Having hard deadlines and systems in place may help your business innovate more efficiently—and, in the long run, more successfully.
Many big companies avoid rushing new product builds. Teams throw money, time and effort at a project, hoping that solutions materialize after, say, 18 months of work.
But 18 months is a long time. And, often, the world has moved on by the time the product is ready for launch. This is why deadlines are so important to push innovation.
The First 100 Days
Whenever my team starts work on a new project, we aim for a minimum viable product within 100 days. Every product should be about solving a problem, and that short timescale forces us to limit the components we’re testing and ensure we don’t overwhelm ourselves by tackling too many problems at once.
Keeping things simple allows us to think laterally, too. For example, we were once tasked with creating a product designed to help manage apartment blocks. We envisioned an iPad installed in the hallway that would allow residents to contact handymen and report maintenance problems, and we went out to get meetings with building boards to show them our prototype.
But that proved harder than expected, and we struggled to demonstrate our product’s value. Then, one day, one of our team members said, “Why don’t we focus on offices instead? If someone came to us tomorrow and pitched this to us, we’d buy in an instant!”
It was a great idea, and if we’d been too wrapped up in the success of our initial pitch, then we never would have hit upon the alternative. But our 100-day deadline forced us to keep things simple and allowed us to read the signposts along the way. The initial idea didn’t have momentum; the new one did. And that momentum gave us a sense we were making progress.
Steps Toward Innovation
When companies look for exponential innovation and areas with huge growth potential, very few things force them to take action immediately. They might invest in innovation tomorrow, or they might wait a month.
But innovation gets stymied without urgency, and people lose sight of the possibilities. I did a podcast recently with Edward Roussel, the chief innovation officer at Dow Jones, and he said the first thing his CEO told him to do was to stop thinking and start doing. With that in mind, here are four steps to help guide your innovation forward:
1. Think systems, not ideas. Innovation isn’t just about good ideas; it’s about implementing new systems. What is your creative process? How can you make ideas happen? Adopting this mentality creates intermediary deadlines and builds an innovation schedule. Ideas can fail, but implementing rigorous systems can help you move forward.
2. Test your thesis. Next, you need to know whether your concept has legs. Start with desk research, and ask yourself what you can test. That might mean going out and trying to get people to swipe their credit cards, buying banner ads or even just talking to current clients. This research can establish your product’s viability.
3. Start incubating. Try putting a time limit on your build phase, and agree how much time and money you will spend. We like our 100-day model, but different industries have different requirements, and you should know your own needs. Once you have built and tested your product, spend the next year working to turn it into a business.
4. Evaluate your success. Don’t be afraid to close your project down. Evaluation should occur at every step of your journey, and you should be thinking about whether a project will spin back into the organization, develop into a separate entity, or fall by the wayside.
Our default position is to allocate time and money to a project, and if it runs out of one or the other, then we shut it down. Some projects might need a little extra, but this should not be the default. Don’t get caught up in proving your thesis to the detriment of your company.
Adopting a structured system of innovation with well-defined timescales can give your business the best chance at success. And if you keep several projects running at once, there’s no need to worry if one doesn’t work; there are plenty more irons in the fire.
Author: Henrik Werdelin
Founding Partner, Prehype