Fostering innovation despite the daily routines

It’s easy for all of us to get caught up in our daily work and routines, especially if you have a well-established team and product. If your company is growing, so are the expectations of your stakeholders, so you feel fortunate if you’re part of a well-oiled machine and if you have your individual fires under control. But wait. You need to innovate. You want to set your company and your customers up for long term success, and you can’t do that if you’re either complacent or constantly fighting fires. Let’s think about some things you can do to foster innovation without giving up your regular responsibilities.

ShipIt Days

I can’t say enough good things about what we at Hannon Hill call ShipIt Days, more commonly known as FedEx Days. While the logistics of the implementation may vary for each organization, the general idea is that each team member chooses a project to work on for 24 hours, either on their own or in collaboration with others (if it’s someone from another department, consider this a win), to produce a product of some kind. The result could be a new feature, a process improvement, a recommendation for a new tool to use, additional documentation for your users, or a brand-new company initiative. Don’t put any parameters on what your staff can select. Let them run with their ideas. Be sure to provide delicious and nutritious meals. After 24 hours, have each individual or team present their project. Part of the presentation should be to deliver a rollout plan. We actually just had a ShipIt Day last week, and I can honestly say that each project needs to be implemented.

Task Forces

One of the best ways to collaborate with people outside of your department is to join a task force. This could be any initiative that you feel passionate about, such as improving customer service, making the office environment more fun and productive, incentivizing a healthy lifestyle, or optimizing the QA process. Task forces allow your team members to pursue causes that they are passionate about, and they can really get people to think outside their daily routine and make suggestions that can be course-changing.

Team Meetings and Activities

I know, I know. You want to reduce the number of meetings. However, don’t underestimate the power of weekly team gatherings. If possible, have a catered lunch, as eating together is a nice bonding experience. In order to make those meetings more interesting and less monotonous, consider letting different departments take over as hosts. Maybe one day, you can all watch a TED talk together and discuss it afterwards. Another time, ask each team member to talk about their favorite productivity hack.

Team activities outside of regular meetings can also provide new perspectives. For instance, we do community service once a quarter, such as planting trees, or helping at an animal shelter or schools. Even though those activities have nothing to do with our software, giving back to the community refreshes our sense of purpose and gets us out of our own heads.


A change of scenery can invigorate your innovative mindset, and annual retreats are an excellent way to recharge. Be sure to mix fun and strategic activities. For instance, you can start off the day by dividing your team into groups and asking each group to work on a presentation on a specific topic such as “What are the top three challenges for our company and what do you recommend we do to overcome them?”. Once everyone has presented, the fun activities can begin.

Suggestion Box

The good old suggestion box can be an effective way to encourage people to share their ideas. You can also create a virtual box, which can be as simple as a Google spreadsheet. After every month or every quarter, have your team members vote on the best and reward the winner with a gift.

Understood Empowerment

Some of the most innovative ideas are born in an environment in which people know that they are not just allowed but encouraged to try new things. Whenever possible, let your team members spend time on special projects, celebrate change, let (fast) failure be okay, and have ad hoc conversations in which you ask poignant questions and solicit suggestions.  

When it comes to innovation, don’t just think about your product, but also about your processes, your office environment, your policies, and every aspect of your company. When done right, all of it will be reflected in better products and better service.

What about you? How do you encourage innovation while keeping up with your daily tasks?

8 tips for managing an agile product roadmap

Creating and maintaining a product roadmap is often considered one of the biggest challenges for startups and well established software companies alike. Startups need to be able to rapidly build out new functionality and to pivot quickly based on customer feedback and changing needs. Companies who have developed a highly complex, enterprise-level product have to consider how each new feature would impact the system and a potentially wide customer base. Managing a product roadmap that strikes the right balance of foresight and flexibility requires an agile and a customer-focused mindset, as well as a lot of planning and research. Here are a few things to consider.

Capture all relevant feedback

There’s no shortage of feedback channels. Your users provide a plethora of direct and indirect input when they submit support tickets. You may also consider setting up an idea exchange on which users can make suggestions for both new features and enhancements to existing ones, and comment on and vote for other customers’ ideas. Hold feedback sessions with your customers and hosts focus groups. Make sure that all of your customer-facing team members relay things that they hear from clients. Listen to internal ideas from your Services and Support teams. Most importantly, store all relevant feedback in one place so that you’re able to detect patterns more easily. At Hannon Hill, we use Productboard, but there are many other tools available. Use tags for each item so that you can better categorize and find entries.

Always start with the objective

When you’re evaluating all of the suggestions you’ve compiled, don’t fall into the trap of immediately focusing on features. Instead, approach each idea and request with the question “What’s the goal?” You’ll always want to make sure you think about the best way to accomplish a certain objective, so if you jump into “What’s the feature?” mode, you run the risk of missing out on better, more creative, or more effective ways to help your customers achieve their objective and solve their problems.

Involve multiple departments

Don’t put all the responsibility of creating your roadmap on your product team. Many departments can and should be involved in gathering customer feedback, but don’t stop there. You may have one or more team members in each department who have a knack for asking the insightful questions or for coming up with creative solutions. Invite them to roadmap and sprint planning meetings. 

Determine impact and complexity

Once you have determined the features that are candidates for your roadmap, assess the impact and the complexity of each one. Impact can be a number of things, such as added security, better user experience, fewer support tickets, or faster onboarding. Rate the impact on a numeric scale. How much of a difference will each particular feature make? Next, analyze the complexity of each feature. How difficult is it to implement? How much time will it take? What will be the impact on other parts of the system? Generally, the more things you have that have a big impact and a low level of complexity, the better. When planning your roadmap, finding the right balance is both an art and a science.

Who will work on what?

One of the aspects of roadmap planning that is often underestimated or not talked about at all is how the make-up of your product team and each individual can impact the roadmap. This is especially powerful if you have a team that’s small enough to afford you the luxury of fostering each developer’s interests and strengths and find alignment with your product goals. When putting together your roadmap, always capture who is most likely to work on what. And, of course, in an agile shop, let your developers self-assign items as much as possible.

Identify how you’ll measure success

It’s a cliché and it’s true. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. For each individual item on your roadmap, for every sprint, and for every release, capture the metrics you will use to measure success. This could include adoption/usage rates, Net Promoter Score, estimated versus actual development hours, or fixes needed.

Re-evaluate after each release

In order to maintain an agile roadmap, you have to be flexible enough to make adjustments as needed. After each release, hold a post mortem, discuss what worked well and what didn’t, and don’t be afraid to make changes based on your findings. In addition, always consider new trends, new technologies, and new problems that you need to solve. Reserve the right to do what’s right in order to deliver the best possible product to your customers at all times.

Talk about themes

Even if you are fairly certain about the features that you will add to your product in the next one to three years, be careful when talking about specifics that are too far in the future. When presenting your roadmap, only show and talk about features that are on the immediate horizon, that you know for sure are going to make it into the product in the way you describe it. You certainly don’t want to paint yourself into a corner and forego changes that make more sense at the time of rollout. Of course, you do owe your customers a roadmap, so “we’ll see what shakes out” won’t cut it. When presenting your roadmap, be transparent. Talk about themes and educate your customers about the advantages of an agile approach. After all, you want to be able to respond to current and upcoming trends in a way that optimally benefits your stakeholders rather than being boxed in by a promise you made a year ago at your user conference. When talking about themes that you will address in your product, be specific only when you can and be sure to talk about the big picture and the goals that you will help your customers achieve.

Creating and maintaining an agile roadmap can enable you deliver better products, but it requires the right people on your team and emotional intelligence when it comes to communicating with your customers. Don’t confuse “agile” with flying by the seat of your pants. Always, always be working on your roadmap. It takes a lot of research, a lot of listening, and  a lot of planning. You have to be prepared in order to be make meaningful and impactful changes along the way.

What about you? What are your thoughts on maintaining an agile roadmap?

Everything you can do, I can do better… Do you obsess over your competition?

You’ve probably fallen into the same trap as everyone else when it comes to worrying about competitors. Have you looked at your competitors’ products to figure out if there’s something you want to copy? Have you checked out their reviews on Glassdoor to learn more about their company culture and the happiness of their employees? Do you have Google Alerts set up for mentions of their company or product name? Do you follow what they’re posting on social media? Well, while it’s good to know what your competition is up to, obsessing too much can be a colossal waste of time and can make you lose focus. Let’s take a few minutes to reflect on some of the things that you should and should not concern yourself with when it comes to your competition.


There are many sources of inspiration for your product roadmap. Chances are that your sales reps, your support team, your professional services department, your client advocate, and basically every customer- and prospect-facing individual will bring their feedback to the table on a daily basis. As I mentioned in a previous post, the trick is to know when to say no to a certain request. So should you worry about product features of your competitors? My answer is “mostly no”. Obviously, you want to know how other products solve their customers’ problems, but hopefully, you are confident that you will find better ways to help your customers achieve their goals. Yes, you might hear from a prospect “But XYZ has this particular feature. That’s really what I was looking for”, or maybe your sales rep is convinced that “if only we had this feature that competitor ABC had, we would have won the deal”. But that doesn’t mean that you have to drop what you’re doing, change your roadmap, and create a replica of said feature. First of all, you only want to implement features which provide substantial value. Never build something gimmicky just because it “demos well”. Equip your sales reps with in depth knowledge about your product philosophy and with the right questions to ask a prospect. Always approach feature requests with a focus on solving the prospect’s problems and helping them achieve their goals. In other words, focus on the what when talking to a prospect before figuring out the how.


Let’s face it – no matter what types of products or services you provide, there’s always someone who’ll do it cheaper. Trying to win a deal by starting a race to the bottom is not just bad business for you, but it ultimately harms your industry, and, as a result, the quality of the products available, and that is not in the best interest of your clients. Be sure you get compensated fairly and in a way that allows you to continue to innovate and to provide amazing customer service. Be sure that your prospects and customers understand the value they’re getting.

Intel strategies

Some companies are more aggressive than others when it comes to competitive intel. In fact, we’ve had competitors use fake names to sign up for our webinars (I’m looking at you, “Jim Legg”!), use their personal accounts to get demos of our product, and even recruit their own customers to ask for demos just for the intel. Is it annoying? Sure, since it’s a distraction. You definitely want to be aware of those instances, since you don’t want to give away too much information. More importantly, you don’t want to waste your sales reps’ time on prospects that really only do some work for your competitors. But ultimately, don’t let paranoia take up real estate in your head that you could use more wisely by focusing on your product.

What they say about you

Arguably the hardest thing to ignore, or at least to not get enraged over, is what your competitors say about your company and product when it’s not true. Obviously, your gut reaction is to call them out. In situations in which the prospect tells you about derogatory and false statements that your competitors made, be thankful that you’re given the chance to present the facts, but be sure to do so in a way that reflects your company values and that establishes trust. While it can certainly be helpful to find out what your competitors say about you, so that you can be adequately prepared, it’s best to primarily focus on your relationship with the prospect.

Logo count

What about your competitors’ customer lists? How much attention should you pay to those? It’s definitely helpful to know which customers who would be/would have been great fits for you ended up choosing one of your competitors. When you lose a deal, always do a post mortem in order to understand why this happened. In some instances, maybe it wasn’t a good fit from the beginning due to budget or unrealistic expectations. In this case, identify what could have been done to walk away earlier in the process. It’s a much tougher loss when an organization would have been a good or even ideal fit for you. Ask your team what they would have done differently in hindsight. Then, move on, but be sure that someone follows up with the prospect after a certain amount of time. When looking at your and your competition’s customers, don’t just count logos. Always think about fit.

Customer Service

From a price standpoint, there’s always someone who will be cheaper. There’s also always going to be a “bigger boat”. However, one of the things that is most within your control is the level of service that you provide to your customers and your prospects. As I mentioned previously, company culture is how people feel after interacting with anyone on your team. Note that you will be hard pressed to find a company who does not make the claim to deliver great service. Look at your competitors, but also look at other companies that are known for having amazing service, and do whatever you can to be better than any of them. If you don’t let anyone out-care you, you will prevail.

Knowing your competitive landscape is necessary, but don’t let it paralyze you. Learn and get inspired where possible, and focus on the things that you can control.

What about you? What do you concern or not concern yourself with when it comes to your competition?