How product managers can lead innovation and help transform their organization
My guest is changing how companies innovate and he is doing it with a 5-step process. You’ll hear the details in the discussion, but the five steps are called:
- incubation, and
He created this process as an Army Colonel and former director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, where he deployed a record 170 new products. He was leading innovation in the challenging environments of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields. Now he is improving innovation effectiveness in companies. He is also working with Steve Blank on a book to capture and share the innovation process. But, you can get the key insights now, long before the book is published.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:59] How do you define innovation?
Innovation is the delivery of something that either changes people’s lives or significantly changes business. Nothing is an innovation until it delivers something to somebody that changes behavior or solves a problem. And innovation must be scalable.
[4:35] Can you walk us through your 5-stage innovation process outlined in the Harvard Business Review article you wrote with Steve Blank (see link below)?
The innovation process has five stages and an operating system that allows all the different methodologies, decision points, and data to connect to ensure an adequate throughput.
This stage is about sourcing people, ideas, problems, and technologies—finding what’s out there. Hackathons are useful for sourcing people. My company created a problem-sourcing seminar where we trained teams to go into the organization and vigilantly discover problems. Tech scouting—visiting conventions and talking to people working on problems— is another great way to source problems.
Dis-aggregate complex problems into smaller issues, then prioritize the issues and build teams around them. Begin to prioritize based on risk and impact and determine which team would be best for each problem. Prioritization tells you why you’re working on what. Look at the quality of the team and the problem, and the pathways that you have to follow to the next step. In order to ensure throughput in your innovation pipeline, make sure you have the best, most ready things moving to the next step. Those things might not necessarily be the highest priorities in the long-run, but they are what create the most value that you can accomplish right now.
Answer the questions, “Do we have the right problem? Can we define what success in solving it looks like? Do we know whom we’re solving it for?” Next prove that you have a viable solution and a way of deploying that solution to the customer. Finally, consider whether the cost ratio is feasible. We run multiple ideas at once in Discovery, but only about 1/4 of curated ideas make it to Discovery.
We determine readiness in three levels: Technology readiness—do we understand the technology involved in solving this problem? Investment readiness—do I have the right team or do I need to add someone to the team? Adoption readiness—have I identified the first customers, am I ready to scale, and do I have the team to get the innovation to users?
Transition the innovation back into the business. It must scale appropriately with the right people. It must be sustainable, meaning that we can train people to work on it and can keep updating it. You don’t have an innovation until you’ve transitioned it into the real environment. Everything prior to that is learning about the problem.
[35:35] How does the innovation process work in times of crisis?
I cut my teeth on this process on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The innovation process is built around the ability to speedily deliver life-saving solutions at scale for people when they need them. In order to do that, you must have a pipeline already in place that’s functioning and full. A delay in recognizing the problem and delivering a solution costs lives. Situational awareness is key. It allows you to take information from many different places and aggregate it to make decisions. A data-driven, decision-based model for innovation helps you sort that out and accelerate when you have to.
- Pete’s innovation process article on Harvard Business Review
- Begin Morning Nautical Twilight (BMNT)
- Insights from BMNT
- Common Mission Project
- Connect with Pete on LinkedIn
“Innovation is a full contact sport. If you are comfortable, you aren’t doing it right.” – Pete Newell
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.