Innovation is messy, so throw out the process

Happy New Year! 2018 is lining up to be a pretty special year for me. I hope you all make it a pretty kick-ass 12 months as well. 

Perhaps this is the year you finally kick off your own personal project, write more, hit the gym, change jobs, or just give up a bad habit?

This period is generally when people reflect and set themselves new goals for the year ahead. I prefer not to focus too much on the detail for the full 12 months as it is likely that anything I plan out that far in advance will undoubtedly change! Instead, I set myself a single theme defining word for the year.

One of my ex-colleagues recently shared the 'Year Compass' tool. It looks like great for a bit of deep reflection on 2017 and launching into 2018 with purpose. 

Whatever you chose, I hope 2018 is a fantastic one for you. Onwards and upwards!

In my last blog, I showcased three tools that can amp up your culture. I’d love to hear if any of you have implemented these tools with success. Getting the culture right is so important to the success of any project or change initiative.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what else makes a team successful, and how some teams seem to have the magic touch. 

Like any true consultant, I would say that team success normally boils down to getting three things right. People, process and tools.

But when it comes to innovation, things tend to get a bit messy. 

This is where we need to use a different tact and deal with a little uncertainty. Perhaps always following process isn’t the answer after all?

Process, for process sake

I’ve started to notice a bit of a trend developing. Lately, there is a lot of talk on how to put in place the right process to do “Innovation”. 

It’s great that we are now talking about consumer desirability and seeing the value in strategic design. It bodes well for how we approach the delivery of our products. 

With the increased focus on digital success, there has been an explosion of magical processes and tools which claim to solve all your problems. 

“The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.” - Peter Thiel, Zero to One.

There are hundreds of awesome people & valuable resources out there (hopefully including the ones I share in this newsletter!). Few seem to be talking about the ultimate goal of using these tools, de-risking your business model. 

Using a mishmash of tools without a strategy won’t get you the results you want. The key is to thoughtfully use the right tool for the job, at the right time.

Design Thinking, Lean Startup & Agile

Three main methodologies, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile are currently used in many organisations. I am often asked about the differences between the three.

Each of these methodologies brings a value and focus which makes them better suited to different stages of the product development process. The overlap of the three, however, results in confusion.

Because each of the three developed as a distinct process, it's natural that over time small changes have been made to each spawning off new slightly different sub-ways of working.

This leads to hundreds of potential combinations. Though some prefer the IDEO implementation of human centred design (HCD) over the d.school flavour, they both still originate from David Kelley's thinking.

Some even believe HCD is a bit of a waste of time and that you should dive straight into lean startup experimentation to find your market. Don’t get me started on the whole agile space, where everyone seems to have a different opinion on how it should be run. 

In his book 'Understanding Design Thinking, Lean and Agile', Johnny Schneider explains the overlap further, and proposes that we simplify product development into three key phases:

  • Exploring the problem - i.e. Design Thinking

  • Building the right thing - i.e. Lean

  • Build the thing right - i.e. Agile

There have been attempts at moulding the three into one mega process to rule them all (see the franken-process below). The truth is, it’s difficult, and not as simple as that.

frankenprocess.png

The key is finding the balance in the methods. Every environment is different and has its own team structure, culture, tools, product maturity that can influence the success of implementation.

What works for one company, might fail in another. You need to experiment, discovering whats right for you. Taking the parts that make sense, and crafting something suitable for your environment.

It’s key that we don’t follow a process for process sake.

Taking a different approach

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying throw out all the rules and create some kind of weird product, designer, and developer anarchy! Whilst it would certainly be an interesting social experiment, it definitely wouldn’t be very productive.

I’m suggesting we step back for one moment and zoom out from the current situation. Taking time to analyse your current challenges before forcing a change on your team. 

In this world of lean experimentation and agile stories, it’s very easy to get lost in the fine detail, forgetting about the overall objective of your project.

So where do you start? Where should you invest your resources? Wherever makes the most sense. But there is one tool that I find really helps to clarify your situation (Yes, yes. I see the irony in suggesting a process at this point).

Finding the sweet spot

It’s likely that you have some hunches where to begin already. I find that the best place to start is by assessing what you already know. Your current business model. 

“You just told me to start wherever makes sense?”

Well, yes, kind of. I’m not talking about the traditional business model requiring complex spreadsheets and 300-page word documents. 

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By mapping the business model on a business model canvas we get a high-level view of the existing business model, and the current balance of the three pillars for product success - product desirability, feasibility, and viability.

In my experience when a project has got off track, it’s generally because the balance of the three has been disrupted. Mapping out your business is a great way to highlight problem areas and create a plan of action on where to proceed.

But by going through this process you’ll find the imbalances. Perhaps you’ll even start to question if you really understand your value proposition, or could discover that you’ve been selling to the wrong customer all along.

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You may stumble upon some old assumptions, or even find new ones. The key is to reboot your beginner’s mindset and identify the areas worth exploring which move you towards validated learning, ultimately de-risking your business model.

But my project is going fine...

Well, great. Will it remain fine going forward? For how long? 

I mentioned the three pillars of product success earlier - Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability. But there’s a fourth pillar which is equally as important. Adaptability.

Business models rarely operate in a vacuum. It’s critical that you continue to scan the horizon for the next killer opportunity or threat. 

Regular strategy sessions are a great way to challenge your team to think through your business model and respond to the external forces which are pushing your business in different directions. 

A great tool to assist with this evaluation is the Business Model Environment tool, which allows you to map out the four forces that generally impact a business.

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In more tech-focused teams, a great way to start this conversation is by focusing on the latest technology trends that create a range of opportunities for your product.

If you are looking to run a workshop on your business model, I highly recommend signing up for the Strategyzer blog - their content has featured a lot this issue!  They have a neat card deck in their resources section that can help prompt your team when working on the business model forces. 


So welcome 2018, and goodbye 2017 with all its Trump hysteria, North Korean rockets, terrorist attacks, tower fires and bitcoin bubbly hype. 

There were some positives in 2017. Like when the Australian politicians finally voted to legalise same-sex marriage. But also celebrating the news that I’m going to be a father soon! 

So please forgive my tardiness with writing blogs over the coming months. It really is a joy to write, but I don’t know how the sleep deprivation is going to impact my concentration.

And on that note, thank you all for reading. I look forward to hearing about all the stories of success that 2018 brings to you all.



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