I propose that successful Product Management/Marketing employs three key functions: listening, synthesis, and advocacy.
Listen. Listen to your customers, your sales team, your management, popular culture, your heart. Listen to industries outside your own; that is where the “cool stuff” usually appears from. Organize. Build an institutional memory system that everyone can openly access.
Synthesize the tremendous volume of inputs. Recognize the “white space” opportunities outside of existing product categories. Blend innovation risks. Determine priorities (“focus” is the ability to NOT do the other 101 good ideas on the list). Be willing to pause and think, to recognize incomplete information. Just do it: create design experiments, prototypes, demonstration projects. Prove the strategy.
Advocate your reasoning, beliefs and intuition. Co-develop product specifications with your engineering and supply chain groups to win “buy in”. Support the fragile ideas along with the “obvious winners”. Become a good teacher. Help your sales team, customers and industry become savvy about the products. Help your customers become better designers.
And while “Design Thinking” has received lots of attention over the past couple years, Design Thinking itself is not complete enough to make for a successful product design and development cycle. But it certainly enhances each of these individual functions. Establishing an exploratory, generative, abductive process at the front end of almost any project is a badly needed balance to the rigor of the more common analytic, deductive processes employed by engineers, managers, etc.