Practical Innovation

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David Verduyn is a guest writer for The Business Thinker magazine.
He is a principal of C2C Solutions Inc.,  a company that specializes in best practices for the front end of Product Development
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Over the past 30 years, leading companies all over the world have discovered that the product development process (PDP) is as important as the product itself. To get right to the point, here is the summary of the following short article:

A practical, lean, and efficient “front-end” development process is necessary for sustainable growth.

Business sustainability and growth, whether you sell products or services, requires three key outputs of your PDP:

1)    VALUE, to attracts customers

2)    QUALITY, to earn respect, and

3)    INNOVATION, to differentiate yourself from the competition

When organizations and project teams effectively integrate these three elements into their PDP, they will all but guarantee sustainability and growth.

There are several well known methodologies that drive VALUE and ensure QUALITY being used by virtually all organizations using twenty-first century best practices.  INNOVATION, however, is far more elusive and less structured.  Most organizations rely on simple brainstorming and a select few creative individuals to bring forth innovation. This is a poor use of resources and simply not enough to effectively compete.  Moreover, it results in innovation that occurs in fits and starts rather than a process that can be relied on to deliver consistent growth and profits.

Introducing Systematic Innovation: When you combine your core competencies, people, talent, and skills with the distilled innovative habits and tactics of the most successful inventors (corporate and individual), innovation becomes much more robust and evolves into habits and therefore is sustainable.  We accomplish this by learning from the best innovators then we leverage their knowledge, creativity and innovative skills.  The result on your projects is simply efficient and effective.

There are numerous ways to integrate innovation best practices.  One of them offers a logical and practical process that incorporates these best practices into an 8-step process called Systematic Innovation.

Below is a link to a YouTube video that takes you through each of the 8 steps with a voice over narration, graphics, and more detail.  In addition, below is a very brief explanation to each of the eight steps used in the Systematic Innovation Process.

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF64tkWAUXI

Systematic Innovation: A structured process and set of practical tools to create (or improve) products and services that deliver new value to your customers. 

Step 1. Understanding Customer Needs:  Since customers (internal and external) are why we exist and the beneficiaries of all Innovation, this critical first step helps us begin to understand the customers’ needs by not only using conventional voice of the customer (VOC) methods, but also by recognizing the fact that customers, especially external, are simply not effective at articulating all the requirements that will win their future business.  Special tools must be used to go beyond what customers will tell you!! We call this the “mind of the customer” (MOC), an essential component for innovation. The point here is that most customers know what they want today, but have a hard time articulating what they will want tomorrow.  Knowing this, we must expand on what customers have articulated with Latent Need Discovery Tools to better understand emerging requirements.  These emerging requirements often come in the form of “current and future problems” that need to be understood and solved. The solution to these problems will likely separate the leaders from the pack in a competitive landscape.

Step 2.
Situation Analysis:  Once we document, organize, and prioritize the customer and market needs, when necessary, we analyze our highest priority requirements (whether external or internal) to deeply understand the situation and potential solution space.  One of the several outputs of this step is to discover “standard” or potentially “reformulated” problems.  Standard problems are problems that are generalized or abstracted into a form that has been seen or solved before.  This way, we can more easily leverage a vast amount of existing knowledge from a cross industry and discipline database and “best practices” to address these standard problems.  Reformulated problems are problems that have been elaborated to the point that allows for a completely different solution path than the original problem statement.  The newly reformulated problem statement may be much easier to solve than the original problem statement.  Situation Analysis and Function Modeling tools assist here.

Step 3. Select Ideation Tools:  Since there dozens of specific problem solving and idea generation tools, Step-3 includes a unique “Tool Selection Matrix” that shows you the best tools, from a list of over two dozen, to use for your specific situation.  So here we select a handful of appropriate Idea Generation and Problem Solving tools to generate conceptual ideas.  Sorry folks, no “one size fits all” tools!
Note: When the problems or challenges are well understood in advance, it is not uncommon for a project team to start here in Step 3.  In this case, the assumption is that Steps 1 and 2 have been adequately completed.  In other words, the internal and external customer requirements are well understood and the problems or challenges the team needs to solve are clear and truly reflect the top project priorities.

Step 4. Generate Concepts:  Step 4 is the “HEART” of the Systematic Innovation Process and the main step where new ideas are born and problems are solved.  Over 36 distinct tools exist.  Some are simple and can be learned in minutes, others are more complex and take time and practice to master and effectively use.  Each of the tools has their own applications and unique benefits to the project team as shown in the Tool Selection Matrix in Step 3.

Step 5. Concept Evaluation:  Evaluating concepts is an essential and non-trivial part of all design projects.  Teams that make too quick of a decision on the “best concept” often have it come back to “haunt” them, so an objective analysis and evaluation is conducted on any concept that makes it to the short list.  We use a comprehensive set of objective criteria to evaluate, synthesize, and select a final concept.  The output of this step is the one or two “best concepts” that we need to further develop.

Step 6. Detailed Design:  Once concepts are generated, detailed design, engineering, optimization, and verification must be executed.  Several design and development best practices are used here. Most organizations have adequate expertise and tools to support this step, however, many of the tools described in Step 4 may also be utilized when doing the detailed design, especially when technical problems are encountered.

Step 7. Communicate Value:  Any new Innovation/Idea will die on the vine if your customers (Internal and/or External) don’t understand and buy into the idea’s Value Proposition.  In this step, to increase the likelihood of acceptance of new ideas, several guidelines and tactics are introduced on how to “sell” your ideas to improve the likelihood of buy in.

Step 8. Standardize Learning’s:  The last step is retaining and integrating the key lessons learned in all 8 steps is essential to maintaining the gains on future projects.  In this step we reflect, communicate, and standardize on the best practices and tools used in each step of the project.

Summing it all up:  Systematic Innovation begins and ends with your customers.  Most people think structure is the enemy of Innovation, but we believe the right amount of structure will dramatically improve your “Innovation IQ”.   The 8-Step Systematic Innovation process described above combines just the right amount of proven and practical structure with the flexibility to customize, bypass, or add your own best practices to fit any project’s situation.

The key insights we hope you took away reading this short article are:

  • The right type and amount of structure is a friend of Innovation.
  • Innovation tools are not one size fits all.  The tools you select depend on the Innovation job or situation you are trying to accomplish.
  • Customers can only tell you part of the success formula.  You must go beyond what the customers can articulate to obtain a comprehensive set of requirements.
  • Everyone can significantly enhance their idea generation and problem solving skills.
  • Innovation “Best Practices” have been created, refined, and optimized over the last 20 years and are being leveraged by industry leaders all over the world. 
  • Innovation can be effectively learned and integrated in any organization.

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About the Author: 

David Verduyn is the founder and principal of C2C Solutions Inc, (www.c2c-solutions.com) a company that specializes in best practices for the front end of product development.  Dave has over 20 years industry experience in design and systems engineering, technical instruction, product development consulting & technical course development.  Since 1985 he has worked with over 150 fortune 500 companies in the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico, and Canada and has trained engineers & product developers in product development methods including Systematic Innovation, TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving), VOC (Voice of Customer), FMEA (Failure Modes & Effects Analysis), QFD (Quality Function Deployment), Value Analysis, and other Lean Design for Six Sigma (LDFSS) Methods.

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