The topic of innovation is critical in this age of digital disruption and transformation. How do companies and organizations to plan for and deliver innovation, which often seems to be an illusive mirage? The answer is to include innovation in the strategic executive agenda and invest long term in an Innovation Lab.
An Innovation Lab, if setup correctly, enables rapid and business value focused ideation and prototyping. When connected, end-to-end, from the origin of the opportunity/problem to final production, time-to-market is improved, speed-to-volume is accelerated, and more importantly makes it possible to bring that which is radically different to the market.
The term “radically different” is critical in an Innovation Lab-context. Business-as-usual development outside of the Innovation Lab needs to stay relevant and innovative. Innovation is not something that can or should be excluded anywhere, even if an Innovation Lab is implemented. However, an Innovation Lab must be challenged with the primary task: to design and bring to market that which is radically different, since this factor is what is at the heart of disruption and transformation.
So, with that said, here are my top 10 Innovation Lab Best Practices.
1. Define and publish the Innovation Lab charter
The purpose of a charter is to clearly and concisely explain what the Innovation Lab should do and how. The charter could be as short as:
“XYZ Labs delivers innovation to radically improve customer experience and accelerate business operations. The lab lives in an open ecosystem of idea generating forums and prototypes in a failing fast-spirit.”
Linked to the charter, you need to define the Innovation Lab’s governance model, process, location, and budget. Publish the charter. Make it known. Be proud of it.
2. Ask the right questions
An Innovation Lab often tries to do the seemingly impossible: creating a structured approach to what seems to live by randomness and ad-hoc-opportunities. However, by asking the right questions you command the attention to the right topics. Examples of relevant questions include:
“How can we radically improve customer experiences in sales and delivery processes?
How can we delight the customer in unexpectedly helpful ways?
What are the most critical customer problems?”
3. Define the characteristics of a great idea
Guiding innovation principles and desired digital characteristics are not about limiting the scope of relevant ideas or about detailing specific ideas. Instead they serve as helpful markers of the selection process. When these markers are known in advance, the relevance of gathered ideas increase.
Examples of characteristics: contextually smart, real-time connections between customer events and internal operations, radically innovative, differentiating, connects customers/users with each other, omnichannel enabled, unexpectedly digital, enabling third party companies to add value to customers/users, etc.
4. Implement an open ideation process and platform
Great ideas come from everywhere; from both external and internal sources. Limit ideation sources as little as possible. Engage in a planned and structured way with different sources. Implement a capable ideation solution platform from where ideas can be discussed, rated, and fed into the Innovation Lab. Include idea generation at every digital touchpoint, for example through “I have an idea!” widgets.
5. Engage proactively with critical ideation groups
Identify key persons in VIP customer/user groups, and interact frequently with them specifically on the topic of innovation, and give special attention to their ideas.
6. Observe the customer/user
Nothing beats leaving the office and workshop facilities, and going to where the customer/user physically uses your products and services. This is especially true in app and IoT ideation. Observe and interact, with both the customer/user as well as employees at/near the location. The more time you can spend where the actual challenges and opportunities exist, the better you’ll understand what innovation can improve.
7. Select the right ideas to prototype
The single most important aspect of the Innovation Lab process is most likely the step from ideation to prototyping. Why is one idea considered good and another not as good? Why is one idea selected to move forward to prototyping, and another idea is not? As soon as this step is considered ad-hoc, uncontrolled, or prone to purely personal subjective preference, the legitimacy of the Innovation Lab can be questioned. Even though some innovative ideas don’t fit into seemingly simplistic molds of criteria, most actually do.
The answer is: filter ideas through desired characteristics, customer/user desires, technical feasibility, and business value, and keep an updated and visible backlog/roadmap for the Innovation Lab.
8. Smart prototyping using MVP, FF, and Beta
Create prototypes using correctly scoped “Minimum Viable Product” features and fail fast!
Don’t bet the farm on one plant. Many Innovation Lab ideas fail because its entire bandwidth is spent on one single idea. Plan to run multiple idea prototypes simultaneously. This forces you to adopt a “Minimum Viable Product”-scoping, i.e. what can you take out from the idea to actually try it. Mind the common pitfall in cutting scope: don’t keep most of of the functional scope and cut most of the user experience/visual design! Instead, keep just the most critical functional aspects of the idea, and wrap those in as much as visual glory as possible.
“Fail Fast” and stay away from destructive pride. A prototype shouldn’t typically take more than four weeks to design and develop. With the hardware challenges in IoT, allow another four weeks, but consider two months for a prototype to be developed a very long time.
Unless some or even most prototypes fail, for whatever reason, you are not trying hard enough to perform as an Innovation Lab. Therefore, make sure failing is expected in and around the lab, and execute prototypes in a failing fast spirit. Don’t get stuck on one idea too long, especially if it is untried with customers/users.
Don’t invest yourself in one single idea too much, risking feeling too proud to let go of certain ideas. Be patient, that same idea may reappear in other lab contexts.
Make room for prototypes in your production systems. For example, create a place on your site or in your apps to hold “Beta”-features. You can have some beta features available for everyone and if you support customer/user accounts, you can even enable some beta features just for some select groups of customers/users.
9. Leverage the creative nature open innovation ecosystems
Enable third party groups to prototype their own ideas by supplying sandboxed environments with as complete APIs as possible. You’d be surprised how many are intrigued by the creative nature of innovation. Expect partners, startups, students, and other third party groups to be interested in innovating in and around your traditional value chain. Invite to open hackathons and innovation workshops.
10. Take feedback seriously
Prototypes are meant to be tried and tested, not just by Innovation Lab staff, but by customers/users. Be sure to take their feedback seriously. Be prepared to iterate through a handful versions of each prototype, before deciding whether or not to introduce the solution into production.
Finally, the handover from the Innovation Lab to production is critical. Be pragmatic on resourcing in the handover phase. Most likely will Innovation Lab staff need to participate in the first few steps of infusion of the solution into that which is already in production.
If you need assistance in setting up or revitalizing your Innovation Lab, don’t hesitate to contact me. We recently launched a new initiative called “Applied Innovation Exchange” with a robust Innovation Lab-service catalog (and an exciting San Francisco venue to meet at). Together with my Capgemini and SogetiLabs colleagues, I’d love to interact with you on that which is radically different.