Jumpstart Your Innovation Process and Strategy for 2016

By Rachel Nitschke | Jan 04, 2016

On-demand delivery apps have exploded, Amazon Echo’s Alexa is now calmly tracking consumers’ grocery lists, the iPad has a stylus and a new bet on enterprise, new enterprise applications are dramatically lowering the cost of operations for many industries and self-driving cars are making progress– all in 2015.

The only question left: how will your company keep up with innovation in 2016?

If the answer is “not clear,” then it’s time to rethink your innovation process. The innovation process should not set out to map what products and strategies these new technologies will bring, but rather, how to synthesize concepts and products across disciplines to capitalize on the new technologies and stay ahead of competitive threats. In our experience with Fortune 1000 companies, it’s the process that is most difficult to define.

Lay the foundation for digital innovation.

How will you scout and investigate emerging technology? What are the standards for vendors and suppliers of emerging technology? There are questions beyond just security standards and protocols for digital innovation that need to be answered before starting an innovation process.

Although these may seem trivial, failing to provide a comprehensive answer will only doom every innovation project to have to “reinvent the wheel” to find it. Everyone has been in that meeting where the product/end result is debuted and a decision from the beginning stages of the project becomes a debate.

Other questions to answer:

  • Do you have a project charter and steering committee in place?
  • What are your minimum KPIs?
  • Who will handle training and what are the expectations?
  • How will you handle updates to the enterprise architecture?
  • What are your security protocols?
  • How often will you issue new versions of the application?
  • How will the devices themselves be managed?

Prioritize your end-users.

“This app makes my day so much worse.”

“I want to throw my computer against the wall because of this program.”

“What were they thinking when they made this?”

Every app receives user feedback– but when feedback like this comes after the launch, it guarantees that the product has already failed. Start with a problem your end-users face and use their workflows, task flows and other information from a contextual inquiry to guide your strategy.

Why? About 70 percent of software projects fail because of low user adoption. The return on investment stems from your users consistently using the application. If the system doesn’t work for users, they will abandon it.

Ford Motor Company learned this the hard way. When they debuted a new system to merge 30 disparate systems to serve their suppliers, it was a multi-year $400 million project that promised big payoffs for their relationships with their suppliers. The only problem was that once it was released to the suppliers, they were taken through as many as five screens to see only a portion of the data they needed, according to reports. This additional frustration and effort led users to abandon the system, later followed by the entire company.

Understand your culture for the innovation process.

Innovation groups come in all shapes and sizes. There is no right or wrong answer for this question; the only requirement is that the innovation configuration fit the larger culture of the company. Google famously requires a certain percentage of employee time to be spent on these types of projects, but this would not work at an agency driven by billable work, for example.

It’s also necessary to understand what needs to change about your own culture that may stifle innovation. Innovative cultures reward risk-taking and visionary thinking. If company policies heavily punish failure and assign blame to the originator of an idea, how do you expect anyone to come forward in that environment? Who are the high and low performers in your company and what are their qualities?

Throw your strategy playbook out the window.

It’s tempting to rely on old strategy frameworks for your innovation strategy. The tried-and-true methods unfortunately are not effective with strategy that drives such radical change.

Instead of building upon today as a starting point with incremental innovations to your goal state as with traditional strategy, innovation strategy demands that the future state be the launch point (because of ongoing disruption) and planning work backward.

Think about it: you’re a CIO at an electric utility company. It’s logical to conclude that you focus your next five years on improving customer service and efficiency to win more customers. But what about the distributed grid? And the Internet of Things-enabled home? How will you stay ahead of the industry as your product evolves to meet the needs of your consumers?

It’s also the execution of that strategy that needs to change. In a world dominated by software and digital experiences, most companies are not in a position to compete. The latest research indicates that 25 percent of software development projects fail outright and 60 percent produce substandard or ineffective products, two statistics that do not bode well for companies’ chances of survival in an era of digital innovation. Companies need to assess the resources and frameworks currently in place for incorporating technology advances and understand how to mitigate risk.

What are your challenges with innovation process going into 2016? How mature is your strategy?
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