Read-on to explore the main innovation processes, what they are made of and when to use them.
With innovation, it’s important to know which process to use to develop each idea.
A lot of businesses treat innovation as a mystical set of creative activities, and use different processes and frameworks for each different process. Even worse, some businesses even make up completely new processes for each innovation project!
In reality, innovation is a discipline. Like any other discipline, it can be practiced and perfected over time by using established tools, frameworks, and methods, no matter which industry you’re in.
Whether you’re talking about lean startup methods, agile development, or design thinking, you need to know which innovation processes are right for your particular project. Then, you need to know how to use these processes to guide the efforts of you and your team.
Knowing which framework is right for you will help you to get the most out of your valuable ideas. With the right methodology, you and your team will be able to do your best work every time, getting great products and services to the market faster.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the confusing question of which innovation processes are right for your project. We’ll show you how to use frameworks to structure your innovation, and how to guide your thinking with helpful tools and systems.
With our help, you’ll know how - and when! - to use different frameworks and processes, and what you need to do to get all the way from a blank page to a finished product.
If you’re reading this, you might be impatient to get started. You might even decide you can just jump into your project right away, without defining a clear process to develop your ideas.
We get it: you’re enthusiastic. And that’s great!
But trust us: knowing in advance which processes and methodologies to use has a huge amount of benefit for you and your team, and can make your innovation culture a lot more effective.
As many of the top innovation writers have noted, having world-changing ideas isn’t enough for a successful project. You also need to be deliberate about how you innovate.
Knowing about the pros and cons of the different innovation methods out there will help you and your team to get better results, and will help you work towards successful innovation.
Here are some of the benefits to selecting the right innovation process at the outset.
Choosing the right process makes innovation management a lot easier.
With the right process and frameworks in place, your innovation projects will run a lot more smoothly. Even better, your people won’t have to deal with as much ambiguity.
If your thinkers know what to expect, they won’t spend as much time dealing with project administration and management, and they’ll have more time to do their most innovative work.
For example, if you take the time at the start of the project to plan out a series of design sprints, including the timing, task allocation, and expected milestones, your team will know exactly what to expect from the process.
This way, you’ll be able to identify when something has gone wrong, or where you need to boost your efforts in certain areas to stay on track.
Having the right processes in place makes decision making a lot simpler and faster. After all, a confused or disorganised innovation process not only stresses people out - it also slows down the product development cycle.
Instead, by taking the time to consider and choose an innovation process, you can boost the speed and efficiency of your product development.
This isn’t just great for your new product lines: having exciting new customer offerings helps to drum up new business, and can generate excitement about your existing products, too.
One of the hardest things when managing exciting new ideas? Knowing how to structure your innovation team.
As any manager will tell you, you can have the most creatively talented and driven people on the planet, but if you’re using a confusing or disjointed innovation process, they won’t be able to do their best work.
When businesses don’t commit to a formal innovation process, innovation projects tend to be assigned to whoever has spare time, or whoever comes to mind first. While you might kick some goals using a system like this, you won’t use your people to their full potential.
Instead, choosing the right innovation process will help you to be more systematic about assigning tasks. This way, you can put the right thinkers in the right roles, and will make sure you draw on their talents and expertise at the right time.
With the right process, your innovators will know exactly what they need to do, and the milestones they need to hit. Even better, your project managers will know they’ve got the right people doing the right work. Win-win for everyone!
The right process can help you develop innovative ideas a lot faster, helping to drive your productivity and output.
In innovation, knowing how to select the right ideas is key. Having an established process in place will help you to be able to choose the right ideas and channel your efforts into the areas with the greatest yield for your business.
Your innovation program will start to better results if you develop a working knowledge of the different methods and know how to use them. For example, if you develop a familiarity with agile methodology and design thinking, you’ll know when - and how - to use these processes.
This isn’t just a great way to improve the output of your existing business units - it’s also an excellent way to boost your overall ideation.
Finally, knowing when to use different innovation processes can also unlock access to a broader range of ideas, no matter which type of innovation you’re focusing on.
Whether you’re talking about open innovation, traditional R&D, or even co-creation alongside your fans and customers, idea generation is a lot easier once you have the right process to guide your thinking.
Remember, innovation isn’t some mystical art. The process of innovation can be studied as systematically as any other process, and having a good grip on the options available can help you and your team to be more happy, productive, and successful.
With the right innovation process, you can start to prioritize your most innovative ideas, and can make sure you have the right resources in place to take advantage of these ideas sooner.
Before you choose an innovation process to guide your project, there are a few key factors you need to consider.
It might seem like a lot of work to do before you even put pen to paper, but being clear on what you need and expect from the innovation process will help you save time and effort, and will make sure you emerge with the best possible result at the end of the line.
As innovation writers Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer have identified, successful innovation is a matter of choosing the right process at the right time.
This comes down to two key questions:
Let’s take a deeper look at what we mean by this, exactly.
The first thing to consider when choosing an innovation process to help develop an idea is the stage of development.
How far along in the thought process are you? Have you worked out how to turn an idea into a viable prototype? Have you figured out whether there is room in the market? And if so, have you sought input and feedback from customers and users?
Before you can test whether a product is feasible for release, you’ll need to consider whether it is desirable for potential consumers.
Developing an innovation idea might seem like a linear progression from brainstorm to product release. However, this isn’t always the case.
Even if you’re testing a developed idea for market viability, you might still need to take a step back and look at whether there is an appetite for the product. In this case, idea development is more of a spiral than a circle. Sometimes, it might take several iterations before you get it right.
Figuring out how much more work your particular idea needs will help determine which innovation process is right for you.
For example, if you’ve already got a working prototype of a particular product, you won’t need to start with basic design thinking - unless there are major flaws in the prototype. Instead, you can use agile methodologies to bring the product closer to market release.
We’ll cover this in greater detail as we describe the different innovation processes, but for now it’s something you’ll need to keep in mind.
Second, you’ll need to determine what kind of opportunity the idea represents.
Is the idea an opportunity to identify a problem? Is it a way to define a new solution, or to take advantage of an area of ongoing growth? Or is it the kind of idea which has the potential to transform your entire business, or even give rise to an entirely new market?
Being clear about the nature of the opportunity will help determine which innovation process is right for you. Answering this question nice and early will save you a lot of time in the long run.
For example, let’s say the idea is an opportunity to solve a defined problem faced by your customers, such as delays in software updates. In this case, design thinking will help you to develop a solution, establish whether it is viable, and work towards a functional prototype.
On the other hand, if the idea is a way to develop a new market for an existing product or service (for example, Canon’s decision to market in-home printers and scanners), then agile methodologies will be a more appropriate way to organize and structure the project.
For innovation thinkers, knowing what kind of opportunity an idea represents can unlock huge benefits, and can help speed up the innovation process and solve problems. For example, writers Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer have broken down the innovation process like this:
Now, let’s take a look at our six innovation processes you can use to structure and guide your company’s creativity:
To kick things off, we’ll take a look at a fundamental technique: design thinking.
If you’re starting with an idea in its very earliest stages, then design thinking is a great way to get things off the ground.
Put simply, design thinking is an innovation process with a human-centered core.
Design thinking encourages organizations and businesses of all kinds to focus on human experience above all else, and to build this focus into all steps of the product development cycle. Using design thinking, innovators can empathize, focusing on customer needs.
Design thinking is a great way to identify and test ideas in their early stages of development, and can be used to establish how helpful a new product or service is likely to be.
As the simple diagram above demonstrates, the typical design thinking process looks like this. To help break it down, we’ve included some typical milestones in brackets.
Using design thinking doesn’t just help you to find new innovations, either - it can also help you discover entirely new markets.
There’s no better example of hugely successful design thinking than the iPhone.
This world-changing innovation started with a simple query into how to improve the day-to-day customer experience of having to juggle multiple devices. By empathizing and drilling deep into how to make things easier for people, Apple basically invented the smartphone market.
Next up, we’ll take a look at another useful innovation model: the lean startup methodology.
There’s a good reason why the lean startup methodology developed by entrepreneur Eric Ries is one of the most popular and widely-used innovation processes around the world.
Lean startup is an innovation process that aims to shorten product development cycles by rigorously testing whether a proposed business model is viable for release to the market.
To develop ideas at the fastest possible speed, lean startup combines hypothesis-driven experimentation with iterative product releases. Lastly, it uses validated learning, meaning new information found during product development is fed back into the innovation process.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry!
In practice, the lean startup model works like this:
The core idea of the lean startup method is that building products and services by iteration saves businesses time and effort, and allows them to better meet the needs of customers.
According to the lean startup model, rather than working towards major product releases, businesses should focus on smaller improvements over time. By working with early customers, businesses can make sure these iterative improvements create market advantage.
In practice, lean startup innovation involves the following techniques and concepts:
The lean startup methodology has the potential to help businesses at every stage of their innovation, including from early idea development through to releasing new products to market.
Businesses around the world rely heavily on the lean startup model to guide their innovation, particularly in the software and online service industry. For example, tech giants Google, Microsoft, and Apple all use split testing and iterative improvements to offer new products.
Developed with a view to speeding up product development as much as possible, the design sprint methodology offers a helpful way to answer critical innovation questions through design, prototyping, and customer testing.
With design sprints, the overall aim is compression. Design sprints try to collapse product design and testing processes that can typically take months into a single week. This lets teams glimpse into the future and try to predict the customer reaction to the finished product.
Developed mostly with product development in mind, design sprints can be a helpful tool for any business wanting to test potentially useful ideas without dedicating the resources typically required for standard prototyping.
Design sprints are helpful to move an idea from early testing through to viability, and to do so in a quick and nimble fashion. They work by cutting out the standard build and launch steps, allowing teams to jump directly from ideation to learning.
The end result looks like this:
Using a five-day cycle, teams can test product ideas and find areas for development. A standardized version of this five-day cycle could look like this:
The advantage of design sprints is speed and agility. Rather than having to develop full working solutions to problems, you and your team can instead jump straight to the finish and imagine what this potential solution would be like in practice.
Of course, this kind of exercise won’t be suitable for all industries or businesses. For example, a manufacturer of specialized medical equipment would likely get limited benefits from the process, as the technology underpinning each iteration of its product is too specific.
Despite this limitation, design sprints are still a very helpful method to have in your innovation toolbox. Used well, they allow a business to absorb all of the benefits of the customer testing process while expending only a fraction of the time and resources.
In comparison with design sprints and lean innovation, innovating at the business model level involves thinking of new ways to deliver existing products to existing markets. This may sound counterintuitive, but the idea is quite simple: find better ways to deliver customer experiences.
Let’s start with a few basics: what is a business model, exactly?
According to innovation authors Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine, a business model is a set of key decisions that collectively determine how a business earns its revenue, incurs its costs, and manages its risks.
Girotra and Netessine argue that the vast majority of businesses focus too much on innovation at the individual product or service level without asking fundamental questions about potential innovations to their business model.
As an example, this is like the manager of a chain of grocery stores thinking only about how he or she can secure the supply of popular products, rather than thinking about how to disrupt and improve the entire shopping experience for customers (like Hema or Amazon).
Business model innovations are changes to the key decisions underpinning how your company generates revenue. For example:
Asking - and answering - these questions bravely and honestly can lead to some real breakthroughs for companies. For example, these kind of business model innovations can help to shake a company out of an unproductive status quo and find new revenue sources.
To help businesses consider innovations to their business model, Girotra and Netessine offer a helpful framework outlining a set of questions and prompts, including:
There are plenty of real-world examples of companies inventing entirely new markets by considering innovations to their business models:
For more great tips on how to look for innovations to your company’s business model, check out Girotra and Netessine’s book The Risk-Driven Business Model: Four Questions that will Define Your Company.
The Agile Method and methodology is a specific approach to innovation management focusing on delivering iterative innovations on a frequent basis. It also includes a focus on learning from the innovation process as it progresses and more information is gathered.
Agile shares some similarities with the design sprint process, as it also focuses on completing tasks in a compressed period of time, also known as a sprint.
Because of its use in managing unpredictable systems, Agile methodology is commonly used by teams in software development. It helps teams deliver functional improvements to products via timed phases, and includes a strong focus on collaboration.
The Agile methodology is an effective way to develop innovations once the early stages of design thinking have been completed. It is less effective as a tool to brainstorm and discover new areas of innovation, and more useful in turning potential solutions into reality.
There are two kinds of agile methodology relevant to the process of innovation:
We’ll now take a closer look at each of these.
Agile Scrum is an innovation process based on continuous learning and adjustment to new information and technology. As a process, Scrum can be tailored to the needs of any organization, though it focuses on the following three constants:
Agile Scrum also involves assigning a few key roles, including:
Compared to Agile Scrum, Agile SAFe is a more streamlined process, though it still features a powerful number of tailored systems to help businesses deliver innovation projects.
In practice, Agile SAFe involves an innovation process like this:
Finally, the last stop on our innovation tour is the growth and scaling process.
Growth and scaling are ways to work on expanding your product’s reach once you have a working solution, and on reviewing your performance to make sure you’re getting the most out of your innovations.
Naturally, these steps come after you’ve successfully arrived at a new innovation using a mixture of lean startup methods, design thinking, Agile methodologies, and more. By now, you’ve released something new into the market, and are tracking its performance.
At this stage in the process, a lot of companies take the pressure off and let the product find its market - or not.
As innovation writer Ash Maurya states, this is a big mistake: “You need not only the ability to visualize your customer lifecycle, but also the ability to measure it.” By focusing relentlessly on these measurements, he says, businesses can fine-tune their innovation performance.
In practice, the secret to measuring product performance to drive growth and scaling comes down to a strange-sounding term: pirate metrics, also known as AARRR.
Pirate metrics focus on the following five elements of measuring growth and scaling:
In practice, metrics based on these five elements can look like this:
By focusing on measuring these factors over time, you can audit your innovation process for effectiveness, and determine which of your innovation results matter the most to your business.
Committing to ongoing growth is a way to embed your innovation culture, and to ensure you’re getting the most out of your most valuable ideas. It’s also a way to make sure you get the best possible return on all that time and effort you and your team have put in at the outset.
Ongoing growth means setting the right KPIs and innovation metrics, using the right management tools to develop an overview of your innovation performance, and making bold decisions in accordance with this performance assessment.
Once again, here’s Ash Maurya with his thoughts on what makes a good growth and scaling metric. “An actionable metric is one that ties specific and repeatable actions to observed results.” For example, a breakdown of the means by which new customers find your product.
One thing to avoid when it comes to tracking growth? Vanity metrics.
“Vanity metrics like web hits or the number of downloads serve only to document the current state of the product,” says Maurya. “They offer no insight (by themselves) into how you got there or what to do next.”
So, be sure to track the most meaningful metrics available to you, and take the time to determine the most useful metrics to measure your growth and scaling.
In addition to these six processes, there are a couple of really useful innovation models you should know about. Whether you’re talking about process innovation, ideation, or blue-sky thinking, these two models can help you get the most out of your ideas.
Even better, these two models are useful at any stage of the process. They can help you clarify your thinking or refine your ideas no matter whether you’ve got only the first early sketches of an idea or a fully developed prototype.
The Three Horizons model offers a simple way to think about the different timelines of sustaining, disruptive, and transformative innovation.
The Three Horizons model essentially creates stepping stones between managing innovations today and growing opportunities for the future. Used effectively, the model can help businesses maximize their current innovation capability and avoid being overtaken by competitors.
For any business, analyzing existing innovations according to this model is a helpful strategic tool, and helps complement the other methods and processes available.
Developed by author Greg Satell, the Innovation Matrix is a fantastic tool to help businesses understand how best to approach an opportunity for innovation.
Greg Satell’s Innovation Matrix starts with two fundamental questions at the heart of every great innovation:
Using these two questions, business leaders can then determine the right type of strategy needed to manage an innovation, and can draw from different sets of tools to solve the problem at hand.
This leads to the following four types of innovation:
As we can see, the Innovation Matrix breaks problems down into four types of innovation:
As with the Three Horizons model, the Innovation Matrix is an excellent tool to help companies approach a new area of innovation, and to allocate efforts and resources to the most promising areas of company innovation.
Theory is all well and good, but the best way to understand the differences between these innovation processes is to look at how the world’s leading innovators use them.
Now, let’s finish our tour with a brief look at how IBM, Amazon, and Google innovate to give their customers and users more of the things they love most.
As one of the companies that has done the most to shape the modern computing world, IBM has a lot of valuable lessons to impart when it comes to innovation.
As author Greg Satell notes in Forbes, IBM has released a string of foundational innovations in software, computer memory, databases, and personal computers. Every time it has done so, argues Satell, it attracted a fresh new set of competitors, only to beat them out of the market.
The key to IBM’s dominance? Using Agile innovation methods to drive the evolution of their products.
By using Agile methods, IBM employs a flexible, adaptive way to direct and motivate software development teams to complete important projects under demanding deadlines. Even better, Agile lets IBM organize its teams for self-sufficiency and maximum collaboration.
Check pretty much any list of the world’s most innovative companies right now, and there’s one name that will pop up again and again: Amazon.
Far from the humble beginnings in the Bezos’ garage in 1994, Amazon has transformed into the most dominant logistics and delivery service in the world, and has even crossed the $1 trillion dollar valuation threshold.
So, how did Amazon do it? By focusing on relentless innovations to its business model.
Once again, author Greg Satell is on the case. As he notes, Amazon may have started out as a niche service selling books online, but it is now a dominant online retailer, and is pioneering new categories of products and services such as cloud computing and smart speakers.
What’s more, Amazon isn’t done yet. The company is constantly looking for ways to streamline its business model, and is always looking for new markets to step into.
Last in the list is good old Google, master of the online search engine. In fact, Google has become so successful, the company’s name has even turned into a verb. You know you’re doing something right when you change the dictionary.
But how exactly did Google come to dominate over 92% of global web search traffic? By building a deep focus on growth and scaling in its innovation processes.
Google (now officially known as Alphabet) includes a tightly coupled feedback loop in its process of product release, making sure it has access to all the right data to understand the trends behind product uptake and success.
In the months and years following the release of a new Google product (for example, Gmail or Google Docs), Google researchers and product teams pore through the figures to identify any problems, areas for celebration, and opportunities for the future.
This not only helps the company evaluate where it got things right, but it also lets its product developers know how to improve things next time.
As we noted at the outset of our tour, one of the most important parts of innovation is knowing how to choose from the wide range of tools, methodologies, and processes out there.
The right approach to an innovation opportunity won’t just save you a lot of time and effort - it will also help you to emerge at the end of the process with the best possible solution to delight your customers, clients, and fans.
So, before you rush off and start filling up those whiteboards, take a second and think about how you could use the following innovation processes:
And always take the time to research other companies who may have been through the same processes before. You never know what people might be willing to share!
In this post, we will have a look at what you need to create and foster a lasting innovation culture in your company.
This guide sets out the what, why, and how of innovation management. You’ll find key terms, common management strategies, and excellent examples of innovation in action.