Let’s say you want to innovate in an industry that you don’t have professional or real life experience in.
How would you approach the early industry research ?
Elon Musk founded SpaceX, but he had no prior experience in building rockets. Neither did he come from the auto industry when he started Tesla. But he ended up creating two of the most exciting product companies of the modern world. Your reasons for choosing a new industry could be any of the following.
- Perhaps you are more passionate about a new field.
- Maybe you’ve been offered a new role.
- You may be the kind of personality who is excited about the challenge of taking your core functional skills and applying it to solve brand new problems.
- Or it may be the case that your company just acquired a new business and you have the responsibility for product ownership and strategy for a new product portfolio.
Focus on the most important aspects
Consider this sporting analogy. Most people try to master and swing hard with all possible clubs, especially the driver when they start playing golf. What they do not do is focus on the one club that is ABSOLUTELY required for every hole. The Putter. In fact with only a couple of clubs + wedges and good putting, you can be much more successful in you starting journey as a golfer.
Similarly , as a product manager you will be best served by following a methodical approach of performing fast industry research. As product strategist and manager you will need to do this upfront to successfully innovate.
There is no alternative to time and experience when it comes to truly developing an in-depth understanding of an industry, but it is not an absolute necessity to be the SME yourself before diving in to solve real problems. In fact, majority, if not all product managers work with teams made up of researchers and SMEs and of course customers to supplement their knowledge. It may even be more helpful for product managers to come in and bring an outside perspective which can help with the discovery of some latent (and some times obvious) customer needs.
However, in order to have an impact quickly on an initiative, you still need to develop a rich understanding of the most important aspects of the industry in which you are innovating.
So how do you develop that knowledge efficiently and quickly as a product manager?
I call it Speed Reading an Industry, but the ideas can be applied to an even smaller scope like a specific sub industry/business/group/existing product.
Here are the 10 questions you need to answer to give yourself the best shot in a new industry or product.
- What are the key underlying sub industries (I’ll use the term segments synonymously) and goal for each?
- What is the size of each segment?
- Who are the stakeholders and players (both direct and indirect) ?
- Which of these stakeholders are the most important , active, primary actors?
- What are the biggest goals and motivations of those primary actors?
- What are the most important aspects/tasks that the primary actors perform? This is step is crucial and can also be identified through “A day in the life of..” , or “As-Is/ Current state” analysis
- How do the primary actors engage/transact/communicate with one another and other stakeholders?
- What are some of the biggest trends and signals in that segment?
- Who are the biggest and the upcoming competitors and what are their core competencies?
- What are the revenue streams and pricing strategies used in the various business models in that segment?
Depending on the nature of the industry, a lot of this can be done proactively through independent research, before you start working with customers and teams on product innovation. Note that some industry segments can be quite fragmented. Also consider different geographies and markets while conducting this exercise.
Try to apply this to an industry of your choice. Are there other aspects and questions you’d like highlight? Feel free to leave your comments below
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