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Creating a healthy innovation pipeline

Watch Alex Cowan as he discusses the creation of a healthy innovation pipeline.
Let’s talk about how to fill up this pipeline and drive ideas through it in a disciplined, but effective way. We start here in the pipeline with idea generation, and Steve Blank who came up with those four steps we looked at earlier, he has this thing, you’ve got to get outside the building to come up with good ideas and I love that sentiment. The question is where do you go? Are those good ideas under stone? Are they sealed with an ancient glacier in the Arctic? Or maybe they’re in their grandma’s attic? Or kangaroos pouch?
It turns out, there’s some pretty reliable places where you can get these ideas and it’s true that they don’t come from inside the conference room most of the time. Let’s talk about a few of those. My favorite subject interviews. This is where we go out and we talk to customers, users in our area of interest and we ask them non-leading questions. Like our questions to the backyard chicken coop keeper would be things like, what’s it like keeping chickens in your backyard? What do you most like about it? What do you least like about it? What is the hardest thing?
If you could change one thing what might it be, and you can see you kind of want to go from general to specific because you don’t want to lead the subject. There some resources on how to do this in the customer discovery hand book, a resource on a course here. Reverse Hackathons, another great tool. If you don’t know what Hackathon is, it’s a place where people come with the ideas and they work to hack them together, usually over a weekend on something, or even in evening. And a Reverse Hackathon, is where instead you have people that are your customers or users of interest. They come and they talk about their problems to you.
So, for example, the cooped up people might try to organize a reverse hackathon with a local backyard chicken coop meet up. And they would say, hey, tell us about what is it like keeping these chickens and what things would ideally be easier? What’s the hardest thing about it? What made you want to do it in the first place? What might make you want to stop doing it? And they just talked about what it’s like to do those things. And that’s a great way to get ideas. Customer comments. These could be on your site, on a third-party site that’s relevant.
Great place, people talk online now and they talk to each other a lot, so this is a great place to go for authentic stuff that somebody might not say to you in person. Your consulting and support organization. This is a great place to get information about what’s going on with customers. They hear all sorts of things that may not be within your core business but may be extremely relevant.
Open innovation is a kind of blanket term for work with, transparent work between corporation and institutions like universities for example. And things that a company can do for example here is establish what Steve Blank and Evangela Smith’s called innovation outpost, so for an area of interest. For example Salinas California, which is near where I live, is a innovation center for AgTech or agriculture technology. So cooped up, if they’re not in Salinas, maybe they just want to put somebody there to keep an eye on what’s going on, and talk to partners there, and just generally figure out what’s up. There also companies that will run pilots for you with startups. Like Pilot44 and KITE in San Francisco.
They will get a brief from you about a problem you want to see solved. And they’ll go get a bunch of startups to prototype and render ideas for you. So those are examples of Open Innovation. Collaborating with the university is also kind of a long standing classic example. And then finally, you’ve really want to look at Disruption Catalysts. So for example, the advent of online videos was the Disruption Catalysts that disrupt the block buster video, what are the Disruption Catalysts operating in your space? Keep an eye on those, and keep an eye on items that are adjacent to those. When we move from Idea Generation a Concept Testing. This is the 90 to 120 day period, usually.
Often where a dedicated team goes out and their charter is to test an idea. This is a great way to avoid getting the wrong resources, with the wrong idea, at the wrong time.. Where for instance, you have a bunch of developers or sales people on your team, that think they’re supposed to make software or go sell something and you know that this isn’t the right time to go do that. You end up wasting your time. So that is a good amount of time. Just enough time to do something. Not too much time to fiddle around or worry about building a whole company.
One of the things that’s kind of interesting here, is getting the right kind of talent, and so there’s a lot of interest in how corporations move their talent across these horizons H2 to H3 to H1. Sometimes they call them red and blue teams, sometimes that seems to politically charged. So I would just call them the plaid team and the pinstripe team. So the plaid team are generally speaking, people who like to do these innovation projects. The pinstripe team likes to optimize the H1s. Now, you need some interchange of plaid people moving from H3s to H2s to H1s, but some of them really would prefer to stay up there and continue to test new stuff.
Others would prefer to take on and optimize an existing business. Think about what kind of project manager you are, what do you most want to work on. And make sure you’re thinking about that if you’re involved in an innovation program. Where are you now? Where do you want to go? Do you want to stay with your project or do you want to try something new? Most importantly here is to winnow constantly, and get rid of the ideas that aren’t ready to go through disciplined experimentation. Now we move from something that has gone from an H3 to an H2, we have a fledgling business.
What’s important here is just straddling the things that you need to scale up and figure out how to do better with the things that you know are already working. And you need to optimize, that’s an interesting kind of hybrid challenge for a product manager. And finally a few of these will make there all the way to H1, and they’ll become big scalable business or a big business that has scaled. And throws off cash so you can go through a money at the beginning of pipeline again and scrutinize durable corporation. That’s purchasing a lots of money and creating good opportunities for product managers. So those are some ideas about how you keep this pipeline full.
If you feel like you don’t have an amazing idea that you are ready to pitch the management take note that I think, as Eric Ree says, successful innovators have better processes, not better ideas. And I think this is a better process for the corporation and the product manager to reliably innovate.

In this video, Alex talks about how to fill the innovation pipeline and drive ideas through it in a disciplined but effective way. He lists different ways of soliciting ideas, including conducting subject interviews and reverse hackathons. Gathering customer comments is a way for you to go where customers are discussing ideas. What are some resources where you find the customer comments that you may not be able to gather in person?

The Customer Discovery Handbook

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