Product and Innovation Ownership - Matt Court interview
Posted on 26 February 2016
This month we caught up with Matt Court, Senior Manager at Paymark, delving into his thoughts around product management and innovation ownership. With extensive local and international experience in Product Management roles, Matt has worked for some truly innovative brands including Orion Health, GeoLife and Nokia as well as his current employer. He is a true advocate and asset to the industry, working beyond his professional remit to promote the advancing art and science of Product Management through his role as a meetup organiser. His perspective is refreshing and he shares some provoking insights below.
As Senior Manager Product Management at Paymark can you share a little bit of what your role comprises of and where the Product Management function sits within your business?
The Product Management role in Paymark is responsible for the P&L performance of a product or portfolio of products, as well as all vision and roadmap decisions. Our Executive team give us a great deal of autonomy in setting our own direction and support in bringing it to life. But, no decision is made on an island - we collaborate closely with all parts of the business, and most importantly, our customers.
How have you seen the answer to the question 'who controls the product' change in your time as a Product Manager?
No two businesses I've worked in have the same, or even similar, interpretations of the Product Management function. At Paymark, Product Managers are empowered to define the vision and priorities, and then the innovation really happens when we work with our technology colleagues in defining the solutions to the problems we've targeted. The vision for a product could be something completely left-field, but if it makes sense for customers, we'll have the backing to give it a shot. In other organisations, the Product Manager remit is limited to a defined product, where the only debate is at feature level.
What do you think are the critical aspects that a Product Manager needs to be able to control or influence to catalyse innovation?
Customer understanding is the most critical aspect of innovation. Getting the business aligned on customer needs is the key pre-requisite for ongoing success, but then you need to activate and execute. Great problem solving skills, intense determination, a bias for action and an ability to have courageous conversations all help as well.
Do you see any overlap between the role of the traditional Business Analyst and Product Manager to drive product specification?
There are so many overlapping roles - Product Manager, Product Owner, Business Analyst, Product Marketing Manager – which provides so much potential for confusion. Definition of roles, whatever they look like, is key to efficient product specification. There is definitely room for multiple contributors but it is imperative everyone has visibility across their remit.
You talk about Product Management as an art and a science, can it truly be both?
It has to be both and it has to be a balance. The challenge is getting the balance right. A good example is the way you explore new opportunities. You might start with empathising with your customers and hypothesising solutions to the needs you infer. This tends to be subjective and based on gut instincts. But to thoroughly test your theories and solutions you need the science. You put them in front of volumes of customers and assess the hard data. You work with technology design, finance and legal and then balance this with brainstorm sessions and marketing creative. Ultimately, you are making technology products to meet human needs, so it has to be both.
Your experience is vast and varied, local and international, how has your approach to innovation evolved over your career?
Probably the biggest difference between me now and me as a 22-year-old was that at that time I thought it was all about doing new stuff just because it was new, because it pushed the technology boundaries of the time. Now I realise that the only innovation is in human experience, and technology is the enabler.
How is innovation best fostered within an organisation?
By not making it the responsibility of one team or group, but instead making it part of everybody's job. Also by accepting failure as a consequence of innovation; if people are afraid to try for fear of failure, nothing truly innovative will come from them, just an iteration or progression. This philosophy is echoed by my biggest inspiration in this field, Julie Zhuo.
Who really owns the product within an organisation?
It is blurry for many, and I guess ultimate accountability and ownership is not seen when the innovation succeeds but when it fails. But, where a business really wants to get to is that everyone feels like they own the product, that they are responsible for the success and future of the business. When this is achieved, your organisation won’t be constrained by job descriptions but will truly collaborate and innovation will be realised.