When the first version of the Innovate With Influence book made the rounds within my company, one of the more oft-discussed aspects was my characterization of the role that managers play in regards to product innovation. My first draft asserted that an intrapreneur should own (and drive) the "cradle-to-grave" delivery of an idea into a product. My assumption was that this person was an individual contributor as opposed to a manager.
An intrapreneur maps customer requirements for the idea onto an architecture, drives a design (making compromises along the way), and collaborates with a whole host of co-workers, including members of quality test, documentation, service, pre-sales, etc. Part of this process also requires validation of the implementation as part of an alpha or beta release with customers.
My assertion is that a manager (someone who has direct reports) should not play the role of an intrapreneur. I based this assertion on first-hand experience with managers that I had either worked for or worked with. The more successful managers seemed to best function by focusing on the removal of organizational roadblocks and the empowerment of team members to build and deliver the idea. This involves driving the team and the organization more than driving the idea.
One of the VPs that read the initial manuscript disagreed. He felt that it was possible to drive the idea into a product by building an organization around it and constantly monitoring and guiding all teams that bring the product into the hands of a customer. He felt an intrapreneur not only has the technical focus but the business/organizational focus as well.
I ultimately modified the book and re-clarified the idea by specifically referring to line managers (those that manage a smaller team) and the role they play guiding these teams to be productive.
Should these types of managers roll up their sleeves and stay deep in the trenches with the technical implementation of an idea into a product?