Foundations for Product Innovation – The case for a Product Curator

on August 29, 2014 Business with 0 comments

A curator at a museum looks after the different artefacts in a collection. A curator decides on what new items are needed, researches the use and historical application and documents the artefacts. In some cases a curator may have to make the difficult decision to sell a treasured artefact to obtain another that more closely aligns with the goals of the collection.

What is important is that a curator is passionate about the overall collection, they cannot be experts in every individual part of the collection. They will typically rely on and balance the competing demands of other curators, subject specialists and influential stakeholders.

The performance of a curator will be assessed by metrics such as the completeness of the collection, visitor feedback and ownership of significant pieces. A curator can expect to be the “voice” or “visible face” of the museum to the outside world.

A business, product or service needs a curator, just like a museum collection. That person must be passionate about the different aspects of that business, have a deep understanding of the customers and their evolving needs and direct where to invest for the biggest benefit.

The founder is typically the curator of a new business, after all they had the original idea and the passion to set up a company. As companies grow this will often become a dedicated role. Large companies will have multiple staff to manage a portfolio of products serving one or more industries. These dedicated staff are most likely called “Product Managers.”

These people have a critical role, to be the champion of the business or product line. They must represent that product to the outside world and defend its value inside the company. Why then do we give them a dry title like Product Manager? A title of “Product Curator” would better explain the role and begin to put over the passion for the product that is essential to be successful.

A product curator is challenged to develop and maintain a product or service that benefits customers such that they are willing to pay for it so that the company can achieve its goals.

What then is a simple process for a Product curator to follow that will successfully deliver sustained product innovation?

Getting Real

A key part of being a curator is to be able to see the overall picture. To achieve this it can help to examine the product in terms of three realities:

  • Customer Reality. Who are your customers? How do they work today? Where processes do they use? Where are the problems? How efficient is the approach? How would the customer use a product? How will it impact their businesses? What will excite the customer? What will turn them away?
  • Commercial Reality. The value of the product to the customer? The cost of delivery? The price you can charge? The market environment? What industry forces are at play? What are the impacts of regulation? Who are the competition? What type of contracts are needed? What are the risks?
  • Delivery Reality. What does it take to deliver the product or service? What are the research and development costs? What about resource availability? What are component or mobilisation lead times? Is there a time component? Can you build it in time?

The use of the word “reality” is very deliberate. These realities form the basis of your decision making process. If you do not have the facts about an area then you are making decisions based on assumptions. You must identify those assumptions clearly.

These three realities are the foundations for building and continuously developing great products. The foundations for product innovation. These realities show you where you are and where you can go.

It is essential that you develop a consensus within the company about these realities. You may need to highlight regional variations to achieve this with a global organisation.

Vision

Based on these realities a company can build a “vision” for the product or service. This should represent the ambition of the product. Once again the vision should be shared, but there is nothing wrong with it being audacious.

Strategies

The realities tell you where you are. The vision tells you where you want to go. The strategies are the way you are going to achieve the vision.

Developing the strategies is the hard part. It will require making choices about what things to do and, often harder, what not to do. Facilitating this process is the ultimate role of the Product Curator. It is hard because all stakeholders, just like in a museum, will not agree with everything. It is a critical success factor at this stage that the decision process is metrics based and as transparent as possible. This will maximise support and gain buy in across the company.

Operational Plan

The operational plan is the specific actions that need to be taken will flow from the strategies. It will define the scope of projects, the priorities and resource allocation. Developing the operational plan should be the responsibility of the operational team leaders. The operational teams must demonstrate to the Product curator how the plan aligns with the strategies and delivers the vision.

Measurement

Any management process needs measures. KPIs should be defined that measure the progress towards the vision. The KPIs must be tangible and be the basis of goal setting for staff. This will ensure that all effort aligns with the strategy. Items like market share, profitability, renewal rate are tangible measures.

Review

Like any management process the actions must be reviewed to ensure that they are delivering what is expected. It is also vital that the Product Curator regularly reviews the three realities. If these change, for example a new competitor enters the market, then the curator should assess the impact on the vision and strategies.

Summary

Those staff that are responsible for a product in a company should act like a curator. They must show a deep passion for their product, a passion that is based on reality and objectivity. By adopting a facilitative approach and patient explanation they will be key to a company developing a realistic vision and effective strategies. If the operational management build and and execute an action plan aligned with the strategies then the company will maximise their opportunity to achieve the vision profitably.