The recent Society Street webinar on innovative product development is available, with a transcript. I highly recommend watching the full session (hosted on Cadmore’s media player); in the meantime, I synthesized some key ideas presented in the dialogue.
Create a culture (and expectation) of product creation and innovation.
- Set aside some funding for development and innovation – it establishes a clear expectation.
- Don’t insist upon an onerous approval process just to get projects started – make it as easy as possible.
- Give as much leeway as possible to your team members.
- Take small bets and see what you learn (ideally you have a portfolio of products, so not reliant on any single one).
- Get comfortable with a certain level of ambiguity – it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to plan an accurate 3-year P&L out the gate.
- Take advantage of the pandemic to move quickly/practice being less risk adverse.
- If looking to create a new user experience, remember that you’re not asking “what do they want?” but “what are they already doing – and why?” Your goal is to provide a different – better! – way of helping the user achieve her goal.
Carefully leverage publishing staff in product development.
- There are inherent challenges in stepping beyond traditional book and journal product development, where staff know exactly how to do things, and asking them to do something new and often without additional resources.
- Incremental innovation, with existing products, is more common than completely new products, because the in-depth product knowledge is already there in-house.
- However, when generating completely new product ideas, the product managers are not necessarily the best people to drive that innovation. Look for motivated people across the organization.
- There’s a real contrast between traditional publishing, when the released product is a printed book and so needs to be as perfect as possible, and the approach more commonly employed in software releases, when something needs to get out there so it can be iterated upon based on user needs.
- Publishing staff have skills that work well in other departments, where they have expertise in putting processes around development.
- No matter what kind of innovation you’re doing, it’s essential to reinvent your products to avoid irrelevance. Some examples of this are the Access Medicine services from McGraw Hill; Abstract & Indexing databases now deployed as discovery tools; handbooks and reference works becoming educational hubs, support tools, and workflow products.
If you lead a membership organization…
- Think about creating content that is not just for members. There are many opportunities to leverage existing content to new audiences.
- Everyone is experiencing some confusion about what to charge and how to value their membership products.
- Your products are a manifestation of your organizational mission. Your mission probably hasn’t changed, but the environment in which you’re operating most certainly has, and the products need to change as well.
Remember: Risk aversion is risky. You’re losing market share and opportunities if not consistently trying new things.