I was recently reminded how difficult FMCG companies make it for themselves to get innovation that works. Ponderous gate processes, team silos and reliance on prescribed research methodologies all work against the very nature of innovation.
Very often innovation processes go something like idea, concept, product, market mix testing. Each stage being a gate that requires a certain “pass mark” before additional resources will be released from the business to explore further. This linear process is counter-intuitive to how great innovation is developed.
Restructuring your process itself to be more creatively intuitive, to be more innovative in fact, is key to
getting better innovation out of your organization.
If you want to get great innovation, you actually have to be innovative.
This may be difficult for large companies, who necessarily rely on structured and formulaic processes for efficiency. The innovation gate processes are important tools for making investment decisions. They are evaluative, and of course, evaluating whether to invest in new innovation is an essential step. But, employed as the innovation process within a business, they hinder the development of ideas and products for consideration. This is because they are linear processes, and successful innovation is anything but linear.
As some companies are starting to understand, innovation requires space from business as usual. That is why you see more progressive businesses setting up innovation labs or separating out innovation development from brand management as they seek to find a process that encourages innovation, rather than hinders it.
In developing a more robust and successful innovation process for your business, consider the following to improve your chance at better NPD outcomes.
Harness the power of Cross-Functional Project Teams
Create a dedicated team focused on a particular opportunity or consumer problem. For better success, populate your team with cross-functional experts from across your business.
Ideas grow from collaboration – and when your collaborators have varied experiences and perspectives, richer ideas and solutions are more likely. In addition, when your team comes from various parts of the business, they are likely to innovate solutions that work for the whole business.
Importantly, cross-functional teams increase ownership and advocacy of the resulting innovation across the business, and gives it the best chance of successfully navigating the commercial and political reality of the organisation.
In the words of design-thinking guru Tom Kelly (The Art of Innovation), innovation starts with an eye. When we see and experience things for ourselves, we start the process of creativity. Ideas require inspiration.
Moving beyond your category in search of this inspiration frees you from the assumptions that hold you back and allows new ideas and thoughts to bloom. From living relevant trends to experiencing related worlds, inspiration is a pivotal part of having good ideas.
See the world through the eyes of your consumer
Observing consumers in their actual environments, listening to the stories they tell, talking to them while they are making their decisions are all exceptional ways to start thinking like a consumer.
Don’t outsource this to your researcher (who makes an excellent team member) or expect to gain this through focus groups (or worse, the debrief of focus groups). To inspire, the consumer's world needs to be experienced, first hand, by all members of the team. This allows you to see consumer & brand problems for yourself, and therein lies the opportunity to develop innovation that meets consumer needs.
Iterate Relentlessly with Dynamic Consumer Feedback
Iterating relentlessly prior to testing ideas/concepts is an incredibly important, and often overlooked part of innovation development. Use consumers creatively through the iteration process to turn ideas into products/services. There are plenty of innovative ways to bring consumers into the mix, and in the mix they should be. But, instead of using focus groups as a go/no go checkpoints on early concepts, utilise regular and dynamic feedback from consumers, interpreted by your team’s considerable expertise, to learn, apply and redevelop proposed ideas/products before you put them through a testing regime.