Why Letting Innovators Innovate is the Key to Becoming Customer-Centric

by Anuraag Verma
January 18, 2019

Companies that want to become truly consumer-centric may just need to get out of their own way and let their innovators innovate. While product management executives are the innovation-focused advocates for the user in many organizations, we have found that they are often roadblocked and under-resourced.

Since 2015, Alpha has conducted an annual survey of product management leaders in the U.S., and this year, a whopping 86% said they spend no time or not enough time talking to users. What’s incredible is that this coincides with direct customer feedback being cited as the best source of new ideas.

This imbalance is holding organizations back. As our study shows, product teams spend too much time dealing with internal issues and fighting for resources. What they want – and every company that wants to navigate a hyper-competitive space needs – is time to experiment, iterate and drive innovation based on direct consumer feedback. Product leaders want to be consumer-centric, but something is blocking them.

A hyper-competitive landscape has led many companies to the realization that they need to become more user-insight driven. In the years I’ve spent helping guide organizational transformation, I’ve seen that internal roadblocks are often a major contributing factor to the product-user disconnect. There may be leadership buy-in, but actual implementation might be strangled by regulation, politics, or simply a lack of tools for always-on insights. For example, a sales team might own customer relationships and may be reluctant to share access. In addition, a team that’s heads down building and iterating may not have the time or resources to find other avenues to user insights.

The traditional model for user research can be another stumbling block to becoming more agile, iterative, and consumer-focused. We often see organizations continue to rely on big, long-turnaround and expensive research studies to help guide product development. In a fast-paced, build-then-iterate environment, product managers want as many decisions as possible informed by consumer insights.

Over the past few years, our study has pointed to the emergence of the product management team as the seat of innovation and experimentation. And, while they say their roles have become more strategic, a startling 80% of product management professionals report not spending enough time on experimentation. In 2019, I’d like to see organizations give product leaders the resources and support to truly become innovative experimenters.

There is already a good organizational role model for them to follow. Many companies already drive consumer-centrism through their marketing teams, which are also often a driver of innovation through experimentation. The digital media, research, optimization and A/B testing practices they evangelize have been widely supported as experimentation and iteration tools. Product management teams should build on the foundation created by the marketing team, and leverage their extensive influence across business functions, to evangelize experimentation across the entire organization.

Every business faces existential threats from market forces, new competitors, automation, and workforce challenges. While many organizations talk a good game about moving to embrace a user-centric strategy, true leaders must go further and deeper to meet user desires. Agile, responsive product-driven companies can win the future — but they have to support the product management team that will get them over the top.

Download the Complete 2019 Product Management Insights Report

See the results of our survey of 253 product managers on what they do and how they build successful products.

Anuraag Verma

As VP of Client Partnerships at Alpha, Anuraag helps organizations embed experimentation into their everyday workflow. Prior to Alpha, he partnered with senior executives at Fortune 500 companies to identify learning and development needs as Enterprise Account Director at General Assembly.