Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Six factors that lead to greater innovation success

I've been thinking a lot about why innovation fails.  Not about why supposedly innovative new products fail, because there are multiple reasons for the failure of a new product.  It could be too early or too late in the market window, or it could simply have the wrong pricing or distribution.  A new product may lack key features or components, or like some successful products take years to build an audience.  I'm actually more interested in the 90+% of ideas that never make it to product development.  Why is there so much failure in the front end of innovation?

I was going to write this describing the failures in the front end, but that seemed too negative.  If we can identify why ideas and processes fail, then we can begin to add value to innovators everywhere.  So, first a brief segue into the importance and value of failure, then six ideas to implement to increase innovation success in the front end.

Failure - the good, the bad and the ugly

Let's first admit that some failure is necessary.  If some ideas don't fail then we probably aren't stretching ourselves and our thinking.  If you have a very high success rate in the front end, then it's likely all of your ideas are incremental.  To some extent failure demonstrates that your front end is exploring, discovering new ideas and technologies and stretching the definition of the company and its value proposition.  As much as any can be, these are good failures.

A lot of failure isn't due to ideas, however.  A fair amount of failure in the front end is tied to too strict metrics, too onerous expectations, too little patience, a culture that resists innovation and wants to get back to efficient, effective operations.  This is the bad side of failure.

Of course, the ugly failure is taking a poorly conceived idea and pushing it through a product or service development process, incurring significant costs, only to see the new product fail in the marketplace.

Six ideas to accelerate success in the front end

  1. Spend enough time scoping and shaping the innovation opportunity.  Often executives will say they need new solutions in a specific area or market space, but fail to establish exactly what the outcomes or deliverables should look like, how much divergence from existing products should be delivered, and the potential range of innovation outcomes (products, services, business models) is acceptable.  Without better scope and definition, the innovation teams almost invariably constrain themselves to something that looks and feels a lot like existing products or services.
  2. The more divergent and/or disruptive the opportunity, the more you need to conduct trend spotting and scenario planning to understand how the future may unfold.  Incremental ideas simply add features to existing and valuable solutions.  Disruptive innovation creates something radically new, so it helps to have a sense of how the future may unfold, to predict emerging needs or segments.
  3. Gather market and customer needs, using both qualitative and quantitative means.  Understand the market and the customer.  Understand the existing solutions, the alternatives and the substitutes.  Find unmet or underserved needs, and understand the value and importance of those needs to your customer.
  4. With this framing and context as convergence, diverge again to find the best technologies, IP or ideas, either internally or externally, that create solutions within your scope and based on your research.  Whether you conduct a brainstorming exercise or use open innovation, this is a new opportunity for divergence to find the best solution.
  5. Prototype, prototype, prototype.  Build prototypes and conduct rapid experiments with your ideas.  Get rapid feedback and incorporate the feedback into a new round of prototyping.  This confirms your assumptions and provides meaningful feedback from customers.
  6. Understand your commercialization path.  You may simply place the requirements for the new product or service into your product development program, but other pathways to value exist.  What are the best pathways to value?  Licensing, partnering, joint venture and other means are also available.  Consider the best means to get the new idea to market and to value.
If you can frame your innovation activities in such a way that you improve the definition of the activities (scope) and gain more insight and definition about customer needs and market trends (context) then your second divergence (finding the best ideas or technologies or IP) will be much easier.  Using more and more frequent prototyping helps accelerate the identification of the top attributes and features, and signals customer demand.  From this you can plan the best path to value.  

Building these attributes into your front end process will not eliminate failure, and that's not your goal.  Your goal is to have the appropriate amount of good failure (early) and reduce or eliminate bad failure (late).
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:40 AM


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