Magic Happens Here! Innovation Frameworks and Engaging the Marketplace

magicInnovation has many schools of practice from Blue Ocean, to IDEO to Design Thinking, what is often confused is where and how that fits in a business’s product development framework. Lean frameworks, Stage-Gate processes both build great new products, more so the effective structures focus on building some sort of MVP (Minimal Value Products), Testing, Experimentation then engaging market or prospects early and often.

I am a compulsive student of Innovation and business concepts, repeatedly attending any class I can and often teaching at any opportunity. The best students always ask for more detail in two areas, detailing the solution concept to customers. The challenge is to what detail you build an MVP. The answer is dependent on the prospect and solution,  the last answer you want to hear is “It depends”.

Entanglement is one of the strangest phenomena predicted by quantum mechanics, the theory that underlies most of modern physics. It says that two particles can be so inextricably connected that the state of one particle can instantly influence the state of the other, no matter how far apart they are. This is the state you want to move toward when engaging a prospect with your solution. Are they engaged after you walk away or go weeks without contact?

The bigger gray area is finding the solution, “Magic Happens Here” space. This is where Innovation practices come in as well, practice. No clear answers just practice, practice, practice! The path to all great things is not a lightning bolt, it is 10,000 hours as the saying goes.

Product management is an educated art, art as in a set of skills that come from practice, training and experience but educated in the fundamentals of the craft. Often I think of the basic concept of the dummy curve. The first place I heard of it was in sales teams. When you bring on a sales executive they have an initial period of great success followed by a downturn in productivity as they learn more about the product and market. This downward curve changes at some point if success is to happen when the new knowledge becomes art through experience. Now the sales executive sells again by the seat of their soul, their skills and includes the product knowledge in a free flow of conversation and desire to truly help the customer.

The dummy curve plays out in all aspects of life from personal relationships that mature to product management and guiding innovation coming from the enterprise. We are schooled in technique, learn through trial and error then move back to instinct with new knowledge. “Magic” is not pixie dust but the result of a number of great events, organized and managed through its life-cycle.

For a long time I was uncomfortable with the term life-cycle for a product but now that I frame it in a more organic manner it comes to life for me. As we innovate we go from organic idea collection through structured evaluations often ending back with a refined version of your gut and should that no longer resonate in your gut there will be a problem.

This evolved perspective of the models, frameworks, processes allow innovation and process to coexist with the core elements of a stage-gate process.  The Stage-Gate provides the highest view of a phase of work, each gate a part of the map. Nanotechnology and crowd driven activity are built on a simple idea of starting at the bottom where there is always room for small efforts to be evaluated. Small particles of work and contact with the market should happen repeatedly within a phase or gate. Each cycle or sprint reviewed by stakeholders internally.

Larger companies require steel frameworks to build new levels as much as they need a strong foundation. This balanced approach is the core of my ideas on a dynamic stage-gate process that defines each floor for its value in the larger picture but inserts the stairs necessary to get there. Each stair is a micro step that is defined by the last step and strength of the proposal. At times we can bound up the stairs and other times call for a more careful one step at a time approach.

Build from the bottom taking micro steps and count the larger states that demonstrate progress validating the viability of the new products in the market.