Global commoditization and complexity make innovation an urgent priority for firms of all sizes. And to promote innovation in a meaningful way, individual development teams must be the focal point of your strategy. Culture and vision are extremely important components, and developing them properly takes time and effort, but innovation improvement is mainly an organic, bottoms-up process.
When I wrote my book, I dug through 60 years of industry research and interviewed managers at dozens of companies. At the end of the day, I found ten core strategies that new product leaders – those generating significantly more revenue from new products compared to their peers – used to optimize team performance:
- Leaders commit themselves to innovation, and they are willing to break down barriers wherever they find them inside the organization. The CEO leads the charge.
- Leading firms form entrepreneurial teams to promote innovation, locating them on the “edges” of their organizations, closest to the customer. Development teams have primary responsibility for product success (they run their own show), and regular customer involvement is fully integrated (a la Agile development methodologies).
- Teams need room to run; to experiment and even fail. Management controls progress and expenditures through the definition of a compelling vision, a supporting culture which is already in place, and regular updates with team members. Metrics appropriate for startups, not well-established businesses, are used.
- Innovation depends on creativity, but since we are mostly critical thinkers (thanks to our educational system and the way most large companies operate), leaders close this gap through training and culture.
- The best planning tool for entrepreneurial teams is a business model, not a business plan. Business models are flexible and adaptable; they provide a balance between the need to iterate and the need to maintain focus.
- Teams are encouraged to get beyond traditional research and observe customers in real life. Mainly, they are on the lookout for big problems, or “pain points.” This observation process has a formal name, Ethnography, but most of us know it as Customer Immersion.
- Innovation benefits from diversity and “cross functional” team compositions. Teams even reach out to partners throughout the supply chain to bring ideas and domain specific knowledge.
- There is a great deal of effort put into the development of value propositions that are believable and stand out. Leaders use a sophisticated formula called a Strategic Positioning Statement, which includes a definition of target audience, a unique selling proposition, a “reason why” the USP makes sense, and a definition of brand character. The Strategic Positioning Statement is a tool from the consumer packaged goods industry.
- Leaders don’t forget that humans communicate through stories. The more compelling the story about a product, the more likely it’ll get passed to others, activating social networks – the traditional kind like word of mouth and the new kind like Facebook.
- Leaders use processes. A process is a systematic method of putting organizations to work against specific goals. Unlike simple planning, processes provide measurable feedback, obviously necessary for continuous improvement.