A Simple Map for Innovation at Scale
An edited version of this vendible previously appeared in the Boston Consulting Group’s strategy think tank website.
I spent last week at a global Fortune 50 visitor offsite watching them grapple with disruption. This 100 -year-old visitor has seven major product divisions, each with hundreds of products. Currently a market leader, they’re watching a new and relentless competitor with increasingly money, increasingly people and increasingly wide technology towards seemingly out of nowhere, attempting to grab customers and proceeds market share.
This visitor was so serious well-nigh dealing with this threat (they described it as “existential to their survival”) that they had mobilized the unshortened corporation to come up with new solutions. This wasn’t a small undertaking, considering the threats were coming from multiple areas in multiple dimensions; How do they embrace new technologies? How do they convert existing manufacturing plants (and their workforce) for a completely new set of technologies? How do they bring on new supply chains? How do they wilt present on new social media and communications channels? How do they connect with a new generation of customers who had no trademark loyalty? How to they use the new distribution channels competitors have adopted? How do they make these transitions without alienating and losing their existing customers, distribution channels and partners? And how do they motivate their most important windfall – their people – to operate with speed, urgency, and passion?
The visitor believed they had a handful of years to solve these problems surpassing their ripen would wilt irreversible. This meeting was a biannual gathering of all the leadership involved in the corporate-wide initiatives to out-innovate their new disruptors. They tabbed it the “Tsunami Initiative” to emphasize they were fighting the tidal wave of creative destruction engulfing their industry.
To succeed they realized this isn’t simply coming up with one new product. It meant pivoting an unshortened visitor – and its culture. The scale of solutions needed dwarf anything a single startup would be working on.
The visitor had hired a leading management consulting firm that helped them select 15 hair-trigger areas of transpiration the Tsunami Initiative was tasked to work on. My hosts, John and Avika, at the offsite were the co-leads overseeing the 15 topic areas. The consulting firm suggested that they organize these 15 topic areas as a matrix organization, and the ballroom was filled with several hundred people from wideness their visitor – action groups and subgroups with people from wideness the company: engineering, manufacturing, market wringer and collection, distribution channels, and sales. Some of the teams plane included some of their tropical partners. Over a thousand increasingly were working on the projects in offices scattered wideness the globe.
John and Avika had invited me to squint at their innovation process and offer some suggestions.
Are these the real problems?
This was one of the weightier organized innovation initiatives I have seen. All 15 topic had team leads presenting poster sessions, there were presenters from the field sales and partners emphasizing the urgency and specificity of the problems, and there were breakout sessions where the topic zone teams brainstormed with each other. After the end of the day people gathered virtually the firepit for informal conversations. It was a testament to John and Avika’s leadership that plane off duty people were passionately debating how to solve these problems. It was an wondrous exhibit of organizational esprit de corps.
While the subject of each of the 15 topic areas had been suggested by the consulting firm, it was in conjunction with the company’s corporate strategy group, and the people who generated these topic zone requirements were part of the offsite. Not only were the requirements people in ubiety but so was a transition team to facilitate the wordage of the products from these topic teams into production and sales.
However, I noticed that several of the requirements from corporate strategy seemed to be priorities given to them from others (e.g. here are the problems the CFO or CEO or workbench thinks we ought to work on) or likely here are the topics the consulting firm thought they should focus on) and/or were from subject matter experts (e.g. I’m the expert in this field. No need to talk to anyone else; here’s what we need). It appeared the corporate strategy group was delivering problems as stock-still requirements, e.g. unhook these specific features and functions the solution ought to provide.
Here was a major effort involving lots of people but missing the endangerment to get the root rationalization of the problems.
I told John and Avika that I understood some requirements were known and immutable. However, when all of the requirements are handed to the whoopee teams this way the theorizing is that the problems have been validated, and the teams do not need to do any remoter exploration of the problem space themselves.
Those tight premises on requirements constrain the worthiness of the topic zone whoopee teams to:
- Deeply understand the problems – who are the customers, internal stakeholders (sales, other departments) and beneficiaries (shareholders, etc.)? How to adjudicate between them, priority of the solution, timing of the solutions, minimum full-length set, dependencies, etc.
- Figure out whether the problem is a symptom of something increasingly important
- Understand whether the problem is immediately solvable, requires multiple minimum viable products to test several solutions, or needs increasingly R&D
I noticed that with all of the requirements stock-still upfront, instead of having a self-rule to innovate, the topic zone whoopee teams had wilt extensions of existing product minutiae groups. They were getting trapped into existing mindsets and were likely producing far less than they were capable of. This is a worldwide mistake corporate innovation teams tend to make.
I reminded them that when team members get out of their buildings and repletion zones, and directly talk to, observe, and interact with the customers, stakeholders and beneficiaries, it allows them to be agile, and the solutions they unhook will be needed, timely, relevant and take less time and resources to develop. It’s the difference between yearning a problem and solving one.
As I mentioned this, I realized having all stock-still requirements is a symptom of something else increasingly interesting – how the topic leads and team members were organized. From where I sat, it seemed there was a lack of a worldwide framework and process.
Give the Topic Areas a Worldwide Framework
I asked John and Avika if they had considered offering the topic whoopee team leaders and their team members a simple conceptual framework (one picture) and worldwide language. I suggested this would indulge the teams to know when and how to “ideate” and incorporate innovative ideas that slide largest outcomes. The framework would use the initial corporate strategy requirements as a starting point rather than a stock-still destination. See the diagram.
I drew them a simple orchestration and explained that most problems start in the marrow right box.
These are “unvalidated” problems. Teams would use a consumer discovery process to validate them. (At times some problems might require increasingly R&D surpassing they can be solved.) Once the problems are validated, teams move to the box on the marrow left and explore multiple solutions. Both boxes on the marrow are where ideation and innovation-type of problem/solution brainstorming are critical. At times this can be velocious by bringing in the horizon 3, out-of-the-box thinkers that every visitor has, and let them lend their hair-trigger eye to the problem/solution.
If a solution is found and solves the problem, the team heads up to the box on the top left.
But I explained that very often the solution is unknown. In that specimen think well-nigh having the teams do a “technical terrain walk.” This is the process of describing the problem to multiple sources (vendors, internal developers, other internal programs) debriefing on the sum of what was found. A terrain walk often discovers that the problem is unquestionably a symptom of flipside problem or that the sources see it as a variegated version of the problem. Or that an existing solution once exists or can be modified to fit.
But often, no existing solution exists. In this case, teams could throne to the box on the top right and build Minimal Viable Products – the smallest full-length set to test with customers and partners. This MVP testing often results in new learnings from the customers, beneficiaries, and stakeholders – for example, they may tell the topic developer that the first 20% of the deliverable is “good enough” or the problem has changed, or the timing has changed, or it needs to be uniform with something else, etc. Finally, when a solution is wanted by customers/beneficiaries/stakeholders and is technically feasible, then the teams move to the box on the top left.
The result of this would be teams rapidly iterating to unhook solutions wanted and needed by customers within the limited time the visitor had left.
Those companies that make it do so with an integrated effort of inspired and visionary leadership, motivated people, innovative products, and relentless execution and passion.
Watching and listening to hundreds of people fighting the tsunami in a legendary visitor was humbling.
I hope they make it.
- Creative destruction and disruption will happen to every company. How will you respond?
- Topic whoopee teams need to tightly understand the problems as the consumer understands them, not just what the corporate strategy requirements dictate
- This can’t be washed-up without talking directly to the customers, internal stakeholders, and partners
- Consider if the corporate strategy team should be increasingly facilitators than gatekeepers
- A light-weight way to alimony topic teams in sync with corporate strategy is to offer a worldwide innovation language and problem and solution framework