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Make the case for innovation #1: Advantages of iterative design.

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We often get asked by client-partners and others within the innovation community to help make the case for innovation—within organizations large and small, for profit and non-profit, government and healthcare, and everything in between. 

The question is this: How can you set up innovation initiatives to ensure they succeed internally and go on to create value out in the world?

In this series, The Moment’s Innovation Designers share practical insights and examples from real business cases. We’ll also shed light on what arguments you can use to support key recommendations in setting up innovation projects at your organization. 

Have an innovation challenge you’d like to see answered? We’ve probably helped a client with a similar issue. Email us with your question and we might feature it in our next innovation at play series article.

 

MAKE THE CASE FOR INNOVATION #1:

An iterative process changes everything!

Launching a new innovation project—whether it’s a small business or an initiative within a large organization—has always been a hit-or-miss attempt. According to the traditional approach, you write a business case, pitch it to directors and/or sponsors, rally the team, layout a waterfall plan, and start executing as fiercely as you can. And at some point in the flow of events, you’ll probably hit a major stumbling block. 

It doesn’t have to be the case.

Using a design mindset, one can make the process more nimble and less risky. An iterative methodology leverages the design process, favouring multiple and agile iterations over elaborate and rigid planning, customer insights over internal business biases, and rapid prototyping over big upfront investments in development.

Using a design mindset, one can make the process more nimble and less risky.

Iteration allows you to make small bets, change rapidly according to input and feedback gathered throughout the process, and ultimately improve outcomes.

Still, many organizations rely on a traditional waterfall process. So how do you convince  your boss, your team, or even your entire organization that there’s a better way? 

So we asked two of our Innovation Designers, Julie Sommerfreund and Simon Mhanna:

 

Q: What are the advantages of an iterative design-driven approach when setting up an innovation project?
How is this different from a traditional waterfall process?

 

Risk mitigation. The iterative design process lets you mitigate risks earlier than a sequential process where the final integration is generally the only time that risks are discovered. As you test the early iterations identified, risks can be validated or refuted and unsuspected risks will be discovered and addressed before it’s too late.

For example, a global CPG company we work with has seen the writing on the wall, and through innovation work and the seizing of opportunities that might have seemed crazy at one point, are diversifying their offering to be able to play in a new world—one where customer values have changed, and people’s demands for more environmental solutions have become hugely important. This was only possible when they sensed into the market, placed small bets, and tested assumptions early and often.

Early failures are embraced as learning. If a project or aspects of it must fail for some reason, it is more efficient and productive to let them fail as early as possible, before a lot of time, effort, and money are expended. The nimble iterative approach enables frequent testing and trials to build confidence and gather learnings as you go.

Learning happens along the way. As you move through an adaptive process, your team is continually seeking feedback and looking to improve the next version.  You and your team will learn along the way, building innovation skills and identifying the necessary organization and team capabilities required to support the work. Learning enhances how you apply the skills, and in applying the skills, you’ll learn new things. The two work in concert.

Enabling collaboration. In a non-iterative process, teams handover work after the completion of each phase, which requires you to make plan after plan. With a design-driven iterative process, you collaborate early and often with different teams, roles, and stakeholders because the process requires early integration of all project components.

This type of engagement all but guarantees cross-functional learning, a more efficient process, and better outcomes for your innovation work.

Multiple solutions are generated and tested. The iterative approach allows you to be generative, creating not one pre-determined product, but multiple solutions. With a few options on the table, you can engage customers and stakeholders to imagine solutions and create low fidelity prototypes, actually testing them with the right people.

When you expand the solutions space, you increase the confidence in the selected solution and improve its potential to succeed out in the world.

Better quality outcomes. The product that results from an iterative process will be of better overall quality than that of a conventional waterfall process. The design has been tested several times and the stakeholders’ and customers’ input has been gathered and integrated. The solutions have been refined multiple times and the overall team experience of delivering the product or service has been improved throughout the course of the project.

Success is measured at every step . As the project plan and outcomes are divided into manageable chunks, success criteria is set for each phase and outcomes are assessed accordingly. This enables you and your team to easily make changes, mitigate risk, and adjust (or pivot!) as needed.

Changing the way you approach innovation work can be the difference between simply having great ideas, to seeing them come to fruition. 

Embracing desirability early. The innovation design process enables organizations to identify customer needs before spending resources (time and money) on building solutions that might not meet customer needs.

For example, when working with St. Joseph’s Health Centre, the leadership team thought a call centre would help reduce hospital readmission rates. Through an iterative design innovation approach, we were able to determine that, in fact, a low-cost paper booklet did the trick instead. Proactively, the solution helped patients write down information and prompted questions when doctors were in the room so patients gained confidence in their post-hospital at-home care. This pivot saved the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars, avoiding setting up and staffing a costly call centre to field questions from patients at home.

How much could you save your organization by switching the way you approach projects?

 

What does it all mean?

If you’re trying to make change in your team or in your organization, it’s often tempting to go along with the status quo. We can tell you, from experience, that changing the way you approach projects and innovation work can make all the difference. In fact, it can be the difference between simply having great ideas, to seeing those ideas come to fruition. 

Let us know: How are you embracing the iterative design process? What successes or failures have you seen along the way? How is your organization embracing (or not) this process?

You can also learn more about iterative design and how to actually set up your innovation team for success with our how-to Guide. It will walk you through everything from project team set up, to innovation frameworks, to scoping an agile design process, ensuring your team—and your innovation ideas—have the best chance at succeeding.

 

Set Up Your Team For Innovation Success