Innovation Games and Customer-Centric New Product Innovation Processes
Customer-centric innovation refers to the various techniques that companies employ to drive product and service innovations through interactions with customers. The process is similar to directed market research in that you're acquiring data from targeted participants that will be used to drive actionable results, and most of the discussion in the previous session applies directly, including the details of organizing the event, selecting the games, organizing the team, and processing the results.
There are several key differences, however. These include motivation, context, and overarching process. In customer-centric innovation, the primary motivation is new product development. Companies engaging in this form of inquiry are expecting new products and services as the result, or, at the very least, substantial changes and improvements to existing ones. Innovation Games are a great fit because the foundation of innovation is customer understanding.
Another key difference is the underlying context. In the previous section, one of the subtle assumptions was that you were most likely playing the games with existing customers. Thus, the context of the inquiry is grounded in an existing customer relationship. This can be contrasted with customer-centric innovation, which, despite the name, doesn't actually require an existing relationship with customers.
A third key difference is that the market research process previously described is designed to be used to accomplish a variety of goals. For example, I used the market research process with a group of vice presidents of engineering and CIOs and the Product Box game to identify their "ideal" developer as part of the market research I was doing for a keynote at a conference. In the introduction, Andre Gous used Product Box to help identify the ideal car for his daughter. In contrast, customer-centric innovation processes are focused on a single goal: new product development. To help maintain this focus, they often are based on "gated" processes, in which concepts are subjected to a series of well-defined gates and transformations as they progress from idea to product (see Figure 1.25). In gated processes, Innovation Games are most often used during the Ideation phase to generate promising ideas that are then screened among several dimensions. During the ideation phase, the market research process previously described is adapted, as described next.
Figure 1.25. A Gate-Based Customer-Centric Innovation Process
The use of Innovation Games in the Ideation phase tends to favor the selection of games that have higher degrees of open-ended explorations and/or games that enable you to better understand how customers are currently using existing products and services (either yours or your competitors'). To illustrate, you might play Buy a Feature if you had specific questions about features that might be in your next product release. However, if you wanted to explore the idea of creating a new product offering, perhaps based on some core elements of your existing product, you might instead play Prune the Product Tree because this game provides a greater opportunity for open-ended exploration. Games such as The Apprentice, Me and My Shadow, Show and Tell, Spider Web and Product Box are all excellent candidates for creating ideas that feed the ideation process.
The processes associated with the Ideation phase can be further organized as shown in Figure 1.26. Clearly, these resemble the market research process described earlier, but with a few key differences.
Figure 1.26. Ideation Activities in Customer-Centric Innovation
In the market research process, a formalized kickoff meeting was presented as an optional activity. In customer-centric innovation, it is nearly required. A kickoff meeting allows the cross-functional team to review goals, establish necessary operating plans, discuss the use of Innovation Games and other techniques in the context of the larger product development process, and prepare for the possible outcomes of the research. Although kickoff meetings can still exhibit quite a range in formality and ceremony, I believe that they are essential when initiating a program of customer-centric innovation.
Where Are We Now?
This phase of the project allows the team to prepare for innovation by gaining a solid understanding of the current products and services. This is traditional "MBA-type" stuff, ranging from clear descriptions of existing products and services, brand, target markets, marketing strategies, sales processes, pricing, product or service road map, competitive landscape, and so forth. Teams should explore their companies' relationships to its customers from the perspective of the customer. Helpful approaches include using your own web site, ordering products from your own company, reading product information and sales collateral, reading what others say about your product and service, and actually using your own product (a process often referred to as "dog fooding"). In the process, the team should gain an understanding of where they think they're doing well, where they'd like to improve, and how they perceive that a customer-centric innovation process can help them the most.
This phase most closely matches the previously described market research process. It involves selecting the game, identifying participants, and playing the game. Much less emphasis should be put on trying to answer specific questions; instead, the team should be looking for new opportunities.
In this phase you'll follow the same general processing steps described earlier, doing such things as processing observer note cards and preparing an internal report. However, there is no strong requirement to prepare an external report, because there is the chance that your explorations may not have produced any new results or new thinking. Alternatively, your team may have identified a genuinely great idea, one that you may not want to share externally until you've had the chance to properly protect it by following the intellectual property guidelines of your employer, such as submitting an invention disclosure or filing for a patent.
Organizing and Presenting Ideas
The last step in the Ideation stage is organizing and presenting your ideas to the corporate review team during the "Idea Review" gate. During this gate all ideas are reviewed against corporately defined criteria. Those deemed worthy are moved into the next phase of the development process.
Customer-Centric Innovation Summary
Innovation Games are a natural fit in the processes most associated with new product development activities. By providing nonstandard ways to understand the "voice of the customer," they enable new product teams to focus on generating the understanding of customers that leads to truly innovative products and services.