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In a world where the pace of change is faster than ever, the power of great ideas has never been more crucial. And yet, developing these ideas into impactful, market-ready products can be an immense challenge. The best products are not born overnight, they’re the result of dedicated ideation and innovation processes. These processes aren’t always easy, but they’re necessary and can be catalyzed with the right strategies and approaches. How do you foster a culture of creativity within a team? How can one rapidly translate ideas into prototypes and eventually finished products? How can roadblocks be anticipated and managed effectively to avoid unnecessary delays. In this series, we’re eager to explore insights, stories, and actionable tips from those at the forefront of ideation and innovation. As part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ranjani Krishnamurthy.

Ranjani Krishnamurthy is Director of Solutions Development for AHEAD. She is an accomplished product leader, practice builder, and growth strategist with over 20 years of experience in technology services. Her impressive portfolio includes leading the development and implementation of various solution strategies and go-to-market frameworks for large technology services companies in emerging technology solutions areas such as data and AI, developer productivity, platform engineering, cloud, security, operations, and collaboration technologies. Ranjani has a proven track record of driving alignment across practices and teams, achieving industry recognition, and growing businesses through innovative solutions. She is known for her ability to drive strategic alignment and execute on portfolio and go-to-market integrations across several key acquisitions.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello, thank you for having me. I am naturally curious and always eager to learn. I love to experiment and try new things, and I believe that this mindset has helped me grow both personally and professionally. However, I can only truly excel in things that I am deeply passionate about, and I strongly believe that work needs to be meaningful for me to be truly happy and fulfilled. As a technologist and entrepreneur at heart, I am always looking for ways to innovate and make a positive impact in the world. I enjoy leveraging technology to solve complex problems and create new opportunities for growth and development.

With strong roots in consulting, I built a career designing solutions and creating practices that solve business problems across the technology landscape. I found myself gravitating toward emerging practice areas and building innovative scalable solutions upon each other. Bringing together the collective brain trust consulting and technology teams to solve real problems is a deep passion of mine and my career in R&D and Product/Solution development has helped me do exactly that.

What led you to this specific career path?

It’s truly amazing how creating new things and solving complex problems can be so intriguing. I’ve always been drawn to these two things and as a technologist at heart, I find satisfaction in seeing a solution I created for a customer solve a problem. As I started leading multiple teams across technology areas, I realized my natural inclination towards product creation. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking an idea and watching it grow into a tangible solution that delivers real impact for clients every day. It’s inspiring to see how the power of technology can positively transform lives and businesses alike.

Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?

Let me take you back to one of the first solutions we brought to market after I joined AHEAD. It was a late evening when I met Nick Colyer, a leader in our Cloud practice. The economy was just starting to turn, and customers were beginning to shift their focus back to cost containment. This indicated the challenging times ahead and the need for leaders and businesses to do more with less. To give yourself room to innovate, you had to prioritize optimizing and finding efficiencies — wallets had to get tighter.

As Nick and I started talking, our conversation quickly turned to a looming customer problem. Despite the presence of multiple tools in the cloud world, cost containment remained a constant struggle for many organizations. As we brainstormed on the biggest pain points, we began to break down the problems and frame up solutions for each aspect.

Within a few hours, we had the high-level outline of our Cloud FinOps solution that we wanted to create. We launched our offering in the next few weeks along with our Financial Consulting services, and it couldn’t have been a timelier solution. Our solution was met with great enthusiasm and excitement. We had accelerated our time-to-market for a unique solution to a consistently challenging issue, and that was truly exciting. Today, our Cloud FinOps solution and Financial Consulting services are renowned for their effectiveness in helping organizations achieve cost containment in the cloud world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We are currently working on a GenAI product that focuses on productivity gains. Our goal is to empower individuals in an organization by bringing the power of enterprise-level knowledge to them, making their work more effective and simpler every day. Knowledge is distributed in various forms such as documents, systems, data, and archives, and it can be challenging to collect and correlate all of it. With our upcoming solutions, we aim to make knowledge more accessible and actionable, enabling individuals to make better decisions and achieve better outcomes. We believe that our upcoming solutions have the potential to significantly impact productivity, efficiency, and overall job satisfaction, transforming the way organizations operate and individuals perform. We are excited to continue exploring new and innovative ways to bring the benefits of AI-powered technology to people’s everyday lives.

You’re a successful business leader. What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success? Can you share a story or example for each?

My strength in bringing together people and understanding their motivations and strengths has helped me achieve remarkable results. I believe that having different perspectives and strengths working towards a common goal is key for creativity, innovation, and growth. I ensure everyone’s ideas are heard and valued, as collaboration and teamwork are essential to achieving success.

To me, empathy, and a drive towards achieving impactful outcomes go hand in hand. I believe that one should understand the needs and desires of our customers and stakeholders and use this information to guide our decision-making. For instance, while leading a team at a non-profit organization, we were tasked with raising funds for a particular cause. I noticed that donors were more likely to give when they felt connected to the cause on a personal level. Therefore, I made it my priority to connect with each donor and understand their motivations for giving. By doing this, we were able to raise more funds than ever before and make a significant impact on the cause we were supporting.

As an individual, I prioritize taking quick and decisive action when opportunities arise. This has been a critical factor in my past success. For instance, while leading a team at my previous company, we identified a gap in the market and quickly mobilized a diverse group to develop tangible outcomes that we took to the market in a matter of days, capturing a significant share of the market. I firmly believe that the ability to bring people together is a vital leadership quality that fosters collaboration, builds trust, and promotes a sense of community among team members. I have always strived to create a positive work environment that inspires creativity, innovation, and growth.

It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have always been someone with a bunch of ideas. Earlier in my career, I felt compelled to share all of them. One such occasion, we were in a team brainstorming session; I expressed my ideas during the first two rounds. During the third round, the leader conducting the brainstorming session said something that made me realize I was making a huge mistake: “Let’s discuss this…and everyone except for Ranj, please chime in and answer.” Ouch. I smiled and realized I was not allowing others to be heard as much as I should have. It was a valuable lesson, and I made it an absolute practice to change.

Years later today, listening to diverse opinions and bringing them together is one of my strengths and critical skills.

Do you have any mentors or experiences that have particularly influenced your approach to product ideation and innovation?

I have derived great inspiration from Marty Cagan’s ideas. He is the founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group, co-founder of Inventures and the author of Inspired & Empowered. He nailed the dichotomy of what is required to achieve success with product innovation. He says, “Product management is both an art and a science. It’s an art because it involves a lot of creativity and intuition. It’s a science because it requires rigor, data, and analysis.” It perfectly captures the essence of what innovation and product creation is all about. I have been fortunate to work with exceptional leaders who taught me much about the craft. It requires a blend of creativity and intuition to develop ideas that resonate with customers, design solutions that address customer’s needs, and differentiate the product from competitors. A scientific approach to validate those ideas, measure their impact, and optimize the product for success. These two things require different mindsets and exercises; your right and left brains must come together. You must be innovative and execute.

In your experience, what is the anatomy of a strong product idea?

The best products not only solve a problem and deliver an outcome, but also instill a sense of satisfaction. Truly exceptional products win hearts and minds. This emotional connection is key.

There are several defining aspects for a great product — let me give you my top three.

1) The painful problem, the trigger: The most important aspect of a strong product idea is identifying a problem that is critical and pressing for your target audience. The problem should cause significant pain or frustration, and your solution should aim to alleviate that pain and make their lives better. By addressing an urgent and important problem, your product can make a real difference in people’s lives.

2) Clear impact: Your product should have a clear impact on your target audience’s lives, helping them achieve their goals and making their day-to-day experiences better. To ensure that the impact is consistent throughout the product lifecycle, customer feedback loops are essential both for product quality and market validity. This allows you to continually iterate and improve your product based on user feedback. The solution should be financially viable and scalable. It needs to deliver meaningful impact, over and over and every single time.

3) Clear and differentiated value proposition: Your value proposition should be clear and easily understood by your target audience. Additionally, it’s important to differentiate your product from similar solutions in the market. This could be achieved through unique features and pricing strategies.

What approach does your team use for coming up with new ideas for products and features?

As a team, we believe in the importance of customer centricity. We actively conduct research and collect feedback from our customers, and we pay close attention to customer trends by analyzing numerous customer conversations every day. We recognize that our customers, including client directors, solution architects, client solution partners, consultants, specialists, advisors in our OCTO office, and partners, are all sources of great ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere within our client ecosystem, and we are committed to identifying and prioritizing the most pressing customer needs. By doing so, we can deliver impactful solutions that can transform the way businesses operate and individuals perform. Our dedication to customer-centric innovation is a true reflection of our thought leadership in the industry. We will continue to work tirelessly to identify new and innovative ideas from all corners of our client ecosystem, and to deliver exceptional customer experiences that exceed expectations.

What is the story behind the most successful product or feature idea your team has ever had — what was the need, how did the idea come about, and what was the outcome?

Our team’s most successful product idea, which we are actively taking to market, is a solution set around platform engineering. The need for it was ubiquitous — clients wanted to create speed to market for new applications, do more with less given the economic climate, automate processes, and create efficiencies. The DevOps movement was at this foundation, but these concepts needed to extend to infrastructure and data teams. We saw our clients needing to accelerate and transform how their teams work; that is where the idea came from. Platform engineering is revolutionizing how infrastructure, network, cloud, security dev, and data teams work together, just as DevOps has shifted how many Dev and Ops teams work together over the past fifteen years. The outcome of our product has been phenomenal — we provide solutions that helped clients accelerate their platform engineering, package-tailored developer kits, and data science kits that deploy tools and infrastructure across multiple environments, create efficiencies, automate processes, and return time to our teams. Our solutions have been producing excellent efficiency for our clients and we are continuing to build and enhance our accelerators and intellectual property around them.

How does your product team manage new product and feature ideas?

We leverage our innovation framework that charts our way from incubating ideas to scaling large products. We actively maintain an innovation pipeline and have squads across business units. We actively embrace the customer-first, fail-fast mentality and design-thinking ways of working. We have developed prioritization methods for various parts of our solution portfolio, tied to the various tiers of products we create.

What, in your view, is the biggest challenge with respect to innovation?

The balance between innovation and operational efficiency is a challenge for any innovative company. Not all our ideas are going to scale, are going to lead to meaningful solutions that solve critical problems and are large profit driving products. Another challenge is to create a culture of innovation that encourages experimentation and risk-taking, while also providing the necessary resources and support. Many organizations struggle to strike a balance between innovation and operational efficiency and may not allocate enough resources to research and development.

Based on your experience, what are your “5 Tips for Accelerating Product Ideation & Innovation”?

  1. Create a culture of experimentation and innovation: With your community of engineers and creative minds, one approach does not inspire all teams to instigate innovation. Different motivators trigger creativity for different areas of technology consultants who work with our clients across the many verticals we support. We have a variety of communities, tiger teams, client need-driven clusters of people, hackathons, workshops, and brainstorming to drive us forward. Involving diverse perspectives and talent in the ideation process is vital.
  2. Focus on the problem: Nothing drives innovation like identifying a solid problem to solve and spending more time defining the problem and understanding it before jumping into a solution. Come back and put the target persona hat on every time you begin creation to validate that your team is focused on the customer and that you have right sized and narrowed the problem. You first must nail the problem to nail the solution.
  3. Invest and prioritize ideation and innovation: Talent thrives when there’s time and space for innovation. Make it a business priority to allow time and creative space for people to innovate.
  4. Have an incubation framework: Use rapid prototyping to test ideas quickly and cost-effectively. We do quick innovation sprints to validate the viability of ideas.
  5. Customer Feedback loops: Customer feedback loops are core to innovation. They allow us to gather valuable insights and opinions to help improve their products and services. Co-creation is one such feedback loop where companies work alongside their customers to create new products or services. By involving clients in the product development process, companies can ensure that their offerings meet the needs and desires of their target market.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I am a big fan of Yuval Noah Harari and his books; discussing his perspectives on the future of civilization structures would be amazing. He has this incredible and unique ability to distill and simplify complex ideas and historical events spanning eras into accessible and thought-provoking insights that anyone can digest. He offers a fresh, concise, simplified, yet thorough perspective on the history of humanity and our future as a species. He challenges us to think critically about the world and our place in it and encourages us to consider the ethical implications of technological advancements. Breakfast with him would make for an absolutely fantastic morning, no, scratch that, a truly tremendous year!”

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

This interview was conducted by Rachel Kline and initially published in Authority Magazine via Medium.com. You can find the original article here.


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