We here at LTI, feel that technology-driven product companies require a fallback mechanism, a tireless innovation engine that churns away at innovation to produce promising results time and again. They need a Product Innovation Engine. This blog explores the nuances of building a product innovation engine.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Thomas Edison.
Innovation is comparatively easy. Ceaseless innovation is a demanding ordeal that puts even the most relentless organizations to test. And 21st-century organizations have been far too guilty of relying on ad-hoc individual breakthroughs to drive profitable innovations.
What does a Product Innovation Engine comprise?
Such an engine turns an organization into an R&D powerhouse with three unique components: roadmap, leadership approach, and culture.
1. Innovation roadmap
This component aims to translate emerging technologies into a form that paves the way for concrete future product generations. The idea is to develop emerging tech solutions to the point where an off-the-shelf approach becomes the norm. With current products and innovations being the starting point, the roadmap should be bold enough to explore solutions that may bring immediate success. This systemically brings forth innovation, pushing R&D to its boundaries.
But all this is only viable if the roadmap continually evolves to ensure R&D priorities align with the investments.
2. Leadership approach
A major pitfall to structuring Innovation Engine is overlapping research and development projects with no defined boundaries or gaps. This may result in premature ideas leaping development, driving up costs.
This calls for a fundamental rethinking and differentiated management approach to both functions. A great starting point is having a dedicated set of qualitative KPIs for innovation projects, especially one that defines its deviation from the innovation road map.
But such differentiation can also create a new problem of misaligning the “research” and “development” arms. While capable review processes and feedback mechanisms are great starting points to handle these, a seamless communication process between development and research teams is the holy grail of innovation-led management.
3. The Right Culture
Innovation and failure go hand in hand. The bolder the innovation, the higher the probability of failure. Thus, more than new ideas, dusted ones should be the new norm in an innovation-led culture. If the top-down management is not failure-tolerant, genuine innovation would gradually take a back seat. Although it makes sense to manage failure rates by trying to minimize these, eliminating these all together would defeat the entire purpose of having a Product Innovation Engine in the first place.
A quick cultural fix would be to solve for the outcome and fail small. Pareto’s Principle dictates that 20% of the solutions bring 80% of the results. Thus, a realistic hyper-innovation framework with the following steps would foster a better culture of innovation:
- Generating ideas at scale
- Testing them small
- Measuring the results
- Scaling only impactful outcomes
At LTI, we believe in setting up a lean mindset team that operates on the principle of “Failing Fast” to generate tangible outcomes. For instance, for a major software product company in the pharma space, our teams were able to build working prototypes within two to three weeks, empowering stakeholders to validate concepts and have a first-hand feel of the products.
Creating a minimum viable Product Innovation System
With the “What” of the Product Innovation Engine underway, let’s look at the “How.” First, let’s understand the framework to create a minimal viable product (MVP) for driving Innovation Engine. This would lay the foundation of a reliable innovation function without significant reallocation of resources.
The creation and implementation of a Minimal Viable Product Innovation Engine (MVPE) can be broken down into four phases:
1. Building innovation engine: Any Minimal Viable Product Innovation Engine should include two key innovations:
- Outreach innovations: Innovations that reach new customer segments and drive growth.
- Ingrowth innovations: Innovations that improve current operations and offerings.
Ingrowth should be connected to the current initiatives and closely follow the organizational culture and structure. Similarly, outreach innovations closely aligned with current strategies and organizational structure should be funded at scale. In any case, the purpose of new innovations should be to bridge the gap between your growth vision and reality.
2. Focusing on key strategic opportunity areas: The next step to creating a minimal viable Product Innovation Engine is to put the limited resources to strategic use by only focusing on a few essential opportunities, both in the long and short terms. Here’s how you can do this:
- Conduct a quick 30-day research studying and analyzing new developments in your industry.
- Unearth new growth opportunities inside the organization by creating a mechanism to unlock ideas trapped inside your employees’ heads.
- Pinpoint strategic initiatives that have not yet received the approval of senior management.
The goal is to find a unique selling proposition for your organization in the form of a capability that no competitor can easily copy, giving you an edge in the market.
3. Creating a dedicated and cross-functional team: Any minimal viable Product Innovation Engine creation effort would require a dedicated, albeit small, team of resources that lives and breathes innovation every workday, and possibly even beyond that. And it is critical that they directly report to the senior management. Only then can a top-down culture of 100% accountability proliferate through the organization.
And as cross-functional expertise should dictate, every team resource must be a skilled polyglot engineer with the requisite multi-faceted expertise in assorted domains. Only then can the turnaround time be reduced from months to weeks.
For instance, at LTI, we have a team of multivariate resources with lead mindsets who excel at five key principles:
- Unlocking the definition of value from the customer’s POV.
- Creating an actionable roadmap to deliver the identified value.
- Making value-creating steps execute in tight sequences.
- Creating a mechanism to pull products whenever needed.
- Furthering the organizational culture of continuous improvement.
Two years ago, for one of our clients in the hi-tech space, we had set up a polyglot team that comprised 18 UX designers, domain analysts, cloud engineers, data engineers, full-stack developers, and ops-enabled developers. To date, the team has built 35+ working prototypes. Out of these, 11 have been productized and monetized, enabling the client to realize multiple new revenue streams.
4. Smartly managing strategic uncertainty: To drive ceaseless innovation at scale, you need to manage strategic uncertainty by embracing the idea of strict budgets.
The first step in this phase would be to create a dedicated team of leaders who will have complete autonomy in selecting and shunning Outreach Innovations projects. Every project must trace back to a senior executive who believes in it, allocates budgets, and empowers project teams (to some extent) to take spending decisions without waiting for approval.
Once these four phases are complete, you can assess their impact with the following checks:
- First, do your outreach innovations substantially outnumber your ingrowth innovations?
- Second, are you able to quantify new idea generation and their conversion rates to strategic initiatives?
- Third, do you have a team of polyglot engineers with autonomous expertise?
- Finally, can every outreach innovations project be traced back to a senior executive?
If you can confidently answer each of these, your minimal viable Product Innovation Engine is in place and ready to hum!
The LTI approach to innovation labs
At LTI, we follow an experiential approach to creating and proliferating a Product Innovation Engine throughout a target organization (as depicted in the infographic).
1. Ideation: We begin ideating the possible solutions through the steps outlined below.
- Business goals and problem statement: It starts with clearly understanding business goals and a well-defined problem statement. The team segregates the statements into themes, identifies the problems, comes up with hypotheses to solve the problem, and justifies the “why” of this need. It should always be actionable, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed.
- Defining the point of view: We then define the point of view of how we categorize the problem. We do this by defining criteria for enrollment, prioritization, and exclusions.By enrolling, we add people/companies in a problem statement or theme — who we model to help us understand the problem. Prioritization is to identify the people/companies we will be modeling from each theme or problem statement.Finally, we define exclusions explaining what is within and outside the scope or boundaries of our LTI hypothesis and problem definition.
- Creating user stories and personas: We create personas based on our enrollment criteria. The personas are derived from real-life case studies of users of the problem/solution. User stories are derived from these personas, which clearly define the user needs, and how they will be met by the solution.
- Value stream mapping: We then create a value stream map that details the steps to operationalize and deliver the solution. We do this in phases, starting with the MVP and moving progressively with each phase to full rollout.
- Defining metrics: We define the metrics to measure each phase, and also for measuring more abstract goals, i.e., “solve a complex problem” or “raise the standard of education.”
2. Hypothesis Development: Next comes formulating a hypothesis for each idea/theme. We use the Lean Startup “Build-Measure-Learn” concept as the basis of our hypothesis. This phase is where we test the validity of each idea. Steps here include:
- Formulate a hypothesis for each metric: We formulate a hypothesis for each of the metrics that we have defined. Instead of one idea, there could be several hypotheses.
- Define metrics for success/failure: We define the success and failure criteria to measure our hypothesis and determine the minimal experiment needed to test the validity of each hypothesis.
3. Rapid Prototyping: We then go into rapid prototyping of all the hypotheses. We design, build, test, evaluate, and iterate based on the results. Steps here include:
- Sketches and diagrams: We sketch out ideas and put them into a visual narrative, to easily understand what the idea/solution is.
- High-fidelity mockups: Once we have a better understanding of the idea visually, we create high-fidelity mockups/wireframes for testing.
- Build MVP/POC based on UX/UI: Once we have high-fidelity mockups, we build a useable product. This product is what we call the MVP or minimum viable product. If the MVP involves hardware, we create a prototype to operate.
- Deploy and test in separate environments: We deploy our MVP in a separate (or similar) environment and test it with users/stakeholders, iterating based on feedback.
4. Validation: After testing the MVP/POC with users, we validate our assumptions and either stop or move into full-scale implementation. Steps here include:
- Collecting user feedback: We collect user feedback and make improvements to the solution based on these results.
- Performing analysis to prove the hypothesis: We perform analysis on the results from testing our MVP/POC.
- Validate with product teams and SMEs: Validate with product team and subject matter experts to gain a better understanding of the problem.
- Pivot if hypothesis fails: If the hypothesis does not prove to be successful, go back to the hypothesis backlog or discovery phase.
- Feature integration if hypothesis passes: If the hypothesis proves to be successful, move on to product integration. We document the problem/solution and integrate it with other features of product development.
By applying LTI’s approach to innovation, our clients have clocked an average of 82% increase in time-to-market.
Building a Product Innovation Engine is not an easy task. To build one, you need to analyze the current state of your company and create a team that will work on outreach innovations projects. You also must be strategic about how much time or money you spend on each project — but never to the point of being too safe! Building an MVPE isn’t just about saving money — it’s about creating an innovation powerhouse that will give your organization the competitive edge it deserves.
AVP and Co-Founder — Cuelogic — An LTI Company
Neel is a leader at Digital product Engineering practice at LTI. Prior to LTI, Neel was the co-founder of Cuelogic Technologies, where he led teams that built market leading digital innovations for Fortune 500 companies to startups across the planet. His speciality lies in cultivating and fostering teams that bring together engineering excellence with product thinking in a Devsecops culture to enable customers to continuously digital transform and innovate in a way that delivers true business value and sustained competitive advantage.