Whether you’re a seasoned product manager or an innovation director at a company amid its digital transformation, building confidence and winning buy-in for your proposed directions is critical - but it is perhaps also more challenging than ever.
McKinsey has observed that in a post-crisis world, ninety percent of executives believe they expect Covid-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, with a lasting impact on customer needs.
More than seventy-five percent believed there are significant growth opportunities, but only one out of five have the expertise or resources to pursue this growth.
If you’re pursuing customer-facing digital innovation, you probably already know that you face several momentous challenges. Below are three innovation challenges that may sound familiar to you.
There is a massive shortage of software developers, and this shortage will only get worse. Research indicates that the lack of skilled developers results in cancelled innovation projects and seventy-five percent reduction in productivity.
Many organisations are increasing their outsourcing spend as a way to offset this. However, others are rethinking the need for trained software developers entirely. Designers, product owners, and other team members can leverage low-code and no-code platforms directly to develop software without the need for difficult to source engineering at all. Doing so can make an end-run around the typical sourcing issue while enabling new ways of working.
Say it with me, “design-driven innovation”. Everyone wants it, but how many succeed in actually doing it?
Being design-driven doesn’t simply mean adding someone to the team who can make your app look slick. Instead, this is about taking a highly iterative approach, basing your product decisions on feedback from real users, and running experiments in a real market or usage scenario early and often. Sound expensive and risky? It doesn’t have to be - run smoke tests, set up A/B experiments, or launch limited apps into a market to get real signals.
While it can sound daunting to work in new ways, at some point you need to push back against that old waterfall, top-down requirements process to achieve real leaps in value creation. Additionally, running design-driven experiments is likely much cheaper and faster to execute than you’d expect it to be.
Most organisations are built to scrutinise change and avoid risk, making it difficult to push for innovative leaps based on a pitch and faith alone. However, if you can attain signals from users or customers early, you can get buy-in for significant investment in your next innovation or product development phase. Remember, you don’t need two-year orthogonal studies to move to the next stage of market experimentation, but getting signals from hundreds or thousands of users within just weeks might be within reach.
Naturally, collecting that data means you have to be prepared to kill your darlings and quickly pivot to another value proposition to test. The trick, of course, is to get to that meaningful data early and cheaply.
Ron Ashkenas over at HBR encourages us to Innovate with Urgency, one tip being:
“Engage in small experiments. First, think about change not as a big project but as a series of small experiments — what we might call probes into the future — to quickly learn, through in-the-field experience, what works, what does not, and what it takes to get a result. These tests can be conducted in days or weeks, similar to the way lean startups use prototypes to better understand what customers want and will pay.”
The challenges are mounting... but not insurmountable! Starting small and practical is one key. But another is realising that the cost to get to tangible change is not as massive as it once was - understanding this should help unlock your ability to set up meaningful experiments, and new product development approaches.
The good news is that opportunity is everywhere if you want it.
While some organisations are reducing their innovation spend to focus on stability alone, others are doubling down and can see a long-term advantage by investing in growth and transformation.
Competition is also fierce and sometimes comes from unexpected places - small teams can disrupt entire industries. Platforms like Prodikt were able to roll out a disruptive new business in months - revolutionizing how architects and planners source sustainable building materials.
Customer and user behaviour has changed dramatically, making digital services offerings an existential necessity for many businesses. Whether it’s remote learning for education or hybrid workplaces, new behaviours in media consumption, or simply what recreation and looks like today - change has occurred rapidly over the last 24 months, as has our expectations on the digital services and apps we use.
Other interesting reading:
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