Organizational ambidexterity: The fuel needed to drive product innovation

by | Jul 15, 2021

If your work involves ensuring the success of your enterprise’s products or services, you’ve no doubt felt the ground shifting beneath your feet. The last 18 months have taught us that adaptability is not just a nice character trait, it is quite literally your everything: your ability to thrive, even to survive, in the new digital economy. Organizational ambidexterity is more important than ever.

If we turn to the numbers, the Census Bureau has already detected this seismic shape-shifting happening in our world.

And with that data comes an interesting shift to ponder.

How is that Tesla, which only produced a half a million cars in 2020, now has a market capitalization of nearly $700 billion, while Toyota, which sold 9.5 million vehicles last year, is worth a mere $200 billion?

Even if your preferred measurement of success is not shareholder value (indeed, there are better measures), you must concede the Amazons and Teslas of the world are doing something right.

So, what do these companies have in common and how can you keep up?

Innovating while ‘keeping it real’

Product management excellence is a core discipline for companies that have ‘digital DNA’ and is the enabler of much organizational growth. Product owners and, more broadly, product management professionals, hone a very special skill: ambidexterity – the ability to strike a balance between today’s needs and tomorrow’s possibilities.

Even the mightiest will fall if they choose not to become ambidextrous. So, start practicing both strategies, concurrently!

I borrow the term organizational ambidexterity from polymath Paul Boulos, former president of MWH Global and founder and CEO of Innovyze and Digital Water Works, and his article “Give your firm a way to last.”

Boulos’ framing is unequivocally applicable to the skill of product management professionals.

Product management professionals are arguably the most ambidextrous individuals in organizations, because they are constantly balancing innovation with “keeping it real.” Maintaining this strategic balance is your one-two punch to success in the digital age.


We can also learn from Henrik Kniberg, a former coach of agile and lean methodologies at the likes of Spotify and LEGO, who is currently running his own company Crisp AB. He and Boulos converge on a specific point: the importance of not only doing the right things, but also doing things right.

It’s not an easy task. For product management professionals, this delicate balance requires a juggling act that would impress even the most seasoned talent scout for Cirque du Soleil:

By balancing speed, quality and strategic vision, these professionals are often the ones who keep the operational lights on, while also building the future of organizations.

Keeping one foot in the present, and one in the future

The biggest challenge, of course, is to navigate ongoing, day-to-day operational challenges, while also articulating and realizing the company’s vision for the future of their customers, internal users, and other stakeholders.

Here are a few ways to improve your organizational ambidexterity and product innovation:

  • Know where you’re going – If your organization does not have a clear strategic vision, and a plan for realizing it (execution is key), back up and achieve that first. Where you want to go determines what you need to get there.
  • Create a product management incubator ­– Establish a center of excellence within your organization, where you can bring together the various stakeholders, communicators, and technical specialist to build the future of your very own organization. Don’t forget to be agile. Continuous value delivery is more important than perfection.
  • Chart out clear, specific and measurable roadmaps – Align products with customer needs and organizational goals. Then align everyone in the organization around your product roadmaps and ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction. With both hands, of course.

At Mod Op Strategic Consulting we’re strong believers in this balancing act and often help organizations set up the guiderails and communication channels for vitality and success. Drop us a line if you’d like to chat.


Alex Abboud, Senior Consultant, Business Strategy

Alex is responsible for analyzing client business models and customer experience to develop products and overall business strategies. He is an experienced professional in the Management Consultancy Industry and is passionate about delivering client growth objectives.

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