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racing to innovate

On Your Marks, Get Set, Innovate! But Get on the Right Starting Line First

“On your marks, get set, innovate!” appears to have become the rallying cry around the world as company’s rush to reinvent themselves with a renewed energy to not become the next Blockbuster or Kodak. While I really appreciate this sense of urgency, I have to admit to being a bit cynical as I see very smart people running in a direction or down a path without first checking if they are even at the right starting line or in the correct racing venue.

All the words and doctrine sound great: “We must develop fast and fail even faster so we can refine and perfect our new solution with the lowest risk to the corporate bottom line!” or my personal favorite “We are outsourcing our innovation to subcontractors and programmers so they won’t be encumbered by our corporate red tape and close-minded thinking.”

I believe it is time to hit the pause button, head back to the board rooms and first assess our strategy as a company. “We need to become more innovative” is not a strategy as much as it is a desired outcome.

Innovation is a process and if executed properly, it can be fast, powerful and even better: REPEATABLE & SUSTAINABLE. This process does not require patience, but it does require integrity at all phases. There are no shortcuts, no miracles, but there’s a prescribed path you can follow that leads to exciting results and competitive advantage, called the innovation life cycle.

One small step for man, a giant leap for the business

The first and ongoing step of the innovation life cycle is Opportunity Exploration. Briefly put, Opportunity Exploration involves the energy and raw material that become key inputs to your growth and innovation planning to achieve sustainable and repeatable results. This is where organizations continuously observe and analyze the marketplace, the customers and relevant technology, to align innovation efforts with the overall strategy of the organization and develop insights into the unmet needs of the customer. When functioning properly, the opportunity exploration lab is like a glass of fine champagne with little innovative bubbles constantly being generated and consumed into the organization for feasibility and development at the next phase of the innovation life cycle, Front-End Innovation.

Front-End innovation is a bit more traditional in nature and at its core is the D4 process: Define the Opportunity, Discover Ideas, Develop Solutions, and Demonstrate the Innovation.BMGI's D4 methodology

The critical input for this stage is understanding the Job-To-Be-Done from the customer’s perspective, and the output from this phase is rapidly designed prototypes that are prioritized for further development based on field test results with the customers. Typically this is the step in the process where the innovation either takes off or, all too often, fails as companies either short cut the process or skip this step altogether preferring instead to start at Back-End Design, which is the next process step in the innovation life cycle. When done properly the input for Back-End Design is the most promising of the field tested prototypes from the front-end with the output being a complete and stable product, service, process or business model for the organization to introduce into the marketplace.

Finally, we commence with the final phase of the innovation life cycle, Commercialization, where an organization fully implements and operationalizes the idea with service quality metrics, standard operating procedures, infrastructure and a solid change management plan. This ensures a successful launch for the product, service, process or business model to successfully go through the life cycle of enhancement and exploitation until the next round of innovation is required. Today many financial technology companies, also known as “fintechs” are going through this process, and it has been suggested that commercialization will be the phase that turns fintech’s into banks while Front-End Innovation begins to transform banks into fintech-like organizations.

Where to start: The basics

You have to figure out where you are as an organization before you can start any transformation. Each time I have been asked to conduct a value stream mapping event, we inevitably uncover that the very first step of the process under review had generally kicked off incorrectly, leading to a series of waiting and reworking process steps to recovery. When it comes to the current race to innovate, I’m afraid many organizations have launched prematurely and are now well under way on their innovation journey of missteps and rework.

So as I said in the beginning—it’s time to go back to the board rooms and re-assess the situation with basic questions such as: Why are we here? What is the issue? What is our Strategy? What is the Job-To-Be-Done from the customer’s perspective?

Defining the opportunity is quite literally the incubation stage for building a strong team, ensuring stakeholder acceptance and selecting the key opportunities from a long list of possibilities. In essence, this phase should not be encumbered by constraints but allowed to have a free flow of discussion and idea generation guided by a seasoned facilitator. Defining the opportunity is often wasted as organizations have predetermined the opportunity before team formation, thus handicapping and constraining the process. Quite simply put—they place the cart before the horse. The end result will be a team that cannot clearly articulate the Job-To-Be-Done, has no personal stake in the outcome and, worse still, has no desire to drive stakeholder management.

At this point it is important to mention the Q x A = E formula (Quality x Acceptance = Effectiveness). A flawless product coupled with zero acceptance of that product will have zero effectiveness either within the organization or with the customer. “Define” is not only about brainstorming ideas and then converging down through a systematic process to the one or two jobs to be done, but it is also the foundation for change management. If acceptance to the change is not carefully considered from Day 1, there is little hope that the project or innovation will succeed.

For a more in-depth examination on creating sustainable innovative processes in your organization (and the associated tools), please head to for articles, training materials, and videos on this topic.

Mark Back is the managing director of Singapore, BMGI. A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn. You can follow Mark on LinkedIn here.

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