Written by Kevin Heisey
on August 17, 2021
Associations Innovate: The Journey from Intent to Action, a report commissioned by the ASAE Foundation and written by Case Western Reserve University scholar Satish Nambisan, explored Associations’ focus, behavior, strategy and practice around digital innovation. The research identified common challenges Associations face on their innovation journey:
  • Defining what innovation means for an organization.
  • Establishing a culture of innovation with a common language.
  • Lack of member engagement in innovation activities.
  • Lack of experimentation and testing of ideas before implementation.
  • Measuring successful innovation.
  • Risk aversion and fear of embarking on an expensive innovation path that isn’t the right fit.

These challenges can be addressed by adopting a Product Management approach that focuses on the member (customer) or end user. Product Managers study customer objectives, motivations and pain points to define the Problem Space that a new Product should address. An incremental Product development process is then employed, driven by user feedback, which leads to rapid improvement and a Product that successfully meets member needs.

There are 5 ways you can use a Product Management approach to address the challenges Associations face.

1.    Define the Problem Space

Successful innovations start with a clearly defined Problem Space and an understanding of the end user. You can build User Personas, map Customer Journeys and develop Empathy Maps to better understand your member and what type of Product best meets their needs. From a partially developed solution, user experience and technology audits can help you identify key issues and lead to a clearer understanding of the Problem Space. Defining the Problem Space is key to establishing what innovation means for your organization.

2.    Adopt a Product Frame of Mind

Adopting a Product Frame of Mind creates a culture of innovation driven by a focus on member needs and the benefits the customer receives, rather than a predetermined innovation path. For Associations, your focus and language should be on members, understanding their needs and then working with them to develop Products that deliver the most value.

3.    Focus on Members and Deliver Value Iteratively

Intuition and insights gained through your member engagement and Problem Space definition can be turned into hypotheses that evaluate specific Product features and the overall user experience. Then, test the hypotheses through releasing and iteratively improving on Minimum Viable Products (MVP) based on member experiences and feedback. You can also challenge ideas and assumptions throughout to ensure successful business outcomes.

 4.    Define Business Value and Establish Metrics

Product Development must be driven and measured by its value to the business. Value can be many things and is context specific; it can be membership-oriented, for example improving a member-facing Product or Service or it can be oriented toward internal capability building, for example gaining efficiency in internal operations.

Once value is defined for your Association, you can establish qualitative, measurable objectives and key quantitative measures for robust objectives and key result (OKR) metrics to provide strategic guidance. Establishing and communicating OKRs keeps teams pulling in the same direction and continuously tracking and evaluating goals based on measurable outcomes.

5.    Minimize Risk

One of the biggest risks in implementing innovation is to approve, fund and develop a new Product or Solution only to have it end up being a poor fit. A strength of the Product Management approach is that it starts with and is driven by the user, making a successful outcome much more likely. The iterative process of using a feedback loop with the customers to build from an MVP lets your team know if it is missing the mark and ensures that new products are good fits.

How Mature is Your Association’s Product Management?

As a first step in exploring how to use Product Management to successfully implement digital innovation, take xScion’s Problem Space Exploration Survey. The survey gauges your Association’s maturity around Product Management best practices, helps you understand Problem Spaces for innovations to address and provides you with tips to optimize your digital Product efforts. To learn more, visit Problem Space Exploration Survey.