A bicycle company and innovation excellence – for product managers
Today we are talking about transforming a struggling company to excellence by applying product management disciplines, including R&D principles, innovation process, and more. We’re discussing a business novel that shares these topics in an engaging and practical way, titled Winning Innovation: How innovation excellence propels an industry icon toward sustained prosperity.
Joining us to discuss the transformation to excellence is Norbert Majerus, co-author of the novel and returning guest on this podcast. He joined us previously in episode 212, discussing Lean-driven innovation for product managers. Norbert spent 40 years at Goodyear, driving R&D and innovation excellence. Now he is a keynote speaker, teacher, and consultant, sharing his expertise with others. I appreciate him sharing some of it with us.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:50] Why did you write a novel about innovation?
When I give workshops, people love my stories. I wondered how I could get a message about innovation across just by telling stories. It dawned on me it had to be a novel.
[5:36] Tell us about the bicycle company in your novel.
The company is the best at what they do.
The company struggles with innovating and changing, but if they wait another year or two, it will be too late. They need to look at what they’re doing well and engage all the people in the company to use their creativity and reinvent the company. Of course the book has a happy ending, and I don’t believe that’s fiction. This is such a simple process that everyone can be successful.
[10:50] What’s the first step to becoming more innovative?
Constantly thinking about how you can do better should be in your DNA.
Most companies do product innovation well, but you also need to be innovative in how you work. I used to think innovation was all about following a process, but now I know you have to engage people in transformation. If you don’t, the transformation won’t be sustainable. It’s also a lot easier to teach innovation excellence to experts already in your company, rather than bringing in innovation experts and teaching them about your company.
Change the culture while you engage the people, and engage them while you change the process. Don’t just tell people what the new process is. Educate them in new thinking, and then develop the process together. Doing this takes upfront effort, but it’s much more sustainable and gives better results.
[15:50] What do you do if people in your company don’t recognize the importance of changing?
In the book, one of the characters is me as a young engineer. I come into the company with all these great ideas, and the leaders tell me they don’t need that stuff. They think they know what they’re doing. If you know you’re on a burning platform and are going to go out of business if you don’t do something drastic, it’s easy to engage people, but if they don’t recognize that, it’s harder.
People need motivation to change. When I was at Goodyear, it bothered me and other engineers that many manufacturing and engineering jobs had moved out of the U.S. We started an initiative to keep jobs here. To keep jobs here, we had to get so good at what we did that we could compete with anyone in the world. That was a big motivator people understood, and we succeeded in not outsourcing jobs. When they felt like we could do this together, they were motivated to change.
[20:33] What is your innovation process?
People say innovation can’t be a process, but that’s rubbish. At every company, a large part of what they do is routine product design. That work can be done exactly like a factory. I call it mass design. When I came to Goodyear, no one had time for creativity because they were all working on routine work. Then we started doing front-end innovation, and it was extremely cumbersome. Every idea turned into a project that went on for years, and people quit because they didn’t want to work for years on a project only to have it killed. I knew we couldn’t keep working like that. Around this time, Lean Startup came out, and we tried that and found we could evaluate 100 times more ideas.
I challenge people to give me the one assumption or question that makes or breaks the project. Then I ask them to answer that question in one week with the minimum amount of money. When it’s answered, we go to the next question. After the third question, we either spend money on technology development or freeze the project and work on something else.
Once you’ve evaluated a couple of hundred new ideas and found one or two to develop, focus on your knowledge gaps. If you can fill those gaps, you’re back in a vast space of many ideas, and you can often develop more than one product.
[29:55] What are the three phases of your innovation process?
- Create Effects—be creative, try as many different things as possible to quickly figure out which ones are beneficial
- Efficient Knowledge Development—close your knowledge gaps
- Mass Design
Action Guide: Put the information Norbert shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“If you want to be successful with innovation today, you have to be the best at what you do and how you do it.” – Norbert Majerus
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.