Innovation Pathways: Combining Two Approaches for Customer Solutions

To help illustrate where the pursuit of innovation management can lead, our Innovation Pathways series asks our current students, recent graduates, and established alumni to describe their journeys.

Vaibhav Katkade headshotVaibhav Katkade WG’20 is a product manager with expertise in enterprise network security and cloud data infrastructure solutions. He has introduced new categories of products in the enterprise market driving revenues of $200M+ within the first year, leading go-to-market and strategic alliance initiatives for the same. Vaibhav is currently leading product management for Intuit’s AWS-based Data Platform to accelerate data science and machine learning across all of Intuit. Vaibhav holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California and an Executive MBA from the Wharton School.

How do you apply innovation management principles in your current job?
I am currently a product manager at Intuit, on their Data Platform team. Intuit has quite a principled approach towards all innovation and product development efforts that they have everyone in the company adopt. They are around “Customer Driven Innovation” and “Design for Delight” — together referenced as “Intuit’s #1 secret weapon.” You can read more about it here.

Intuit has very much of a bottom-up innovation and product development culture that encourages all employees to prototype, experiment, and submit ideas for new products and features; and very intentionally creates whitespace time for employees to work on those.

In addition, there are several open virtual communities of employees that actively take an “outside-in” approach to continually be on the lookout for disruptions and trends in the market or industry, and think about how we would want to react to or capitalize on them. These may be developments that are directly in the market or industry that we actively play in or even otherwise. From a knowledge sharing and up-skilling perspective, Intuit regularly has various thought leaders from the industry come speak on a range of key issues and cutting-edge research, and also has dedicated internal learning tracks and resources.

“I find that both approaches have their pros/cons and it really takes a combination of both of these approaches in tandem to be able to identify the most pressing customer problems.”

Did you learn anything during the Mack Institute’s Collaborative Innovation Program (CIP) that you’re applying in your current role?
Most of the product development and innovation efforts that I have driven have been in the context of my own team and company. The CIP project offered me an opportunity to engage in an innovation exercise from a client-principal standpoint, which brought in a lot more discipline in terms of the structure of the engagement. Much like a consulting project, there is a clear problem definition and goal-setting happening in the early part of the engagement, including a set definition of constraints (time, resource, organization, relationship, etc.) within which you need to address the problem. This is quite a contrast to several of the corporate innovation development initiatives that are much more unstructured, and that start off with a market opportunity, unique insight, or a unique technology capability and then try to productize and operationalize it within the company. I find that both approaches have their pros/cons and it really takes a combination of both of these approaches in tandem to be able to identify the most pressing customer problems, and solve for them in the most elegant manner possible, while being able to effectively commercialize the solution in a way that addresses corporate goals.

Secondly, in every large corporation, any new large-scale program or innovation that you are trying to drive has several stakeholders. In these situations, it really helps to take a more structured approach to the program to drive the stakeholder alignment and resource commitments required to ensure the success of your program. This includes skills around proactively setting and managing expectations with your stakeholders and management, which are very much relevant in a corporate innovation setting as well. This is where the CIP program gave me a firsthand experience working on a more structured approach to an innovation exercise that was in line with our client’s business problem and to hone my skills in this area, which I now carry over to my current role in corporate product development.

What did you find most rewarding about working with your CIP team?
I really enjoyed the diversity of the team that I worked with, both my own CIP project team as well as my client team. From my own project team standpoint, my teammates came from a variety of backgrounds spanning technology operations leadership, management consulting, and engineering; and it was a fun exercise tackling a problem space that was completely new to all of us by bringing together our varied skill sets, strengths, and networks to deliver on this project in a really short timeframe of three to four months.

Our client was based out of Central America and our project was for the Central American market — something that was completely new to all of us. It was therefore a really great experience learning about a completely new market, and trying to understand its value chain and competitive dynamics by drawing analogies and parallels to the markets and background contexts that our team was actually familiar with.

Did you take any other classes that were useful for learning about innovation management?
Yes, I did take a few classes that I found very relevant in the general area of innovation management. From the core MBA program, this includes MGMT-613, as well as STAT-613, which was quite a relevant refresher given the pervasiveness of needing to understand data in decision-making these days. I also found MGMT-701 really informative in ways to blend corporate strategy with financial rigor. On early-stage innovation, I took the MKTG-801 and MGMT-806; and the MGMT-731 course specifically to go deeper into technology strategy.