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Innovation & Product Ideation

Episode 054

Innovation and product ideation is one of the core tenants of successful product management. We simply have to get this right in order to put impactful nuanced, valuable, differentiated products and solutions out in the market for our customers. In this episode, Jennifer Glenski, Director of Product Management for BMC Software's Innovation Labs joins to discuss innovation and product ideation and how product teams can succeed at these critical activities.



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Episode Outline:

  • What leaders can do to encourage innovation among their team. 2:40

  • Foster a sense of community in your team. 5:57

  • What are some techniques that you’ve seen in your innovation lab that product managers can use to generate innovative ideas? 7:26

  • What are some common pitfalls that people seem to forget when trying to innovate? 11:12

  • The importance of problem validation for innovative ideas. 12:58

  • How do you get started in creating a more innovative culture? 16:43

  • Most of the ideas that we come up with will be “bad ideas”. 20:41

  • Are there any resources on innovation or general product management that you have found particularly valuable? 23:19

Episode Transcript:


ideas, innovation, people, product, innovative, team, customers, share, foster, techniques, leader, implemented, management, resources, question, assignments, culture, goals, innovative ideas, brainstorming

Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 00:03

Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.

JJ 00:36

Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. Innovation, such an important topic in product management we talk about a lot that word is thrown around a lot. It means different things to different people. But the truth is innovation, product ideation is one of the core tenants of successful product management, we simply have to get this right in order to put impactful nuanced, valuable, differentiated products and solutions out in the market for our customers. So today's conversation is all about innovation, product ideation, and how we can succeed at that. My guest today is Jennifer Glenski. She is Director of Product Management for BMC Software's Innovation Labs focused on delivering new innovative solutions for customers. Jennifer is also an adviser to an AI startup in healthcare, and part time faculty at Georgia Tech in their graduate analytics program. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me.

Jennifer 01:33

Thank you. I'm pleased to be here.

JJ 01:35

I'm excited for this conversation. Again, innovation ideation, we get you know, we it gets thrown around a lot. But the truth is, we really have to have an environment that allows for successful innovation. So I think this is a really important topic that not everybody frankly gets right. So I'm excited to hear your expertise on the matter. So let's just start kind of with a basic foundational question, how can someone foster a culture of innovation within their organization?

Jennifer 02:06

Sure, certainly. So from the top, if you're a leader in your organization, you can help to foster a culture of innovation by really soliciting ideas for innovation, making it known that that's a value to your organization. But that's a focus for your team, and asking for it, encouraging it. And what that might look like is in your check ins with your managers or direct reports, asking if they have any ideas for improvement, ideas on that, that can be an informal way to help foster that culture. Or you can put in more formal practices, things I've seen work that were successful include activities like lunch and learns, or, you know, jam sessions in my column where people get to research and share on an innovative topic that perhaps the team wants to learn more about. And you can have people sign up for these, you can have them suggest ideas, or even volunteer their peers, when people share that they want to know about an idea. And especially when they look to someone that's a leader and say, I want to hear your ideas on this topic, I found that to be a little more successful in getting people signed up to actually talk about those things or present them. Sometimes it's hard for people to come on their own and say, you know, I'm actually really interested in edge computing, does anyone want to listen to me talk about it, you know, it takes a lot of courage to try and put yourself out there and say that. So having it as more of a invitation sometimes can be successful if you're looking to set up more of those formal activities.

JJ 03:43

I love that and definitely see that as being kind of a an underlying foundation of people feeling comfortable in doing more even more tactical things around innovation that has we have to have that environment, kind of underpinning everything we do. So I love that advice. A little more specifically, are there things that leaders can do to encourage innovation among their team, like tangible things, cultural things, etc, that that, you know, product leaders and other leaders can do to make sure that innovation is part of the DNA.

Jennifer 04:23

Absolutely. So as a product manager or as a leader on your team, your teammates, or your co workers are looking to you to set the pace to set the theme to set the mood for a lot of a lot of things. So one of the things you can do is make sure that you're contributing to a safe environment for people to share their ideas, or to suggest improvements or other things that they might see as innovative. And what I mean by safe is what's oftentimes holding people back from sharing ideas, is they don't want to be embarrassed that they shared a dumb idea or a bad idea. And it takes a little bit to put yourself out there. So what can you do to encourage them to take that risk is by minimizing the actual risk of it. So one thing you can do is be effusively grateful. And really keep on that praise when people do share ideas. Even if you don't think it's a practical idea, if you don't think it's going to work, or if you already tried it, and it was bad, you can say still, you know, I'm so pleased you share that with me that feedback, that idea, like, thank you so much, like, that's wonderful, I'm so impressed that you did that you whatever you want to do, but be very grateful and express that, because that's the sort of reward people are looking for in order to do that behavior again. And we want them to do that behavior again, because that's what leads to innovation, we need people in the field, the developers, sales, everybody, that we want them, thinking about ideas and sharing them back with us. So we can do whatever we need to do to take that to the next step.

JJ 05:57

That's a really, really great piece of advice. I remember one time when I was a product leader at a healthcare company, and one of the I've actually done this a couple of times, but the first time I really did, it was there, we, we would have these quarterly stakeholder meetings where everybody would get involved. And so we were really trying to, to foster this sense of community and everybody's on the team, even though there was a kind of specific product team. And one of the things that we would do is, we would give awards kind of, you know, kind of almost silly awards, one of them was the best idea that that came from anyone in the company really, but the best idea that was implemented or, or in the process of being implemented, right, so what you know, some great new valuable feature or functionality, or even new net new product, but then another award that I decided to give, and it really I mean, people loved it was, I can't remember exactly what I called it. But something like the best idea we didn't do, or something of that nature, right. Like, it was something that was like, it was just it wasn't something that we could we could accomplish, it wasn't something that you know, whatever it was too big it was whatever it was right. It wasn't something that we were going to be able to do. But that didn't mean the process behind it. And the behavior behind bringing that idea to the table wasn't something that we wanted to, to foster and to encourage. And so people really loved that. And people started to bring kind of big ideas, even if we weren't going to end up doing them. It's still a good kind of thought process or mindset to have.

Jennifer 07:36

Oh, I completely agree. In brainstorming sessions to when I'm working with teams trying to come up with ideas, we'll try and aim for, say, two practical ideas and one moonshot idea, so then people don't feel silly for suggesting something that might be too far off or too ambitious, but we can play off of those ideas and, and connect them together. So while we might not do the moonshot idea, there might be a smaller piece within that, that we do actually want to do.

JJ 08:03

Yes, I love that idea. I think that's a really great technique to to get people thinking outside of kind of the, you know, funnel or tunnel or whatever, that we live in sometimes our own little, little, you know, ecosystem that way, it's hard to get out of so I love that idea. Which, which actually is a great segue to my next question, which is kind of what are some techniques that you've seen that you've employed there in your innovation lab that product managers can use to generate innovative ideas to to make sure that they're thinking creatively enough to bring new products, improvements, new experiences, etc?

Jennifer 08:43

Absolutely. So probably the most popular and common technique, I would say is brainstorming everyone's been in a brainstorming session before trying to come up with new ideas. And I shared one of those techniques, were trying to think of two practical ideas to one moonshot idea. Moving beyond just brainstorming, though, I find that focus groups and interviews are an excellent source of innovation. Even if the people you're interviewing don't come up with the innovative idea themselves. Oftentimes, they can provide a different perspective, or use case that I haven't thought about that the team hasn't thought about, that is a really good fit into one of those ideas. We came up with brainstorming, you know, you're not necessarily looking for the innovative idea itself. When you're going through these techniques. You're looking for lots of different ideas, and the relationships and connections between those different ideas that can form something that's a greater whole than just the sum of its parts. So those are a couple of techniques. There's other techniques like scamper is a technique I like and that is an acronym and really what that is, is looking at existing products or solutions, and thinking about okay, what if I substitute a part of this or or combine different things? Or eliminate some things or just put this to a different use? What could that lead to? So it's looking at more of a holistic view, and thinking what have I already got? What's something new I can make out of that, instead of trying to invent something brand new out of the air, which can be really challenging. So scamper is a good technique for starting generating ideas, I think it's a little easier.

JJ 10:24

Yeah, all those ideas or techniques are really valuable. I have used scamper once or twice, and it really ended up you know, generating some some really good ideas. And I love your your point about how, you know, through brainstorming through the, you know, to practical moonshot, any of these techniques, actually, that a lot of times the best ideas come from piecing together parts of other ideas. And, and rarely is just okay, the the idea kind of wrapped up in a bow. And that's the perfect idea that comes out of these sessions. It's much more about the thought process behind it. And then kind of analyzing all of the ideas and the perspectives and then coming up with, you know, kind of a pieced together idea from all of these different thoughts. I think that's a really important part of innovation. And probably, I would say, interested, see, if you agree with this is, you know, that's probably part of setting up that good environment to begin with, right, that culture to begin with. In other words, it's not just people saying, here's my idea, idea, a idea be a idsc. But talking through how they connect and what the the various options are.

Jennifer 11:41

Yeah, absolutely, that you want that culture of collaboration as well, so that people are sharing their ideas with each other, building off of them with each other, you can do a lot more as a team than just sitting, you know, at your desk, by yourself trying to come up with the next big thing that's going to disrupt the industry. And that's a lot of pressure really to like that be a stressful job. If that's that's the way you had to do it.

JJ 12:04

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. They definitely come from where the best ideas definitely come from, from that collaboration. So do you see in your work, some common pitfalls, or something that people seem to forget when they're trying to innovate?

Jennifer 12:24

Yeah, so the thing about innovation is, it's super exciting. When you come up with a cool idea, you're thinking, Oh, my goodness, this is going to change our market or industry, or just be really cool, everyone's gonna love it, I can't wait to go do this. And sometimes in that excitement and pride over this new innovative plan, we forget to align that with the strategic objectives of our team or organization, it's really tempting to want to build something because you thought of it and you think it's really cool. But it may not play into the market that you're in, it may not be a need, that your customers really have. So you need to do a lot of that problem validation for those new innovative ideas as well, you, it's not enough to just come up with the innovative ideas, they need to align with your strategy and your objectives. Otherwise, you're going to get a really hard time getting any sort of leadership or executive buy in getting resources to staff or support building this, you know, without resources and support, it's going to be an absolute battle, it's going to be really, really hard and you're not going to enjoy it really.

JJ 13:34

That's a really great point. Because great ideas are awesome, and like you said, fun, and you know, the shiny object, but if they can't be implemented, for whatever various reasons, then, you know, they kind of, you know, fall to the cutting room floor. So it's a really, really important point to make sure that yes, you you use the techniques to come up with creative ideas, but then ultimately, the good ideas are the ones that can be valuable to the customers and to the business.

Jennifer 14:04

Yeah, connecting to that business value is how you're going to get that buy in and support and be able to, you know, advocate for your project going forward for that.

JJ 14:13

Yeah. So have you ever been in a situation where the the ideas just weren't coming? Right? Yeah, it was an idea block, the group just couldn't come up with any what was would? What would be considered good ideas? And if so, like, how do you unblock the team? Are there some things that can be done? If the team just seems blocked and can't come up with any good ideas?

Jennifer 14:38

Yeah, so I think this is something as people maybe put more of a focus on innovation or get into it is, is they forget that most of the ideas you come up with are going to be bad ideas by your definitions or standard. You're not going to like them, they're not going to be implementable, they're going to be too big or too small or too costly, or the technology just doesn't exist yet. You know, sometimes we come up with really cool ideas and like, well, maybe we have to wait like five more years for technology to catch up with our ideas. So most of the time, you're gonna have bad ideas. And it can be really deflating, because you go into it with high expectations. And you're really excited to do this brainstorming, be innovative, and go show your really cool idea to your leadership or your boss at the end of it. So I find in those situations where you're getting maybe frustrated or struggling to try and take a step back and revisit whatever your market research or project problem validation exercises, where, for me and my team's oftentimes, that's interviews with customers, reviewing customer reviews, doing surveys, or focus groups, trying to get back closer, or as close as we can, to our customers and their needs. What often find is when it's hard to come up with the ideas, my team or myself have spent too long away from the customer. And we need to sometimes be reminded of, okay, what is your number one problem? Or what are you doing there? Because it may have come up before, but we were so excited and distracted by these other shiny things, we just kind of glossed over it. And when those shiny things don't pan out, because it wasn't related to their key problem, we kind of need to start over. So giving yourself some grace, and not feeling like, oh, gosh, I'm a failure, I can't come up with ideas. But just saying, okay, you know, this is an iterative process, we're going to, we're going to go through it again, when we get closer to the people that know the problem, have the needs, and start from there.

JJ 16:43

It makes a lot of sense to just get back to the core, the core, why we're doing it and really get get in touch with those customers again, makes a lot of sense. So So one other question I have there, probably somebody out there listening, who's saying this is great. My environment needs to be more innovative, I need to set this culture up. And you gave great advice on how to do that, and how to you know what, what leaders can do. But how do you get started like this is a little bit of, you know, one of those ideas that everybody knows they need to have an innovative culture. But not very many organizations. Really, do you have an innovations lab there at BMC, which is amazing. Not everybody has that? What advice would you give to the leader out there listening today that, you know, tomorrow they want to go into the office, or they want to go to the virtual office and say, Okay, this is what we're gonna do, we're gonna we're gonna set ourselves up for future success in this in this area by doing these sorts of things. Are there some first steps that you would advise a leader or a team to do to really kind of change the culture into more of an innovative one?

Jennifer 17:51

Absolutely. And that's a great question, because we can talk about innovation all day, but where we see the real value is when we implement it. So the first step, I would suggest to a leader would say, determine what your goals are. So just saying I want to be innovative, is a bit vague. Do you want to come up with a new product line? Do you want to come up with improvements to existing product lines? What is your objective or goal for being innovative? What would the value be to you. So say your goal is to come up with a new product altogether. So that's your first goal. The next step would be identifying what sort of assignments you could give to people on your team. So if you have some developers, or you have some UI designers, give them some assignments around coming up with new ideas for that, for that innovation. And perhaps their workload is full, and they don't want to take on new work assignments, you could tie the idea of innovation to one of their professional development goals, you know, their annual learning or growth goals, so they can work over work over a period of time on that, and also gives them a sense that they're upskilling, you know, they're developing a new skill, you can sell that as a benefit to them to help them become interested. So you're setting your goals, you're identifying what sort of areas of innovation would be appropriate for the different people on your team in assigning them, you know, appropriate assignments. And then you want to set up a way for them to share those ideas back with you. That means you want you know, open communication, we want to be soliciting them those ideas. So perhaps once a month, you have a check in and you ask them to submit the idea. Maybe you set up a survey form where they can fill out the form to submit the idea for the team to review at the end of the quarter. Who knows, but you want a you know, established way to communicate those ideas and share that with the team so that they know Alright, in eight weeks from now, I'm going to have to share one idea of on a new product line, you know, on how I could design it as a UI designer. Then once they start giving those ideas, you want to give good feedback. So I tell them if this aligns to your goals, you know, be very grateful for them sharing it, give the give your ideas, you know, if you've been working on this, so they can see some examples of what you're looking for, and give out a lot of recognition, you know, the awards, like you were talking about to, you know, the best idea we didn't do I love that idea for the awards, you know, give the recognition, the rewards the awards, so that people associate this with a positive experience, you know, it's something fun, they can be glad that they're part of an innovative team and feel more connected to everybody. So those would probably be the practical steps I would recommend for leaders looking to implement more of an innovative culture.

JJ 20:41

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I like those steps. You know, it's, it's interesting, you mentioned something earlier about how most of the ideas that we come up with will be, quote unquote, bad ideas, or, you know, another way said that we won't, we won't implement them, right. So let's say you come up with 100 ideas this year, and one of them gets implemented. Well, I mean, that's what this is all about, right, we shouldn't be implementing every idea that we come up with, we're probably not ideating well enough, or innovating well enough, or being creative enough, if we're implementing everything, or our, you know, vetting processes is flawed. But I think that's an important point here, because, you know, you you've made, you made the great point about it's, it's the culture, it's the environment, it's, you know, it's the creativity, it's not, it's not necessarily, you know, getting the the idea to the market, that is success criteria here. I mean, obviously, you know, that's ultimately what we're trying to do. But if we're going to, quote unquote, fail, if that's our success criteria, getting a product to market, and we're going to, quote unquote, fail 99% of the time, that's going to be disheartening. So we need to kind of flip that and and so one of the things I love about what you're saying is that, it, it allows us to come up with these ideas, and, and an idea not going all the way through to becoming a product is not failure, that's actually part of the process.

Jennifer 22:07

Absolutely, I would completely agree. And talking about like one of the successes or objectives of fostering innovative culture, as well, you know, moving outside of just a product team, you want to involve people from different departments and really make it cross collaborative. That's another win, from my perspective, from fostering innovation is that you increase that collaboration, that information sharing across the company, if you're just focused on your product team, and looking to only them for ideas, you're going to be missing out on a lot, you know, the customer facing or customer touching teams, like sales, or marketing, or your customer success or customer support. They're great resources for new innovative ideas. And it's fun for them to be involved in that process as well. You know, it gives them a little bit of a different activity to work on exposure to different departments. And it gives you a product team exposure to them, too. So I think it is really important as well to share your innovative ideas with the company. And if you turn those into experiments, or products, you know, the rest of the company is interested in that too. You want to update them share them. That's what we do at BMC. When we have cool innovation ideas, we showcase them to our customers to the rest of our employees, and it gets everyone really excited about the future.

JJ 23:29

Yeah, that's really neat. I love that. So my final question for you, Jennifer, are there any resources on innovation, or just general product management that you have found particularly valuable as you've been on your learning journey and excelling at the product management craft?

Jennifer 23:45

Yeah, so I'll share a link for the BMC innovation labs. That is a cool resource. It talks about some of the things we've been doing, how we're fostering innovation, what are different people are interested on in their experiments and can help give you some ideas to some of the more product management resources I've found helpful is really looking to some of the product management, industry groups and the resources that they share. So we have things like the product book, or we have product plan that share their guides and their templates. Those have been really helpful for me, especially in the beginning, when I was just getting into product management, it's nice to be able to see other people's processes, other people's examples of how they worked on it. And honestly, podcasts as well have been really great for me, you know, learning about use cases. And examples. For example, Nick, I listened to a podcast about designing a new feature for Instagram and kind of how they went through that. And it was really interesting and shared some ideas that I felt like I could then take and integrate into my teams.

JJ 24:50

That's great. Yeah, I love one of the things I love about the product management community and about building products in general, is that there's so much to be learned from it. rather, and it really is a kind of small global world, if you will, right. And we're all over the place all over the globe. But we and there are millions of us who are doing this. But we just seem to have this community of sharing and learning from each other. And so a good example of that is you sharing BMCs animation labs link, and that will be in the show notes and on, and just sharing what you're doing and letting other people learn from that. So I appreciate that.

JJ 25:28

Jennifer Glenski this has been such a fun conversation so impactful and insightful. And I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your wisdom with us.

Jennifer 25:38

Thanks. It's been a lot of fun. I've had such a great time here today. Thank you.

JJ 25:42

And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.

Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 25:48

Thank you for listening to Product Voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.


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