One of the challenges that all businesses face is how to keep ahead of the game by innovating new products and services for their customers.
Back in the last century sometime, I was languishing, one year into a PHD in “learning in complex product systems”. The truth was I had got lost in academic theory and I was dying to get out and connect with people again.
So when Jack Martin Leith asked me to set up the Innovation Agency with him I jumped at the chance to work with someone with such a great record in innovation and organisational development and one of the foremost practitioners of “Open Space” in Europe.
Jack is a creative whirl wind. There’s nothing he likes better than dreaming up new ideas and processes and coming up with practical tools and techniques that people can apply in their own business and he’s been a pioneer in the use of large group interventions- big collaborative meetings that get all the stakeholders in a project together in one place.
Now one of the projects that he undertook while we were working together was for a well known fast moving consumer goods company. Jack and his long time colleague and friend Jeffery Hyman were faced with the challenge, how can we make the New Product Development (NPD) cycle faster and cheaper and yet still deliver quality products that the customer wanted.
The typical NPD cycle for this company was a 12 month affair. The market researchers would go out and interview the customers and use their flair and know how to come up with a set of needs and desires to present to the design guru’s in product development. The design team would then sit around for months in their laboratories and prototyping workshops and come up with a set of new ideas to test out. The accountants would cost it all up, the market researchers would set up a series of focus groups to get feedback on the product and then they’ld present their results to the accountants and eventually one or more of the new ideas might be chosen to see the light of day.
Or they might not. Then the whole process would start again.
Jeffrey and jack identified a number of shortcomings with this approach.
- Time scale. Customer needs and expectations change. In rapidly changing markets even 12 months is too long.
- Too many walls. Typically the marketing team and the design team are working separately in their own little walled garden. This limits interaction and sharing of knowledge during the NPD process.
- Self limiting- teams get stuck with what they think they know and are less likely to question their own assumptions and beliefs about what is possible.
- There is no interaction between designers and consumers.
- Complexity- all of this has to be managed over 12 months with multiple teams co-ordinating their efforts at a distance.
Their radical solution was elegant in its simplicity and shocking in its audacity: Bring the designers, the marketers, the consumers and the accountants all together in the same place and at the same time and compress the whole 12 month NPD cycle into one week.
You can read more about Rapid Innovation with Open Space on Jack’s resources page.
Bookmark the page, there are some great resources here for anyone who is involved, not just in idea generation but in the practical management of innovation.