Innovation is one of the most critical targets for any business, and it’s also one of the hardest. Why? Because unfortunately, many organizations attempt to ideate by simply throwing money and talent at product improvement, without a solid process in place.
They quickly learn that this approach is not only difficult, but most often results in tons of wasted time and money. Bottom line, it’s a great way to bleed ROI.
What they need instead is a systematic approach that identifies areas where innovation is needed as quickly and cheaply as possible, before moving on to experimental design work, and certainly before creating a new product.
Below, we lay out some pointers for what a proper ideation process looks like.
Start With Problems, Not Ideas
The problem for many organizations begins before a single dollar is spent or hour of employee time is clocked. That’s because the conceptual schema they use during innovation sessions exists within a framework of “ideas” to improve a product or service.
Repeat after me: Innovating isn’t really about “new ideas”. It’s about solving problems.
This isn’t a matter of semantics. Ideation begins with thoroughly understanding the problem that the team or organization wants to solve. The groundwork should therefore lock that problem down in the most powerful and comprehensive terms possible.
Failure to take this imperative seriously leads to huge problems down the road - usually after time and money have been spent on “ideas” that experimental design or market testing classifies as incomplete, misunderstood or nonexistent.
Measure once, cut twice. Continuous innovation means continuously thinking about what problems need solving in the first place.
Keep Experimental Work Organized
Once an organization hones in on the problem it wants to solve, the next step is to make sure that the development of a solution proceeds in an orderly fashion. Development across multiple teams and departments must be planned properly to ensure the integrity of the process.
Too often, organizations mistakenly believe that because a newly proposed solution is in its early stages, it’s best to let everyone tinker with it freely. While it’s fine to have several different threads of development going, they should not come at the expense of a centralized inertia.
One of the best ways to maintain the structure of the process is to assign each thread its own “bucket” where everything about it can be centrally stored, accessed and retrieved. This allows multiple parties to take an initial concept and move it around in different ways without losing track of what’s been done.
Once a concept design is agreed upon, it’s finally time to start prototyping. Unlike the experimental design phase, the prototype process is all about streamlining, so you want to make sure everyone is on the same page right from the beginning. Planning in this phase is of the utmost importance, as any mistakes made now will cost more time and dollars than during any other point in the ideation process.
But if your process has been followed properly up to this point, then the project should be ready in a hurry. Fill in the blanks about budget and set timelines for testing now. Build plans for data collection and analyzation, as well as contingency plans to for unforeseen developments .
Leave no stone unturned; the goal is to be as thorough as possible when dollars and time can be easily accounted for and changed on paper if necessary.
Maximize The ROI Of Ideation
Ultimately, the ideation process comes down to ROI. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that ideation is about “ideas”, and therefore best left unstructured. This is a huge mistake; a marketing or HR budget would never be approved without a detailed plan, and ideation should be treated no differently.
Organizations that are disciplined enough to impose process on their ideation - from start to finish - stand the best chance of minimizing waste, maximizing output and creating the best ROI possible.
Interested in learning more about how ideation can help your company? Loyal and Vanilla joined forces to bring together insights from top brands like Patagonia, Meetup and Vimeo. This ebook covers the new innovation formula: tools, techniques, processes and ingredients that enable them to continuously innovate and remain at the top of their game. Get it here.