When you talk with people about ideas for new products, one question comes up repeatedly: where do ideas for new products come from?
Often this quickly gets boiled down to: should ideas come from the top, i.e. the executive offices, or should they come from the bottom, i.e. the people actually working on the product, making the product, contributing to the product day in and day out?
Not surprisingly, you often (but not always) get a different answer depending on who you’re talking to. Some people would have the top run the show (a “top down” system of new product ideation), other people would have the bottom run the show (a “bottom up” system of new product ideation).
My take on the question is this: you need everyone to have meaningful input into the new product ideation process for the best results. More specifically, and more importantly, you want people to give input according to their strongest area of expertise. And critically, you don’t want people running part of the show that is not their strongest area of expertise.
Executives are of course very good at seeing the broad visions of strategy and opportunity. They see where the company has to go to grow, get market share, fend off competitors. That’s what they focus on, and that’s crucial. That, by itself though, isn’t a product idea, it’s a direction for product. And a direction by itself is not a successful new product – in fact a direction that doesn’t come tightly bound with a real user need can be a recipe for disaster.
By contrast people who work on the products all day long often see real problems for users, and have ideas for better ways of doing things as a result – real product ideas that could satisfy user needs. The problem here is that these ideas can be mismatched with the overall strategic needs of the company. Sometimes these real solutions are solutions to problems that aren’t actually big enough to be worth solving – the ROI wont be there. Or sometimes they will lead the company down a path it ultimately would be better off not going down.
If either one of these groups leads the way too much or overpowers the other, you end up with new products that miss their mark. If the groups work together well on the other hand, you get new product ideas that tap into user pain points and also perfectly meet the strategic needs of the company. That’s what you want of course.
Getting there is tricky. There’s always the temptation on all sides to want to control the show, and a general feeling that “we know what is best”. The best organizations though are able to overcome that temptation and create a real, functional feedback loop between top and bottom for the best possible new product creation. That’s the culture companies like The Times should work on creating.