Mastering a Continuous Innovation Process - Part 1: The Idea Stream
In a prior post, we wrote about the two main reasons organizations find themselves unable to successfully drive innovation. The first reason was that many companies fail to use customer insights and data to drive their product development. If you’re not pinpointing customer pains and figuring out how to solve these problems, innovation efforts may falter. Secondly, most organizations are unable to maintain a continuous process that keeps the innovation pipeline full and flowing. Innovation initiatives must be ongoing and supported by the consistency of a proven process to ensure that teams are reaching their goals.
There are a number of methods to help companies foster innovation. The key is not only developing a process that is ongoing, but maintaining a commitment to this process throughout the organization. For innovation initiatives to be successful, you need your product management, research and development, sales and executive teams working towards the same goals. In our work with technology companies, we recommend that a continuous innovation process have three main components: The Idea Stream, Value Proposition Design and Business Model Generation. Let’s dive into the do’s and don’ts of the first phase: The Idea Stream.
The Idea Stream: A Guidance for Success
A continuous innovation process begins by harnessing ideas from across an organization, as well as valued external groups, like strategic partners and customers. Ideas can also be generated by market opportunities such as mergers, acquisitions and dissolutions. Where many companies go wrong is focusing only on internal ideas, which represents a missed opportunity to integrate the feedback from those that use your products and services in the real world. To determine the ideas that are worth funding, listen to your customers and understand their pain points.
According to a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 78% of strong innovators generate ideas internally. An additional 70% of respondents have generated ideas from strategic partnerships and 68% have generated ideas from customer suggestions. The bottom line is, the strongest innovators tap all channels when generating new ideas.
Gathering insights and feedback from partners and customers is where your sales teams and support staff will prove invaluable. These are the individuals with a direct connection to your clients and users. It’s important to note, however, that all areas of your business may not instinctively know how to contribute. Start with Product Management. After training them on how to be good listeners and what to listen for, build a process (automation and natural language search tools can help) so that the product team can pull the most interesting and valuable feedback from your customer-facing systems. Product Management should be able to listen, pattern match and pick up on recurrences in customer feedback. Most importantly, these internal conduits should zero in on user passion. If a group of users is passionate about a product feature that needs improvement, this is probably worth considering in future product iterations. Those vocal users tend to energize the user base and get them excited about their request, so tap into that energy! Once product owners are trained, they should also help train sales and support staff on what to listen for as well.
Combining external intelligence with the ideas and creativity of your internal people will help keep your Idea Stream constant and collaborative. Salesforce.com, which regularly tops the list of most innovative companies, famously uses customer and partner feedback to continually improve their products. The Salesforce IdeaExchange board provides users with an outlet to suggest and vote on product enhancements. The more votes an idea receives, the more confident the product team is when determining which ideas should rise to the top.
During the Idea Stream, it’s important to keep the flow of ideas constant without prioritizing or ranking ideas too early in the process. Instead, this phase should be viewed as a way to categorize, research and prepare ideas for the next step: Value Proposition Design. It’s also advantageous to determine the characteristics that your company cares about during this part of the process. How big is the market for this idea? What percentage of our customer base will be interested? And will it attract new customers? Establishing filters that are important to your business will help you find the “gold” in your ideas so that you can move the best ideas toward Value Proposition Design.
I’ll tackle this phase in my next post. Stay tuned.