Create more powerful technology-based innovation

By Natalie Turner, Author of Yes, You Can Innovate

“Move Fast and Break Things” is the famous Facebook motto that speaks to the innovation mindsets that have developed in the technology space. Innovation in technology is often about getting products in front of customers as fast as possible, so that improvements to product-market fit can be made quickly. However, there are still sticking points – one department embraces the Agile Project Management method and mindset, while another follows older, maybe more embedded processes and ways of working. This misalignment can cause the innovation journey to stumble by creating department-based innovation silos. To create a truly deep and integrated innovation culture, you need to take a bird’s-eye view of the whole journey of an idea and help each person in your company understand how they contribute. How can the 6‘I’s® Model of innovation help with this?

What does innovation in tech currently look like?

Innovation is being proactively developed as a core part of many tech companies, mostly in the form of rapid-prototyping cultures. Many tech companies are leading the way at bringing customers in early and co-creating with them (although there are still improvements to be made here). Monzo is a now fairly-established digital challenger bank in the UK that used rapid prototyping and pioneered live-customer testing as part of its go-to-market process. Since Monzo was founded, newer tech companies have followed suit by building this dynamic and transparent approach into the core of their business.

Two powerful methods used in tech industry for creating this type of “fail fast” innovation culture are Design Thinking in the product development space and Agile Project Management in the implementation and delivery space. Design Thinking will help you develop a good idea and Agile will help you deliver that idea in a way that customers will use. Increasingly, the tech industry is embracing these methods and seeing enormous benefits. However, even if you engage both methods, there are still sticking points that cause the innovation process to stumble. Why?

Design Thinking and Agile are in reality both partial answers. The innovation journey requires a diverse range of skillsets, tools, and methodologies. Whilst integral to rapid prototyping, “fail fast” can be a counter-productive philosophy during other phases of the innovation journey. There are also people who are essential to bringing an idea to life who won’t immediately identify with the stereotype of creative novelty that the field of innovation often inspires.

Let’s take a step back and look at the whole of the innovation journey.

Exploring the innovation journey with the 6‘I’s® Model of innovation

Innovating is really a cycle that goes through six stages, and not necessarily in a linear fashion. An idea can start anywhere, but needs to go through each stage, at some point of the journey, to be delivered successfully.

  1. IDENTIFY with the mindset of CURIOSITY to spot opportunities by understanding trends and customer needs.
  2. IGNITE ideas with the mindset of CREATIVITY by creating novel solutions.
  3. INVESTIGATE with the mindset of CRITICAL thinking, by developing propositions, prototyping and testing.
  4. INVEST with the mindset of COURAGE by creating business models and plans for investment.
  5. IMPLEMENT with the mindset of COMMITMENT by bringing an idea to life and creating value.
  6. IMPROVE with the mindset of being CLEVER by optimizing an idea into another area of opportunity.

All 6‘I’s® need to be united around a common PURPOSE. Each person has an innovation style that is high on some ‘I’s and low on others. People high on IGNITE will need a different innovation climate to those who are high on IMPLEMENT. To unleash a deep innovation culture in your organisation, equal weight needs to be given to each type of environment. This helps to create the conditions that can motivate individuals, regardless of their style to contribute to the innovation process.

Design Thinking is actually a method that works well in the IGNITE and especially INVESTIGATE stages of the innovation journey. Agile is a method that works well in the IMPLEMENT and IMPROVE phases. This is why you may see Design Thinking ideation methods hand off to Agile implementation methods. However, they are not the only methodologies or tools out there and they don’t cover all of the 6‘I’s®. Your IDENTIFIERS can provide a great deal of strategic colour to make sure you are solving the right problems, and spotting the right opportunities, and your INVESTORS are masters at resourcing the right ideas from the Design Thinkers in the right way to empower your Agile team.

With this expanded view of innovation, you can become more tool-agnostic, focusing relentlessly on your PURPOSE, and provide room for every kind of skillset. The idea becomes central, not the tool, or methodology. What does the idea need to succeed? With the right people contributing at the right point of the innovation journey where their strengths are best utilised you will have a much smoother and more effective technology innovation process.

Design innovation culture in from the beginning

Change happens project-by-project, so design projects in a way that will contribute to your overall change goals. This change can be related to business goals, for example developing a strategic new product with old processes, or related to process change, for example introducing virtualisation (e.g. testing prototype software code on virtual machines in the cloud to protect your personal computer hardware) into the usual software development process. Or it could be both. One doesn’t negate the other. This can also be achieved with mindsets and cultural change – a whole team will often be sent on shared Agile training to reset the team culture, which they will apply in the next project. In fact, empowering everyone to self-identify as contributors to the innovation process, is the first step in transforming your culture.

One problem with these types of Agile resets, team by team, is that they are often restricted to the technology department. In a similar way, Design Thinking resets are often restricted to design or innovation departments. The rest of the organisation gets on with business as usual in the “old way”, which is often appropriate for their departmental function. This means that technology project managers often look to these other departments to identify what may slow down the critical path to delivering the technology project. That is why it is necessary to take this extra step, right at the beginning, to give everyone a bird’s-eye view of the innovation journey, and identify their preferred contribution to it. With the 6‘I’s® Model, different mindsets, methods and ways of working can be effectively aligned and harnessed towards the overall innovation goal and the PURPOSE of what you are trying to create.

Show everyone where they fit in the innovation journey

How can you tackle this cross-departmental misalignment and uneven cultural change? Use the 6‘I’s® Model as an icebreaker. Profile your team to learn about their preferred innovation style. Don’t just assume that innovation happens in the creative spaces of your organisation, or in the tech team and leave the rest of the organisation on the sidelines. The 6 ‘I’s® can help to create a common framework and language, independent of departmental function, that will empower you to steward an idea into a solution, throughout each stage of the innovation journey, without getting stuck in departmental silos or methodologies. This will help to align your organisation around a common PURPOSE, where each person can engage and contribute their individual strengths regardless of the tools or methodologies you deploy.

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© Natalie Turner 2018. All rights reserved.