Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Practical Innovation throughout the business

 One of the big challenges to innovation is that many people think of it as a big program, like implementing the quality programs of the 1980s, or rethinking everything, like the re-engineering programs and right sizing programs of a more recent vintage.  Thus, innovation is often "too big" and too disruptive, because it is seen as a platform change, or is defined too narrowly to create real results.

I happen to be a fan of the big, platform basis innovation programs, where an organization sets out to build innovation capacity as a core competency.  And, yes, in this light there is a fair amount of investment and some change required.  Committing to becoming a far more innovative company requires training people on the tools and methods, introducing more risk and uncertainty in the business and experiencing occasional learning experiences that others might call failures.

Every day innovation

There are, however, plenty of opportunities to introduce innovative thinking and innovation tools in a wide variety of ways throughout the business without a full scale platform change.  Many innovation tools and ways of thinking are scalable to a specific need and are reasonably user friendly, and often generate a tremendous amount of value for a small investment.  Today, I want to talk about using innovation tools, creative thinking and other factors in a more humble setting - less organizational change and platform implementation and more getting better in small ways across the business.

Service Excellence

Let me start with the idea of service excellence.  Many organizations are trying to improve their service to customers, partners and internal stakeholders.  There are a number of ways of measuring the service delivered, including net promoter score (NPS), so we often know where we stand in regard to the service we deliver.  There are plenty of tools and methods to help define service and what service excellence might look like.  But innovation and design thinking have something to offer here.

First, there is the concept of the customer experience journey.  This is a powerful tool that helps internal teams understand the customer experience from finding a product to acquiring it to using it.  A true service experience should consider the end to end cycle I've just described, and ideally will describe it from the customers' point of view.  The customer experience journey maps the steps from learning about a solution to acquiring it, using the solution, requesting support and deciding to retain the service or abandon.  Within each of those steps, the team considers what the customers' expectations are and how well they are being met.  In really radical cases, the company goes and talks to customers to get real world feedback about the journey.  Using this insight, we can begin to understand where in the journey we are meeting or exceeding customer expectations, and where we are failing to meet expectations.

In my experience, this tool introduces eye opening insights, because most organizations focus on services for customers where the company believes it adds value, but often the internal thinking and belief don't match what customers want or expect.  Many times we'll find that there is an over-emphasis on some portions of the journey and a lack of emphasis on other phases or steps that the customer prioritizes.

Using the customer experience journey, a tool from the design thinking and innovation toolkit, you can radically improve customer service and service excellence.  You can do so in the guise of service excellence, without bringing in the labels and anticipated risk or overhead of "innovation".

Doing more with innovation tools and thinking

This is just one example of where you can apply design thinking and innovation tools and frameworks to improve a process or activity that does not seem at all related to innovation.  Most innovators know that we can create projects to focus on service or experience innovation, but that may be too much change or uncertainty for your management team.  Knowing that the tools work, regardless of the label we place on the activity, can make for better insights and better outcomes.

What customers want

I'll turn to looking at a critical need - understanding what customers want - as another example.  In a large innovation project, we might consider the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) method, or Voice of the Customer, or Ethnography as a way to gather and assess needs.  I think these tools work exceptionally well, but they are often grouped with other "innovation" tools and seem risky.  So many teams proceed with surveys or focus groups and miss a lot of what customers actually want.

This, again, is a problem of context and labels.  Tools like JTBD, VoC, ethnography or the strategy canvas from Blue Ocean Strategy are all very easy to use and produce excellent results, whether they are part of a full-fledged innovation project or simply used to gather more insight into customer needs.  

Using tools that make sense for the problem or opportunity

It's too bad that too many of the tools and frameworks of creative thinking, innovation and design thinking are corralled and labeled as innovation tools, because that groups them into a risky and uncertain category, which means fewer people learn them or understand how to use them.

These tools, and plenty of other innovation tools and methods, can create real value in spot activities not attached to a larger innovation program.  The more people learn these tools, and see their value, the more the tools and thinking models will be used and become familiar, and then innovation itself won't seem quite so daunting.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:31 PM 0 comments