints are a way to get more people involved in discovery. Teams are asked to pause their work for a week and all focus on solving a problem, such as why users are spending very little time on their website. 

During the week, the team should consider all kinds of product ideas to help solve the chosen problem. By the end of the week, the team should be able to present prototypes for a few chosen ideas to customers. This may seem ambitious, but if the whole team is working together on only this, it’s possible. 

The sprints are most useful in two situations:

  1. The team has a big problem that needs solving quickly. 
  2. The team hasn’t done much product discovery thus far and needs to focus their energy on learning this new process. 

Some companies hire discovery coaches, or former successful product managers, to help shepherd them through the discovery sprint. 

Pilot Teams

Another way to get people involved in discovery and thus change the culture is by introducing pilot teams. Pilot teams are subgroups that work on an early rollout before the rest of the team. If one group is working on a rollout and siloed from the rest of the team, the rest of the team can serve in a similar role as test subjects. 

Pilot teams work by the same logic that an early or limited rollout works. Have one product team try new strategies like the discovery techniques outlined earlier and observe how the team does. Look to see if the chosen team is doing better with the new strategies than the other teams are with the old strategies. If the whole company sees that the new strategies work better, even the people who are resistant to change will be easier to bring along. Sometimes, the new strategies aren’t successful, but give these experiments time before abandoning them altogether. 

Weaning Off Roadmaps

As we’ve discussed, many teams are trying to leave the roadmap strategy behind, but are held up by some resistance to change and a lack of understanding about the new methods. The best way to wean a company off of roadmaps is to help employees understand their outcomes. Give roadmaps a six-month trial period in which the team studies the outcomes of the roadmaps. Usually, for the reasons we’ve outlined in Part 3, roadmaps don’t work well. Eventually, companies will change roadmaps from prioritizing launch dates to prioritizing results and the discovery process. In doing so, the team will wean itself off of roadmaps. 

Scaling Success

Continuing the success of the discovery process is more difficult as companies get bigger. Companies have to manage more stakeholders—including marketing, sales, finance, legal, and leadership—who might not be familiar with or interested in the discovery process. The best way for product managers to scale the success of the discovery process is to maintain good relationships with stakeholders. 

The product manager has to sincerely convince each stakeholder that the manager understands the risks she’s taking in discovery and why the innovation is likely to pay off. 

While product discovery is about figuring out which products will be successful and which won’t, the process also often delivers larger lessons about the company. This is especially true if the product manager is able to develop good relationships with multiple stakeholders and understand their needs. 

It may become clear that the company needs to build up their test user program or that they should hire more engineers. Or, a product team could learn something about the larger product that’s useful for everyone to hear. It’s useful to have a brief (15-30 minutes) all-hands meeting every month or so to share lessons. Each product team should share what they’ve learned. This helps product teams nail down the big takeaways from their recent work, and it spreads this knowledge throughout the company. As knowledge spreads, all stakeholders can learn more about the virtues of the discovery process. 

Marty Cagan’s Best Innovation Principles and Strategies

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  • A two-step plan for creating and sustaining successful technology products
  • Why product managers are so important in product development
  • How to avoid some of the biggest pitfalls that most tech companies fall into

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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