Innovate or Die

We live in a time of business model disruption. From the taxicab industry to historic retailers like Sears, technology, and the nimble startups that create them, are capturing large shares of well-established markets at a break-neck pace. Creating a culture of innovation is necessary to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced market.

Corporate innovation is tricky.  Oftentimes internal “intrapreneurs” have to gain buy-in from the C-Suite upstairs while staying true to customer’s needs. In the startup world we talk about getting outside of the building to talk to customers but within existing enterprises, getting upstairs to talk to C-suite stakeholders is mandatory as well.

To make things more difficult, corporations are executing on a known business model with well-established procedure put in place to maximize revenue. These processes are oftentimes in conflict with the ability to quickly pivot and meet market demand. Removing roadblocks is key to success and to do so you’ll need to take baby steps.  One way to do this is through a short Innovation Sprint.

Preparing for Innovation

Taking time out of your busy schedule and dedicating time to an Innovation Sprint can feel like a luxury. Now multiply that by the number of people that are joining you on this journey. But spending a few days in an Innovation Sprint can help fill the idea funnel, energize internal stakeholders and generate new ideas that drive the company forward while staying in touch with customers.

Making sure that the sprint goes smoothly is important. The first trick is to assemble a group of innovators with diverse backgrounds and experience levels. This must include leadership. Having decision makers part of the process can smooth the road ahead.  It’s also key to get the team members that are closest to the customer involved in the innovation process. They see customer’s pain points on a daily basis and will have a wealth of information on improving current products or suggestions for new products that don’t exist yet.

There are four basic steps to an Innovation Sprint that need to be accomplished.

Steps for an Innovation Sprint

 Step 1: Identify

Brainstorming ideas and building an idea funnel can be fun and rewarding. Whether you use techniques like those in Gamestorming or Bryan Mattimore’s helpful book, Idea Stormers, get those ideas onto paper and up on the wall.

Step 2: Curate

Hopefully, a lot of ideas have been generated. Capturing all of these ideas is important. I like to put ideas into buckets.  Ideas that:

  1. Streamline or improve internal processes
  2. Target new customers with an existing product.
  3. New products targeted towards an existing customer segment.
Step 3: Prioritize

Prioritizing ideas can become complicated quickly. Creating problem statements can help focus the team and help validate the idea. Likewise, doing quick market surveys or creating use cases can help determine market need. I like to use the Three Horizon Method when prioritizing ideas. Identifying the disruptive, visionary ideas that will take a lot momentum and those ideas that are more iterative, building upon the current business model.

Once you’ve established the one or two ideas you want to move forward with, it’s time to get out of the building and start talking to customers.

Step 4: Test

This is my favorite part. You’ve identified an opportunity and it’s time to find out if there’s market demand. Doing a quick Empathy Map exercise can help you create your target customer and any specific hypotheses to test. The Customer Journey Map can help you identify areas you can improve your current customer experience.

Once you’ve identified your target customer and what their needs are, it’s time to test. Developing wireframes or an MVP will allow you to do user testing quickly. In an ideal situation, you’re testing, making changes and testing again repeatedly until you find the right fit.

I can’t stress enough how important planning, collecting and analyzing customer research is to product development.  Not only will you gain deeper insight into customer needs but you’ll also have more data to use when selling the idea to leadership. The Handrail platform was created to streamline this process and can be used by all internal stakeholders across departments and up the pipeline.

Staying Innovative

Whether your sprint lasts a few days, a week or months, it’s important to keep customers at the center of the conversation.  Talking to customers, observing their behavior and looking for changing needs is essential to business growth. Developing a culture of innovation and developing techniques like the Innovation Sprint can help the organization stay relevant!

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