Initiatives in product innovation fail for many reasons:
product and process development cycles run too long, causing teams to lose enthusiasm and focus
teams lack real data on which to base business decisions, instead relying on endless internal discussions
teams feel pressurised to be ‘innovative’ but don’t know how to start
cross functional teams find it hard to align with common business objectives
project scope changes repeatedly and teams often work towards unclear goals
However, there are 4 key elements to success.
1. Multidisciplinary Approach – Product, Design and Engineering
The secret to creating new products customers love is to bring Product, Design and Engineering views together for the full lifecycle. Collaboration from ideation, through prototyping to product launch, significantly improves the odds of creating a product customers value, is easy to use and can be implemented quickly.
Without the Engineering view, Product and Design can define new products that require significant effort and time to deliver. Without Design input, Product and Engineering can build a system with high potential value but too complex to use. Without Product’s involvement, Design and Engineering can create highly usable, feature rich solutions that are of little value to customers. All three views must contribute to hit the product sweet spot.
If product discovery is carried out in parallel to many other ongoing activities, scheduled as weekly meetings over several months, momentum and focus are lost. Ideas are forgotten. The original purpose can disappear. Additional documentation overheads are created, which in turn divert attention away from the original goals.
The secret is: ‘keep it simple – make it quick’. Carry out these activities in focused sprints with dedicated teams and clearly defined objectives. Providing real momentum, results can be achieved in the shortest possible time.
3. Fast Feedback
Customers may not know what they want or need until they see it and use it. Finding the value sweet spot is usually an iterative process. Without fast feedback loops, even the most capable product development teams waste time on features to address changing needs and often miss the targets altogether.
This process is significantly slowed when real solutions are engineered for review using the classic build, test, review cycle. In the product discovery stage, it is much faster to produce prototypes that mimic the behaviour of the product sufficiently to elicit rapid customer feedback. To deliver full value, the real product can be progressively engineered behind the prototype façade
4. Innovation Framework
Without a framework, most people find the process of turning new ideas into real solutions extremely hard. The pressure to come up with new, meaningful ideas can be very daunting. Many give up before they have really started.
Selecting your most creative people to form a ‘Think Tank’ or ‘Though Leadership Team’ can skew solutions from the near term to distant futures.
Allocating a time and place and throwing people together to ‘brainstorm’ rarely produces great results. These activities usually favour the extroverts, great communicators and more senior people and not the introverted geniuses. All have a part to play.
The natural flow usually involves divergence of ideas followed by convergence. Managing the transition between the two stages is very challenging for everyone unless there is a process agreed in advance.
Without momentum and forward movement in this process, self-judgement and censorship stifles creativity and in the worst cases, lead to over-thinking and ‘analysis paralysis’.
For these reasons, a successful innovation framework must provide just enough time for problem definition, individual analysis and ideation followed by unbiased team solution building and testing. It must also build in approval from senior stakeholders to ensure business commitment to the results.
Fortunately, such a process was created at Google Ventures and has been applied successfully hundreds of times across a wide range of businesses from Slack, Uber and Facebook to LEGO, KLM Airlines and The New York Times.
The next article will introduce the Design Sprint.