Innovation Managers: Are You Growing The Company This Year?

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Innovation Managers: Are You Growing The Company This Year?

"Your job isn't to be creative. Your job is to ship."

Seth Godin

Many people look at R&D departments and innovation departments as the creative departments.

But the company is paying you for one thing only: to make more money.

The reality is that most of your colleagues do not care how you do it. They want something new that sells. Many times I had colleagues coming to me asking for a new product. Their requirement? "Give me something new that I can sell".

The route to ship

As innovation manager, your innovations should benefit three groups.

  • They benefit the company by generating more revenue and/or more profit
  • They benefit the customer by helping them solve a problem at acceptable cost
  • They benefit society by driving sustainability.

The first two belong to the category ‘buy two, get one for free’. When your customers  benefit more, you will generate more sales: the company benefits because the customers benefit. The only assumption here is that the acceptable cost for your customer is driving sales and increasing the profit. That is something to continuously check in development.

The third advantage - benefit society - is a growing necessity. In past days, it was enough that companies were benefitting society with economic growth and the availability of jobs for many. Nowadays with rising environmental awareness, and threats like climate change, this is not enough. Governments, regulators, and the public expect more responsible behavior of companies. This is especially true for their attitude towards our environment and our planet.

You are in luck again. The very act of innovating gives you a golden opportunity for driving sustainability. All you have to do is to design for increased sustainability from the very beginning of your development. This will give you a win-win-win situation. Customers benefit because that is what the innovation is designed to do. The company benefits because of good sales and increasing profits. Society benefits because sustainability is improved with strong sales as you created it so.

Always building in sustainability advantages from the very beginning in your innovations, is called design for the environment. This enables you to benefit society with your innovations, always.

KEY TAKEAWAY: in innovation, the route to shipping is by helping customers better. By paying attention to cost and profit, and by utilizing design for environment technique, you benefit the company and society respectively.

The urgency to ship

There is no doubt there is a pressing need to ship. This urgency today arises from:

  • The effect of the pandemic: companies are hard hit.
    But each crisis presents opportunity, and it is no different now. There is opportunity for innovation, now and postcrisis. Capitalize on the opportunities quickly and ship innovation(s) for postcrisis prosperity.  
  • The effect of competition: standing still today is detrimental for tomorrow.
    The effect of the pandemic is lasting. Even when we return to normal, society will have changed. With change comes opportunity, with opportunity comes increasing competition. Competition from areas you did not expect it from. Be prepared for increased competition. Ship innovation with urgency to pre-empt them.
  • The effect of shifting customer expectations.
    It has always been true that what is surprising today becomes expected tomorrow. Your products will mature and become obsolete. Now that the world is in turmoil, change will come faster. Product cycles might become shorter, and your products might become obsolete swifter than you think. Ship innovation with urgency and stay ahead of your product cycle.
  • The effect of internal expectations.
    As an innovation manager, your success and reputation depends on the success of the innovations you bring to market. Today often innovation effort is minimized, and short-term action prioritized. This is the exact opposite of what should happen, considering the amount of change and opportunity materializing. Ship innovation with urgency, and strengthen your company’s and your own reputation.

KEY TAKEAWAY: act with urgency, especially in times of huge change like now. Make innovation the forerunner of postcrisis growth.

The how-to ship

The key to fast new product development and innovation is focus and structure.

Focus on the needs of the customer, of the company and of society.

Really get to know the customer you are developing and innovating for.

Really understand what your company needs from your innovations, financially or otherwise.

Really drive for a better sustainability profile with design for the environment.

Focus, and do the best work possible on those three needs.  

Structure your development and commercialization process for speed and transparency.

Innovation without structure has virtually no chance of succeeding. Structure is vital for success.

A structure that is optimized for speed does only what needs to be done, minimizes time not spent on development and commercialization, and avoids rework.

Doing only what needs to be done is challenging. I recommend to think with every step and every task if you really need to do this. Try to cut waste tasks as much as possible. If your target market is A, skip customer research in target market B. If you have 10 ideas, work on the best one or two, not all 10.

Time outside development is taking by update meetings, waiting for a decision from somebody, and not having a crucial person available. This is not easy to avoid, but the following might help. Agree on a communication schedule that does not interfere with development time. Agree metrics with a range upfront so you only need decisions when your metrics really are outside of the agreed range. And last but not least, practice active risk management and risk mitigation, to make the unexpected expected.

The best recipe to avoid rework is to fail fast and early, and to start with the end in mind.
Fail fast, learn fast is a method to strengthen your idea with customer input very early on. You will not be surprised by unforeseen customer expectations late in the process, preventing expensive rework.
To start with the end in mind means to incorporate manufacturing and service requirements into your early designs. These requirements might set limitations to your design that you want to factor in. You do not want to develop a product only to find out that you can not make it in large quantities.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The key to fast new product development and innovation is focus and structure. Focus on the needs of the customer, of the company and of society. Structure for speed by doing only necessary tasks, minimizing time not spent on development, and avoiding rework.

Innovation managers, you can grow the company this year with great new products and innovations!

Need focus and structure today?

I developed the FAST . TRANSPARENT . LEAN new product development process. The FTL method has the focus and structure you need for fast product development and commercialization. It is pandemic proof. It FORCES you to take action, and DEVELOP a new product. Interested? Join.

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About the Author

I am Robert Uhlhorn, an experienced and engaged innovator. I have been living new product development in large corporations for over 25 years. From this, I went on to develop the FTL method: the fast, transparent, and lean way of growing your business with innovative products. I love to travel and to spend quality time with my family.

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