Interview with IBM’s Director of Product Line Management – IBM’s Innovation JAMS – Part 1

Our agile environments demand innovation.

How do we stay ahead of our competition?

How do we ensure we are delivering products and updates that our clients want and demand?

IBM has developed a system to tackle these issues.

Ever heard of an Innovation Jam? If you haven’t IBM has something AMAZING to teach you.

Innovation Jams are IBM’s way of making sure it is taking full advantage of its employees’ ideas and talents.  It involves 150 000 participants and $100M in funding.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Talbot- IBM’s Director of Product Line Management, Power Systems.

Keep reading to hear his expert advice, tips, and experience in product management.

Spectechular: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role at IBM

Richard Talbot: My interests and IBM role includes responsibility for the development of big data, analytics and cloud infrastructure offerings using Power technology. That role includes working with our clients to enhance the performance and capabilities of their IT infrastructure.

I work in a development lab located in Austin, Texas as a member of the Power Systems world-wide business and product management team. 

Spectechular: How does IBM innovate fast enough to stay on top and ahead of technological  changes and opportunities?

RT: Throughout a program like this, we work with our clients, industry leaders and partners to determine where the grand challenges in IT infrastructure will reside in the next 5-10 years.

Knowing the industry changes fast, we also design enough flexibility in our design and development process to make changes along the way and still meet the delivery schedules we commit to our clients. Understanding what levers we can pull, and when, during a multi-year technology and systems development cycle is key to successfully delivering compelling and relevant offerings. 

The OpenPOWER Foundation is also driving a high level of innovation and rapid introduction of innovative new technology. Partnerships with these high profile members of the compute industry have already produced a high level of collaboration and new offerings we announced along with our new POWER8-based systems earlier this year, and that will continue at an increasing rate as new members continue to join. The open-ness of the Power architecture allows innovation at all levels of the stack … from core technology to system design, from accelerators to new workload development. It’s exciting to see this level of “arms locked” collaboration exploiting the rich performance and feature set of Power technology. 

Spectechular: I’ve read that IBM hosts value and innovation ‘jams’ to gather new ideas from employees. Please tell us about this and why it is so important to developing and planning for excellent products.

RT: This is an exciting IBM program, like a new form of organizational intervention and possibly the largest brainstorming sessions ever held.

“Over 150,000 participants joined the last IBM Innovation Jam and the session was backed by $100M of IBM funding to develop and bring these ideas to market.”

The principle is simple: a lot of great ideas percolate behind closed doors but never escape into the market using traditional development methods. These jam sessions by design provide a penalty-free environment to bring these ideas into the open and connecting people who might otherwise never meet.

And the process works!

Many of the ideas from the most recent jam have already manifested themselves into new products and offerings from IBM and other companies.

These jam sessions existed within IBM as in-person forums since the 1980’s, and the advent of on-line collaboration and social media has substantially broadened the level of participation and improved the effectiveness. 

Spectechular: How does IBM balance customer feedback with the development team?

RT: Many of our development team members and leaders maintain advocate relationships with clients and participate in business shows and briefings. As a result, we maintain a healthy diet of  feedback from our clients on their most significant IT challenges, application requirements and industry trends.

In these discussions, we take advantage of the opportunity to ask detailed questions and sometimes host proof-of-concept programs to test new technology and applications. We also get direct input from our business partners and solution developers.

“Ultimately, though, when there’s disagreement on our direction or product design (which isn’t often), the guidance we receive from our clients always wins.” 

Part 2 of This Interview

Stay tuned as we tackle integration and roadmaps for the Born-on-the-Web Generation


Mark is the Lead Author & Editor of Spectechular Blog. Mark established the Spectechular blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Product Management.