| By Chuck Schaeffer
- Innovation isn't born from wacky ideas or aimless expeditions. It's cultivated from a creative process that advances proposed innovations through a maturation process.
- Innovation is not prescriptive but follows known patterns that can be repeated. It benefits from a framework that replicates methods, processes and techniques that have created numerous breakthrough products.
- The Vantive Innovation Framework™ is a 5-step methodology that harmonizes people, processes and tools, applies patterns and lessons proven effective in prior breakthrough products and services, and brings objective measurability to an otherwise difficult to measure undertaking.
What a difference a few years makes. Fewer business leaders are asking the question 'why innovate?' Instead, the more popular question has become 'how to best innovate?'
Innovation is no longer reserved to eccentric futurists. It now extends to early adopters where it has evolved from an interesting idea, to a company priority, to a business imperative. While the goals of innovation are fairly consistent – remain competitive, grow revenues and outperform the market and direct competitors – how companies innovate shows little consistency.
I began leading an innovation consulting practice in 2009. Since that time, I've incurred many failures and successes and I am the first to recognize that innovation is not systemic nor prescriptive. However, I've also discovered many replicable patterns, processes and methods that put into a framework bring a structured approach to an otherwise mysterious and unstructured challenge.
I’ve found that more business leaders would innovate if they knew how. Here’s how, using the Vantive Innovation Framework™.
Center of Excellence
The Vantive Innovation Framework™ is a holistic five step process that begins with a Center of Excellence (CoE) model. The CoE is built on four building blocks.
Culture. An effective CoE begins with an effective culture. Corporate culture is the human performance engine that directly impacts any creative effort. Culture is a precursor and top contributing factor to anything and everything that requires employee effort. A high-performance culture defines, measures and reinforces shared company values that drive the behaviors that determine the creative quality and quantity of employee discretionary effort. The best innovation cultures are built on data driven operating models and encourage safe expression, experimentation and calculated risk-taking. Safety and interplay go hand in hand. When participants feel safe to share thoughts, comments and feedback, without fear of personal critique or judgment, interaction flow expands, and ideation, concepts and prototypes evolve much more quickly.
Talent. Stacking the innovation team with the right participants is essential. Look for members who are not only vested in the program’s success, but who are inquisitive, intellectually curious, continuous learners, demonstrate customer empathy, work well with teams and get stuff done.
Team. The Vantive Innovation Framework™ is built on agile principals. Like Scrum, the autonomous group should be small enough to remain nimble and large enough to have the multi-disciplinary skills to solve a meaningful customer problem. Team size should be 3 to 9 members. Fewer than 3 people lacks sufficient collaboration and produces limited break-throughs. Larger than 9 requires too much coordination and moves too slowly.
Insights. Successful innovation stems from customer insights. In fact, without customer insights your innovation concepts and prototypes are little more than guesswork and your execution pursues a trial and error approach.
Innovation teams with autonomy, without corporate politics and unencumbered by bureaucracy or constrained thinking will outperform the alternative every time. These self-directed teams demonstrate a start-up mentality that facilitates lean methods and creative thinking.
The innovation team should include multi-disciplinary staff that contribute diverse ideas and multiple perspectives. There is no defined make up of required roles, but the team should include customers, customer facing staff, their managers, product managers or R&D staff, marketing staff, subject matter experts, IT staff and business executives.
Customer participants will be used more sparingly, and for focused tasks such as problem validation, co-creation, feedback and acceptance forecasting. It’s been my experience that customers are generally not well suited to proposing innovation concepts. I’m reminded of the words from Henry Ford, who said "If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." That said, innovation thrives on experimentation, so you may want to trial customers in other areas.
It can sometimes be difficult to get certain roles such as customers and company executives on the team. Everyone must recognize that the absence of any role will reduce the impact, slow the process and increase risk.
Problems Worth Solving
The next step is to find a customer problem (or opportunity) that matters and is worth solving. A fundamental difference in the Vantive Innovation Framework™ is that it does not search for ideas, shiny objects or the next big thing. Instead, it discovers the most pressing client challenges or problems. This is a contrast to many innovation methods and has been instrumental in accelerating the process by identifying a go-to audience (your customers) and reducing overall risk.
Innovation doesn't shy away from tough problems, audacious objectives and BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). To the contrary, it only succeeds by solving meaningful problems with order of magnitude improvements.
Remember, the process is more co-creation with customers than experimentation for customers. Your customers will provide you real-time guidance to adjust and steer your innovation toward products and services that will be enthusiastically embraced. Customer input to find and validate problems worth solving can be obtained from market research, Voice of the Customer tools and methods, customer insights and ethnography customer research. Other stakeholders for this task will include marketers, product managers, R&D staff, manufacturing leaders, operations staff and customer facing staff such as sales people and customer service representatives.
Thorough analysis and definition of the problem statement is critical. Expert designers do not begin searching for solutions until they have thoroughly defined the real problems. As Einstein once said, "If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it."
Focus on the customer and his problem is best accomplished with Design Thinking.
Design thinking is an iterative, people-focused design and problem-solving method that applies deep empathy for customers and collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams to identify what customers most want. This method uses a sequence of workshop activities such as personas, empathy maps, as-is solutions, ideation and Hills to flush out what customers most want in measurable terms.
Workshops benefit from a facilitator who promotes behaviors and group interaction. A good facilitator will bridge one participants contribution to another, a process we call progressive input, where one member's interplay builds upon another (yes, and it’s kind of like …). Facilitators also know how to use both divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking creates a more expansive solution set of ideas and alternatives to be explored. Convergent thinking then focuses on getting to the optimal or correct solution. This approach encourages nonconformist thinking, defers judgment and is more likely to uncover an "a-ha moment" that will identify a powerful advantage or benefit that would otherwise not have surfaced.
Design Thinking concludes with Hills, the term used to identify the highest impact and most important goals.
A well-defined, fast paced, high-velocity prototyping process is needed to efficiently move from ideation to solution and cross the innovation chasm from concept to commercialization.
Design Thinking Hills must be brought to life with Playbacks and Prototypes.
Playbacks are stories with visual illustrations (sketches, storyboards, journey maps) directed to our stakeholders and customer participants to show how new ideas, experiences or solutions will be delivered. They bring the ideas, solutions or experiences to life by making them visual or tangible, and they solicit collaboration, feedback and alignment to refine and improve.
Prototypes then drill-down on the Playback stories, with low fidelity designs, wireframes or mockups that demonstrate how the ideas become actionable and the products become tangible.
The prototyping process should advance a tangible prototype with each successive iteration. At the end of each iteration, the prototype should be demonstrated, measured and scored. The team should perform a retrospective, reassess prototype assumptions and collectively determine new input for the next iteration.
That last step of coming up with the next creative input can be a challenge. Some things I often suggest to stimulate group thinking for input that leads to a breakthrough solution include:
- Should we apply consumer or social technologies to our prototype or solution? Disruptors quite frequently leverage consumer technologies to find better ways for customers to acquire, use, share or consume products and services – generally with less friction and lower cost, while at the same delivering more rewarding and memorable customer experiences.
- Should we consider start-up methods and techniques? Digital disruptors approach problems very differently than mature organizations. They often take a Ready-Fire-Aim approach to innovation. It's interesting to me that many mature organizations scoff at this approach, until they learn how effective it really is.
- Should we consider out-of-industry disruption events? Innovation blurs industry boundaries. Taking lessons from outside industry leaders will provide new ideas.
- Should we adapt our prototype or product to introduce product or service modularity? Products or services can be altered to use a component approach to permit focused procurement or consumption, possibly with plug and play assembly for extensibility. Or maybe we flip this idea to morph multiple ideas into an all-in-one solution.
- Should we combine our innovation concept with other transformation methods? Perhaps we can apply other proven transformation methods such as digital transformation or customer strategies such as omni-channel customer engagement, customer experience management, CRM or social business.
- Should we aim our innovation to disrupt a market or industry? Innovation and disruption are complimentary but different. Disruptors are innovators, but most innovators are not disruptors. Disruptors most often enter the market at a fringe point with a new but inferior product that iterates and evolves quickly. From an ideation perspective, disruptive ideas are most frequently born from irrational, absurd, novel and non-conformist thinking.
- Should we consider digital technologies for our prototype? The convergence of technologies such as cloud, mobile, social, big data, machine learning, AI, cognitive, IoT, blockchain and others create new opportunities for products, services and business models. They may enable new growth strategies (new markets, customers, offers, channels), improve new ways of doing business, or take significant costs out of the value chain.
- Should we alter or extend our customer persona, target market or market niche? Rethinking the problem statement with a slightly different constituent often creates new ideas that apply to both the new and former audience.
Iterations continue until you achieve an exponential breakthrough or discontinue the concept as not plausible. The Vantive prototyping process sets a maximum number of iterations and total cycle time to prevent marginal improvements at the cost of endless spend.
The Vantive framework also uses a continuum to measure customer acceptance. The customer acceptance continuum is built upon the prior referenced customer insights and identifies a clear minimum threshold for innovation release. In the example shown below the innovation concept is incomplete until exceeding the customers risk reduction goal.
Once customer adoption is achieved and assumptions are closed, you will need to update the revenue forecast, cost of sale schedules and Go-To-Market investment to ensure business model viability.