Adopting a rapid digital innovation process

Adopting a rapid digital innovation process

As we start to think about the next year, (is it here already?) it is a time of reflection and some forward thinking. We do need to make some real changes.

From my standpoint, I am simply amazed at how the world seems to be spinning faster and faster. I am convinced my working days are shorter or the clock is moving faster or worse still, I am being “deflected” even more by everything “digital”.

I never seem to finish what I had intended to complete by the end of a day or week. I then get caught up in the spillover effect. Something always gets in the way, something has to give. So we make a resolution to change something to improve on this constant catch up state we find ourselves in. We all seem to be spinning faster but equally slowing down. Often our innovation activities face the same dilemma.

Innovation needs time, it needs evolution and resolution but also speeding up

Here are some thoughts for our future. The need for innovation results has sped up considerably. The belief that lean management principles will get the innovation out of the door quicker, has been one of those management adoptions that often trick us into believing we are achieving more than we actually are. Reality is, we have only been tackling part of the innovation process and the end results often remain the same – a slow process of innovation follows as lean hits organization reality, it gets caught up in internal roadblocks, countless discussions, and debates.

Certainly, in the majority of cases we have found nothing wrong at all with applying lean management, as it tends to lead to improvements in a final outcome, but does it actually speed up the process? I’m not sure it does. Leans slows down and becomes increasingly burdened by fat being layered on, further down the innovation execution process.

For me, I think the real need is in speeding up of the whole innovation process, approaching the whole innovation in a systematic way, as the only path to tread in the years ahead. We need to broaden out the whole process of rapid innovation application beyond the two current favourites of lean and design thinking. That requires it to be fully connected up and that means making the innovation process one that is fully digital, on a platform and accessible by all, those that can bring value and meaning to the process to deliver greater innovation outcomes. We need a greater innovation rapid prototype approach to the whole innovation process- test, learn, adapt, adjust, iterate, refine at speed and rapid scaling.

Designing the complete rapid innovation application process.

Digital technologies are beginning to have a real impact on the methods, approaches, and rates of our innovation outputs. Social technologies are giving us real-time understanding. We can connect with customers real-time. We can have meaningful dialogues and exchanges that build relationships and constant sharing of knowledge and insights.

We continually learn real time, and recognize at our cost if we do not adapt, that intuition and ‘gut feel’ or research set up and gathered weeks or months ago, is becoming so out of date before we can learn from it, and sometimes highly dangerous to follow or believe in. We live in a rapidly evolving world and we have to be highly adaptive and responsive in what we offer in products and services. To get to this “responsive” state we need to fully connect up, freely exchange and build adaptive systems that accelerate our pathway of discovery into tangible meaning, through better products and services. We need to change our thinking and design in the digital insight part more specifically within and along the innovation process.

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Digital technology and transformation are changing the innovation ‘game’.

We have, in the past, tended to take a safer route to market, by trying to achieve well-defined problems, place these into process maps and worked along the timelines, often impervious to the market conditions changing before our eyes. We continue to couch our bets and gravitate to solutions that are as close to what we currently offer, and that just keeps reinforcing the incremental route regretfully.

Yet digital threatens this entire incremental pathway. Markets continue to have even greater uncertainty and we need to respond in very different ways. Competition is changing, markets are blurring and customers are becoming far more vocal. To respond we need to reconceive innovation into a constant and rapid learning approach.

The need to be highly iterative, full of experimentation, testing and adjusting lends itself to the minimal viable product approach, where we continually test assumptions, checking what we are thinking against the concept of value gained from the customer or market feedback.

Digital is also pushing us to shake off complacency since customers are increasingly further connected and interacting in new ways, we need to find paths to ‘plug into’ and join the conversation, to help shape that conversation and through these exchanges recognize how the brand and reputations become increasingly important in all things innovating.

Digital tools are changing how customers discover, evaluate, explore, make their purchases and use products and then how they react, share, interact and make their connections with our brands. The whole process is highly dynamic and reliant on the ‘network effect’, and the job of the innovator is to translate this and respond in fast, nimble, agile ways, to fulfil the needs and capitalize in responsive ways. This demands a radical redesign of the innovation process.

The need always is to “test to learn” and constantly adapt

  • Without a doubt, it is finding and using more techniques and tools that help you make far greater rapid prototyping, testing, piloting and learning from these understandings and how they can be quickly translated back into the innovation process to improve on what you have known, into one of what you have become aware of. “Testing to learn” will become the new innovation mantra and the accepted innovation process; a dynamic, fluid and rapid experimenting that makes it a constant learning one.
  • We are today, partly down this route of early learning, with the help of software that can capture ideas, offering a sound vehicle for communicating these and a place to gather and define solutions that can be taken forward. Yet we have to push the path of constant evolution and that will continue to come at increasing speed from technology to keep providing new knowledge so as you can constantly improve on your eventual value proposition but that is going to require an ever-increasing agile organization and adaptive system.
  • We will need to find different ways to redesign the manufacturing process (more outsourcing) to have more adaptive points where we can intervene and change product design. We will need to find different ways to ramp up or dampen down finished goods, that require a more rapid change, and that is going to push ‘agile’ even further. The ability to balance “scale, speed, and scope” will become paramount in this.
  • We will need to learn to focus on the seizing of emerging opportunities in quicker ways but also take a much tougher approach to divestment, so as to release resources from declining positions of advantage. The whole lifecycle thinking needs challenging and thinking through differently.
  • We will need to push for “agile systems” where we can design new applications, find better communication and collaborative social technologies, so as to reduce delays of getting better access to the right information, connecting to the right people, so as to advance the process. We need to actively reduce the duplication of work or the search for the information needed, to complete the job. We need to focus much more on reducing innovation process cycle time for faster deployment
  • We will also need to invest in more data-driven front ends to build a more sophisticated process of discovery. The whole concept of divergent experiments and convergent testing and validations will become the way to think along the innovation process as a re-looping process. This will require a critical mindset change from a linear one on how you set about it, in the design of the process, Then also on the use and application of the digital tools you deploy, to move this through this constant, ongoing iterative process. Nothing can remain ‘static,’ we need to make it ‘highly’ dynamic.

Rapid innovation matters and it will become even more central as digital innovation takes hold.

Rapid-iteration needs to replace the fixed product release date mentality. We are in a world, driven by digital that requires us to constantly adapt to new learning that is coming from real-time market feedback. The way we learn from this and our rapid innovation application process will be all about this continually testing new assumptions to improve our (final) product and service propositions.

I have said this often, I believe we need to rethink the innovation process, as we will need to transform the existing methods and make them increasingly digital and social, in real-time. We need to focus on the rates of innovation output from our learning and improvement in the eventual offering, as our constant bearing or benchmark. It is how we design this in a more comprehensive manner will be a real challenge going forward

I predict that innovation has some very pivotal years ahead of it, as we absorb and use more rapid innovation application processes. We should start thinking about how we can fully design and adopt a more digital innovation discovery to the execution process,  at increasing speed for final innovating outcomes.

A design that pursues a constant path of innovation understanding and evolution, that fits far more with these digital transformational times we are going through. We are entering the digital innovation era.

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