I don’t think I am alone in this, but 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. It was August of that year that we first introduced our Product Innovation Quotient, a tool to help organizations assess their product innovation capabilities. Since then, our thinking has evolved—and so has the assessment.
Today, we have a more robust assessment that is still simple to complete and understand—and digital. We’ve renamed it the Product Innovation Maturity Diagnostic. You can take the assessment on our website. We’ll send you the results via email once your scores are calculated by our team.
A Model for Product Innovation
Modern product innovation and management is an organization-wide competency – not a single person’s job.
With this in mind, we created an organization-wide model - what we call the Productize Pathway - for how to develop and bring products to market successfully. It encompasses activities from data analysis, market research, finance, product development, sales and marketing.
We've created the Vecteris Product Innovation Maturity Diagnostic to measure your competencies across the six phases of the Productize Pathway:
Few teams are strong across all phases of the Productize Pathway. Knowing ahead of time where you may need help (either in resources or in training) will help save you time and money allowing you to reach success faster.
We designed the Product Innovation Maturity Diagnostic to walk you through each stage, outline best practices and help you determine which areas you should focus on improving first.
Many times, big problems are solved with small tactics. For example, my phone chargers frequently frey at the connectors. However, a small tactic – covering the connector with the spring from inside of a pen – can prevent the frey. One broken pen saves me hundreds in new charging cords.
I spend a lot of time running Design Sprints for our clients. I’ve found that there are several valuable tricks I use in a Design Sprint that business leaders can use to not only innovate faster but also to quickly build consensus and strengthen teams.
Essentially, a Design Sprint is a structured but very quick way to design a solution to a problem. (If you aren’t familiar with Design Sprints check out my last blog here). The techniques used in a Design Sprint aim to collect feedback from everyone in the room, spark creativity, push the group to make decisions, and build consensus.
These techniques are also effective in everyday business situations. They can:
Here are a few techniques that I recommend trying the next time you need to quickly build consensus among your team members.
4 Design Sprint Techniques to Try in Everyday Business Meetings
Technique 1: Note & Vote
Design Sprints use a “together alone” approach to brainstorming. I love that this gives ideas from quieter people equal weight with the ideas from the more outspoken.
How it works:
Each person writes down as many ideas as they can on sticky notes. No discussion. This should last 5 minutes max. Yes, set a timer.
You can set a guideline that everyone writes at least 3 ideas. If people are enthusiastic and write 10 post-its or more ask them to pick their top 3-5 ideas.
Post them (see my blog here on how to do this in a virtual working environment). Again no discussion.
Everyone received dots to vote for the best ideas. They can vote for their own. They can put all their dots on one or spread them out.
How many dots? Count up the ideas posted and divide by 2, that is the number of total dots. Divide the dots to all the people in the room.
Now rearrange the sticky notes based on votes starting with the most dots at the top. It often looks like a tree.
Congratulations to the team! A decision has been made!
Advanced option 1: If you have one person in the room that is the ultimate decision-maker you can give that person 1-2 additional dots to provide added weight.
Advanced option 2: Alternatively, the ultimate decision-maker can have a different color dot(s). Ask them to wait until voting has taken place. They then choose the final ideas based on the voting of their team.
Technique 2: Effort vs. Impact
You may find yourself in a meeting arguing over many competing ideas. Perhaps even after a Note & Vote, four ideas received an equal rating. Now what?
No problem, Effort vs. Impact to the rescue.
How it works:
Take your top-rated ideas and hold them over the middle of your Impact v. Effort grid.
Start with impact and ask the team, “with this challenge do you think this idea has greater or less impact” and move up and down.
The team answers with only higher or lower--this isn’t an invitation to discuss.
Once the team has agreed on impact, ask the same question of effort.
For the ideas that fall in the:
Technique 3: Crazy Eights
No, I don’t mean the card game. Crazy Eights is a technique for a group to quickly produce as many solutions as possible. It is particularly helpful when a team doesn’t feel particularly creative and needs to warm up a little before getting down to drafting a solution.
How it works:
Give each participant a piece of plain white paper.
Ask them to fold it in half three times to have 8 boxes.
Set a timer for eight minutes.
Everyone receives one minute to sketch one idea before moving on to the next idea. They can sketch eight completely different ideas or two ideas with four iterations each or any other combo they like.The key to Crazy Eights is that these drawings are just for them, not to share.
The Crazy Eights exercise becomes an easy stepping stool and takes a lot of the pressure to perform out of the whole ideation process because we get the chance to test out little ideas without the pressure of sharing with the broader team. With Crazy Eights there is no need to be perfect. There isn’t even the need to have the right solution.
The next step is to build out a full idea, concept or solution which is so much easier with your favorite Crazy Eight ideas.
Technique 4: Timeboxing
So this isn’t an activity like the others on this list but it is still a valuable technique I recommend.
In Design Sprints, everything is timeboxed. When you know you have five minutes to Note and five minutes to Vote, people feel less compelled to discuss. Any conversation that does happen must be simple and straight to the point.
You can use a large timer or if you are working virtually tools like Miro or Mural have timers built-in.
Those are my favorite Design Sprint techniques to make our day-to-day meetings more productive. Do you have other favorite techniques? I would love to hear about them.
If you are interested in exploring a virtual Design Sprint to get your team moving faster and taking action, schedule a free consultation now.
What do Slack, IBM, McKinsey, Stanford, the City of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art have in common? They all solved urgent and expensive problems using Design Sprints - a unique process for quickly solving our customers’ urgent and expensive problems through ideation, prototyping, and testing.
Design Sprints were developed by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitzwhile working at GV (formerly known as Google Ventures). Together they worked out a way to apply design thinking to help companies build and test a prototype in just five days. The process was refined over the years as it was tested with startups, multinationals, agencies, universities, governments, and even museums.
They solve many common innovation pitfalls, such as:
You get the idea.
When projects drag on (and on) companies miss out on new sales opportunities, risk losing ground to competitors and waste thousands maybe millions of dollars.
How We Adapted Design Sprints for B2B Services Companies
Vecteris is Design Sprint certified through AJ&Smart. If you haven’t heard of them, AJ&Smart has been conducting Design Sprints since 2016 when it first became a real thing. And, more recently, they teamed up with the original Sprint creator and author, Jake Knapp, to teach others on the process. Through our experience delivering Design Sprints to clients, we have seen the significant time and money companies can save in designing and testing new product ideas.
But, we have made some tweaks. We've adapted the Design Sprint process to better meet the unique needs of the B2B services companies we serve who have hard-to-schedule buyers and very distinct buyer and user needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind when conducting a design sprint in the B2B services space.
1. Start with the Buyer AND Users’ most urgent and expensive problems.
No matter what, we always start with the most urgent and expensive problems. In the B2B services space, we have to consider both the needs of the executive-level buyers (for the initial sale) and the users (to ensure long term value of the customer). Often we have plenty of internal knowledge from sales, marketing, and the customer success team to identify both buyer and user needs but if we are looking to launch a completely new product or opening up a new market it is important to conduct some quick customer research in advance.
2. Understand the Whitespace Opportunities
You probably have a good sense of the traditional competitors in your market. But don’t neglect your competitor analysis work, many of our B2B clients are surprised by competition coming from digital-first start-ups that are offering both services alongside a product. We recommend a competitive scan which, combined with buyer and user research, gives companies a solid understanding of what white space opportunities there are before starting a B2B Design Sprint.
3. Prototyping is an essential part of validating your product ideas.
We know taking 5 days for a Design Sprint feels nearly impossible. Our process is 4 working days (across 4 weeks). In the first week of the Design Sprint we are together only 2 days and Vecteris takes responsibility for the prototype creation and concept testing for most of our clients. Because it’s critical that testing happens with both buyers and end-users, we made this change to be sure we could interview executive-level buyers who are hard to schedule. It takes some of the heavy lifting off our clients -- and, of course, gives them back a day.
4. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.
Rapid iteration is one of our Vecteris Design Principles and that holds for Design Sprints too. We recommend conducting a full Design Sprint across four weeks and including one additional day for the entire Design Sprint and a second round of prototyping and testing. That way clients end with a fully vetted prototype.
Benefits of Design Sprints
Design Sprints offer numerous benefits, most of which are hard to find in a traditional stage-gate product innovation process. First, the use of a multidisciplinary team makes it easier to gain alignment across our organizations, which is crucial for effective change management.
Second, we can make faster go/no-go decisions about product ideas. Our teams get used to moving faster, and we build the rapid "test and learn" muscle that successful innovators need.
Third, Design Sprints de-risk our innovation investments because we waste less time and money pursuing ideas that don’t have good product-market fit. And this is important because we may finish a design sprint with a no-go decision. That is still a good outcome, a great one I might argue because we didn’t waste months of time and money building a product no one will buy.
Last but not least, we have a marketable, tested prototype in only four weeks.
Our B2B Design Sprint is a 4-week process for rapidly solving big challenges, creating new products, or improving existing ones. It compresses months of work into a few days. Delivered either virtually or in-person, the sprint involves 5 to 7 cross-disciplinary participants from your team under the guidance of a Vecteris facilitator. Together, they ideate and test a new idea one day a week for 4 short weeks.
Check out this page on our website if you want to learn more about the Vecteris Design Sprint model.
One of my favorite shelter-in-place binge shows has been LEGO Masters. Teams of LEGO enthusiasts compete to build original creations, and with each passing episode another team is sent home until a LEGO Master team is crowned. The show is fun, the builds are impressive and the show inspired my sons and me to haul out our tubs of LEGO and make our own new creations. It also reminded me of one of my favorite new product development tactics: co-creation.
What is Co-Creation?
In 2003, management gurus C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy first coined the term co-creation to describe the experience when customers and companies work together to innovate. Specifically, they defined co-creation as “the joint creation of value by the company and the customer; allowing the customer to co-construct the service experience to suit their context.”
LEGO has been a pioneer in the use of co-creation. The company enlists the help of customers through the LEGO Ideas portal. It’s an online community where fans and LEGO creators come together to suggest, iterate, and evaluate ideas for new LEGO kits. Some pretty amazing products have come from the ideas portal like Women of NASA, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, and, for my fellow binge watchers, the motel from Schitt’s Creek.
The process is simple. Customers can log in to submit an idea for a new kit. Then, the over 875,000 members vote on the kits they want to see come to life. It takes 10,000 votes for the idea to move forward, while that’s no easy feat, LEGO Ideas reduced the time to market for new LEGO kits from two years to 6 months. Of all kits developed on the platform, every single one was a best seller with 90% selling out in their first release.
I love co-creation because it keeps the customer at the center of new product development. The biggest mistake I see companies make when developing new products is not developing a product that solves an urgent and expensive customer problem. Co-creation can help us avoid this mistake.
At Vecteris, when we guide clients through new product development using a co-creation approach, that we learned early in our careers. We use a 'charter advisor' model where we invite select customers and prospects to help articulate the problem to be solved and to develop a solution. Just like with LEGO, the result has been a quicker path to products that solve real problems and delight customers.
There are two flavors of this co-creation model:
Co-Creation Model #1: Co-Fund the Development
In this model, customers agree to help direct and fund the product development in exchange for a beta customer license for the first year and favorable pricing thereafter. They also know the product will be designed with their input and testing, so it’s a safe bet that it will meet their needs.
Co-Creation Model #2: Advise, Then Buy
In this model, customers and prospects are invited to join a select advisory group to advise on product design with the opportunity to purchase a Beta license or to receive a free Beta license and then purchase post Beta.
Recruiting Co-Creation Charter Advisors
Either way we structure the co-creation, the charter advisors receive early access to the product and contribute heavily to its design. And the elements for recruiting co-creators is essentially the same in both models.
First, we start with an invitation-only, exclusive offer to be part of a group of charter advisors to design the product. We start by targeting well-known, industry thought-leaders first. Once they are onboard it is much easier to recruit the rest.
We strive to recruit a mix of existing customers and prospects to help ensure the product is designed to attract new customers. Typically, we need to have at least one pitch or prewire conversation with each invitee to secure their interest in co-creating (it typically takes more than one conversation if we are also asking for an up-front development contribution like model #1 above).
The primary value proposition for being a charter advisor is the ability to help design the product. It’s also the ability to network and benchmark with other advisors, and other optional features such as exclusive access before competitors, access to market analytics or insights generated during the product development process, and discounts after the product is launched.
Once a critical mass of advisors have been recruited - we recommend at least a dozen - we convene the group of charter advisors to discuss design questions. We’ve seen this work well as one, half-day session or across several sessions with a kick-off session to meet each other and plan the first development sprint and then meet two or three more times for sprint demos.
Co-Creation Process Success Factors
Once the advisory group is recruited, there are a few important parts of the co-creation process that ensure success. To prep for your first session, collect and share bios of all members. They will want to know who else is involved. We also need to communicate a clear agenda and attendees in advance to encourage attendance and engagement.
During the session, we want to be sure we accomplish a few key things:
Co-Creation Case Study
We’re working with a client right now, Mesh Intelligence, on co-creating a better, data-driven way to predict and manage risk in the food supply chain. We’ve helped them convene a group of 14 leading supply chain, risk, sourcing and food safety executives drawn from some of the largest and most innovative food companies around the world. We’re about halfway through the process, which so far has been a success.
To ensure that success, we took a few important steps. First, we recruited the right mix of advisors. It wasn’t easy as we were asking busy people to give up their time so we had to clearly communicate the value of being involved. Giving customers (or prospects) the opportunity to meet each other and learn from each other, having a hand in creating a product that solves an important problem, as well as early access and industry exclusivity to the product were most appealing. Last, but not least, we clearly outlined the process and the extent of their commitment (a total of five sessions, four with their peers and one individual) so that we knew what to expect. We’ve been pleased with the level of engagement and our client is getting a lot of usable insights. You can read a little about the progress so far here.
As Photonic founder and CEO, Dr. Tony Atti, puts it “Co-creation is about helping the customer imagine a different future.” One that they get to help create.
We would love to help you explore how co-creation might help you quickly develop new products. Please email me at email@example.com if you want to discuss your product creation goals and how co-creation might work for you.
I was speaking with a CEO a few weeks ago who said his team was struggling with new product innovation. I mistakenly assumed that the team had too many ideas, could not prioritize and focus, and, therefore, were diluting their efforts. Lack of focus is a problem I’m seeing with a lot of clients right now.
But that was not his problem.
His problem is a lack of good new product ideas. He knows the organization needs to innovate and diversify revenue but the only ideas they have are operational improvements.
He thinks the current uncertainty and customer behavior changes are making it hard to develop new ideas. But he also thinks his team just “isn’t creative.”
The good news is that creativity is not a fixed quality that we are born with. It can be taught even to the most analytical thinkers among us, myself included. And the research supports this. For example, a study published in the Creativity Research Journal (yes, such a journal exists!) showed that eight months after a group of employees were trained in just four creative thinking techniques, they increased their rate of new idea generation by 55 percent.
Tina Seelig’s groundbreaking book, inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, explains that anyone can increase creativity, just like they can increase musical or athletic ability through training and practice. Seelig also argues that creative idea generation starts with a fresh look at a problem. “Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions,” says Seelig. And I agree.
What I have found, is that the best place to start when it comes to reframing the problem is first collecting customer voice.
Identifying Customer Problems
At Vecteris, we typically use a modified design sprint process to help companies design new products. When we walk clients through the idea generation phase, we start by cataloging customer problems with the goal of identifying which ones are urgent and expensive.
That takes some important pre-work: listening to customers through interviews, surveys, and advisory boards. Asking about their pain points, frustrations, and annoyances. Listening to them describe their current processes, what they’ve tried in the past, what has worked well, and what they wish they had.
We can also listen to what they are saying without being prompted. Social listening is a great way to do this because it allows us to analyze the conversations and trends happening about our company and industry as a whole. We can use those insights to better understand the problems our customers are facing, not just the ones they told us about when we asked.
Customer interviews, surveys, and social listening can also help us find out which problem is most important and which problem is the most costly. Then, we can rank the customer problems based on their urgency and expense.
In addition to identifying pain points, we also need to understand how customers are trying to solve their pain points. This could range from inefficient workarounds to nothing at all. A quick competitor analysis can help us identify existing product ideas that we could improve upon. Although I always recommend following our customers’ needs, before following our competitors’ actions, there is research that says fast-followers are more successful than new-to-world innovators.
It’s also a good idea to talk to companies in adjacent spaces to hear what they are doing or considering. And not just the obvious competitors. Talk to start-ups and smaller vendors who tend to be better adept at innovation. In that vein, we should keep an eye on emerging start-ups in our sectors using tools such as CB Insights and plugging into local accelerators and innovation hubs.
Enlist Our Employees
Last but not least, enlist our employees. Yes, even if they “aren’t creative.”
We can tap into their knowledge about our customers and our competitors. Even if they are not naturally gifted at recognizing patterns or visioning, they can describe customer needs and the other players in the market. Plus, it’s a good way to let employees know that you actually want their input - which they may be holding back. A recent SHRM poll found that 38 percent of employees lacked initiative because they felt leaders weren’t open to hearing ideas or dismissed them too quickly.
If you are really struggling, I have found that with a little bit of outside facilitation to teach ideation and concept-creation skills, creative ideas can surface. Even organizations facing a creativity drought can develop a robust list of new product ideas to test. Try SCAMPER, for example. It’s an acronym for seven different types of reframing questions to ask about a product or process that we are trying to improve:
I also encourage the organizations I work with to create a volunteer team of more junior employees to be champions for innovation, creativity and applications of new technology. For example, we recently helped a client create a grassroots “Team Innovation” to:
It’s important to include employees from all areas of the company. Innovation tends to flourish in cross-functional teams because they have more diversity of perspective and can act more rapidly to develop and test product ideas (for more on how to create a culture of innovation, check out this blog).
Following this process should generate new ideas, even in the face of uncertainty. Try them out and let me know what you discover. If you are already overflowing with ideas, I’d love to hear more about your process for generating them. Please share!
Some call it a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. Others call it a “Minimum Desirable Product” (MDP) or even “Simple, Complete and Lovable” product (SCLP). Whatever vernacular you choose, launching your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is about more than just getting to market. The MVP is a version of your product (or your product idea) with the right balance of features to satisfy early customers and provide learning. An MVP is not a smaller, cheaper version of your final product. It allows you to test your product in real life with real people in order to validate the product’s core value. MVP tests are designed to answer technical questions about the product, prove or disprove hypotheses, and get a real feel for the viability of the product in the market.
An MVP can help you avoid costly mistakes. Take Smith & Wesson's mountain bike flop in 2002. When you think of Smith & Wesson, images of bikes aren't likely to pop into your head, unless you are a police officer. Smith & Wesson has been making mountain bikes for police officers for decades. Given the success there, they decided to release a mountain bike for the general public. But the general public wasn't having it. The bikes were priced too high and diverged too far from what people expected to see from the Smith & Wesson brand. Good MVP testing would have either killed the project early or helped the company find a way into the consumer biking market that people would accept.
We draw from three proven methods to test our client’s MVPs (or MDP or SCLP, or whatever you want to call them).
Sell-then-build is aptly named. First, you sell the product concept. Then, you build the actual product. We like sell-then-build approaches that use a “landing page,” directing potential customers through advertising and email marketing. That landing page is a marketing tool that allows for testing the product against market expectations and demand.
This is the idea behind Kickstarter, which we’re all likely familiar with by now. It’s a platform for sell-then-build products for creative types. The designs range from world-changing to downright wacky. One woman raised over $1400, three times her goal, to create 100 little birds out of wire and felt. Who knew that there was a market for wire and felt birds? This woman does, and she learned it without first spending a dime on wire or felt.
You don’t need to use an official sell-then-build platform, like Kickstarter, to test your MVP. A landing page on your company website will do. The landing page needs to explain the product’s features and the problem it will solve for customers. Depending on the product, the landing page can get people to pay in advance or be added to a waitlist that ensures they are among the products first buyers.
To be clear, this isn't an email grab. You want to gather feedback from page visitors and measure genuine demand for the product. This usually comes in the form of people signing up for your waitlist or giving you money in advance. You can also collect feedback from a short survey about their interest in the product and the features they'd like to see. [Read more about Getting More Juice out of the Your Voice of the Customer Interviews]
Wizard of Oz Prototyping
Toto was the real hero of the Wizard of Oz when he pulled back the curtain to reveal that the giant talking wizard head was just a sweet old man appearing all-powerful. The wizard wasn't trying to pull off a nefarious deception. His intentions were good; he just didn't have the skills yet to be good at his job. Wizard of Oz prototyping is similar in that it gives the impression that a product idea is an existing product when in actuality, it's under development. There is work being done in the background, but customers don't know it’s happening.
Wizard of Oz prototyping isn’t nefarious deception either; it’s a simulation of what the real product could look like and do. It's merely a way to avoid building expensive systems or platforms until you know there is a real demand for a product or solution. And since testing is performed manually, you can quickly modify the product to rapidly test many hypotheses in search of the most effective product.
Zappos was started using Wizard of Oz prototyping. Nick Swinmurn came up with the idea of selling shoes online when he struggled to find a pair of boots he wanted. He was at a shoe store in the mall when the idea struck him. In an interview with Fortune, Nick says he approached the store and said, "I’ll take some pictures, put your shoes online, and if people buy them, I’ll buy them from you at full price.” So, that’s what he did. He set up an online store. When people ordered shoes, he’d go to the store, buy the shoes and ship them to the customer. He was the man behind the curtain until he no longer needed to be. Now, you can hop onto Zappos.com to have any shoe you might ever want sent to your house in two days.
The Concierge Test is similar to Wizard of Oz prototyping in that the work is still being done, but, in this case, your customers know it’s happening. Concierge testing lets you try out your product idea by first providing it to a small group in beta form.
A commonly shared example of good concierge testing is the sister-team behind Rent the Runway. If you aren't familiar, Rent the Runway is an online platform enabling people to borrow designer clothing and jewelry at a fraction of the cost. The sisters behind the now $100 million company started with two beta tests. The first test offered college students a chance to come in and try on clothes to rent and return. It was a success. So, they moved to the second test which allowed women to see the clothes, without the ability to try them on. Women still rented and returned the clothes. With two successful betas under their belts, the sisters knew they had an idea that was ready for scale.
This is a very high touch form of testing, as you manually work out what the product will be, and how customers engage with it. While it is intensive, concierge testing gives rich insight into your customers’ needs and desires because you are right there with them. Eventually, you can scale up the product and remove some, or all, of the human touch.
Regardless of the testing method you choose, the goal is to see how real customers engage authentically. Testing allows you to pivot your initial idea quickly and easily, if you learn that customers need or want something different, don’t let your product be the next Smith & Wesson Bike.
Have you used one of these MVP approaches or something else entirely? We would love to hear about it. Contact us.
Not sure about what MVP approach is best for your company? We can help.