Friday, May 01, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Eight

Bill looked a bit pained.

"We understand that our corporate culture is probably not as conducive to innovation as it could be. However" he said, glancing first at Phillips and then at Briggs "our immediate goals are for new products and services. We can start an initiative to work on the culture, but real innovation has to take top priority. That's why Susan and John are here, in this meeting."

"By 'new products and services'" I said, "Do you mean incremental changes to existing products and services or do you mean radical and disruptive innovation?"

"Mr. Marlow, we've tried the incremental approach" Bill said, nodding at Fred.

Fred nodded back, clearly uncomfortable with the direction of the discussion but backed into a corner.

"We need some new, game changing products and services, and we need them relatively quickly. Our product development pipeline looks fairly weak and our last few introductions have not been what we'd hoped. Those facts, along with the products that our competitors are releasing, place great pressure on us to get something done quickly."

Ah, I thought, here's the rub.

"What's 'quickly'? From your perspective, when should we have these new products or services ready for market?"

"I'd like something in the market by the fourth quarter of this year. I know that's challenging but we need to respond now."

You could have run the elevators in the headquarters building of Accipter for a week on the raised eyebrows in the room. Johansen, whose fate would rest on the result of this effort, seemed poised to spring right out of her seat. Phillips, on the other hand, ducked his head but had a twisted, half smile on his face. He didn't need to speak his mind, his opinion of the effort and timeframe were written on his face. I decided to deconstruct the problem.

"Bill" I said "give me some sense of your current innovation pipeline. We are late in the first quarter, so based on your request we are less than three quarters away from your goal. Does your team have any really interesting ideas or compelling customer insights that we can explore?"

"Sam" he said "This is the first official meeting of the Accipter innovation team. We are in the process of interviewing several consulting firms to determine our best approach, and we'll need to staff the team up once we select a consulting partner. Other than that, I doubt we have many compelling insights, trends or ideas that can become game changing products in a couple of quarters."

Susan was nodding so vigorously at this point I thought perhaps a session of the DTs had kicked in.

"We'll need to work through an entire innovation program and then move through product or service development, prototyping and piloting then on to the launch of a new product or service."

"When I looked through your annual reports" I said "It seems to me that you have a six to nine month product development and launch cycle, at a minimum. That would be true for new releases of existing products. Would that be about correct?"

Fred nodded. "We've got a fairly well defined "path-portal" process in place. I'm sure you are familiar with that methodology?"

I was and I am. A great methodology for creating a new product or service once the idea has been shaped and formed, but relatively unhelpful for identifying customer needs, tracking trends and generating ideas. So Accipter was constrained by both Seven Schema and path-portal. In other words, a lean, mean product development machine with no insights. Sort of like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. If they only had a brain.

"OK" I said, trying to sum up "Accipter needs new products and services this year, but has no innovation methodology, and a six to nine month product development cycle for proven products. There is little to no customer insight or trend spotting going on, so the idea cupboard is relatively bare. There's significant emphasis on innovation but no resources in place and little budget. Have I summed that up reasonably correctly?"

I got the sense that Bill had overcome his initial shock at my directness, and in fact was actually coming to appreciate my candor. Fred and John, on the other hand, looked a bit shocked as I confronted the naked emperor about his threads. Johansen was waiting and watching, like a prisoner condemned to walk the plank, waiting for Errol Flynn to swoop down and snatch her away from this disaster at any moment. The hope on her face was palpable, yet I got the distinct impression that she wanted to lead this innovation effort.

"I think you'll find we can apply the appropriate resources and will ramp up very quickly Mr. Marlow. Accipter has a great record of rising to challenges such as these, and we'll do so again. Let's shift the discussion from our readiness and capability to what Marlow Innovation can do to help us achieve these goals."

I glanced at Matt and I knew what he was thinking. Thompson was saddled up and ready to tilt. The gauntlet had been thrown. We'd challenged his firm in the ring and he had accepted. The sparring would begin soon. However, both of us knew that we'd have to arrive at a conclusion fairly quickly. Could we shape this project to become something that would be successful for Accipter and for us, or should we take my father's advice and get out of the way of a man on fire?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:03 AM


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