According to Smithsonian Magazine, a woman was driving through Tobermory, Ontario in Spring 2017. It was unfamiliar territory, so she was following her GPS. In fact, she was so intent on following it, she didn’t notice she was headed straight for Georgian Bay. She drove down a boat launch and into the water. Happily, she managed to climb out of the vehicle and swim to shore, but her car was a total loss.
There are many examples of accidents like this. We’ve stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are so intent on following directions. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to live without guideposts and directions to focus our travels, either. Allowing our tools to run us instead of the other way around can be disastrous, but without them we’d all be wandering aimlessly. Too often, product teams live at the ends of this spectrum, and the results can be equally risky and aimless.
Creating a Balance to Innovate
On one end of the spectrum is business-as-usual product roadmapping. Backlogs are full of user requests for small tweaks and baby-step improvements. In other words, customers saying “build me this.” Product teams respond, even when this constant tweaking results in over-featured – but still obsolete – market offerings. These products don’t fail, they just don’t deliver increasing success. But there’s more trouble at the other end of the spectrum – when product teams try to innovate.
Most products teams approach innovation from the exact opposite perspective of the woman in Ontario. No plan, no focus – no intent. They make up a product, launch it with guesswork messaging, and hope for the best. After all, you can’t go looking for innovation.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed exactly how you can innovate on purpose. How you can focus to find new opportunities to delight and disrupt the market while remaining true to who you want to be.
In my last post, I introduced the concept of Objects. Objects are the targets of your learning; you may want to innovate for real-estate lawyers, small businesses in East Texas or mothers of children under age 10. If so, that’s where your market research efforts should be focused. Now, we’ll expand from Objects to Attributes and Sources and create an inventory of each to enable market-driven innovation. This groundwork will lay the foundation for building an Innovation Map.
Attributes and Sources: How Do they Fit in With Objects?
Knowing who or what you want to learn about is the first step: identifying the Objects. Now it’s time to create an inventory of things you want to learn about the Objects in your scope, and where to find that information. To do that, we’ll attach Attributes to Objects, and Sources to Attributes.
Attributes are what you want to learn about an Object. For example, if your market is law firms, you might want to know growth rate, key challenges, infrastructure, and priorities. Attributes for each Object may be different depending on what your business is - how you serve or want to serve that Object. As a general rule, you’ll usually have more Attributes to investigate if you’re looking for Disruptive Innovation versus Reactive or Responsive Innovation.
Sources are authorities from which you gather information about an Attribute. A Source can also be an Object - you may interview a managing partner in a law firm about how they record and store depositions - or it could be a reliable 3rd party source such as an industry blog, analyst report or regulations imposed by a government agency.
To innovate on purpose, create an inventory of Objects, Attributes and Sources – a list of places to get the information you need to innovate for the markets and personas you want to serve. The simple step of creating this inventory focuses your thinking and allows you to prioritize scarce resources to gather knowledge you can use, even when you’re not completely sure what you’re looking for.
Here's an example: let’s say you build case-management software for law firms, and you want to continue innovating for that market. Your inventory of Objects, Attributes and Sources might look something like this:
Of course, this is a very basic inventory; you may have multiple lists from the perspective of a product, a persona or, as shown here, a market as the Object. The number of Objects and Attributes you should investigate, and the Sources you should include, will depend on several factors including the phase of the Innovation Spectrum you’re trying to achieve. As a general rule, the more disruptive the innovation you seek, the broader your research - and extensive your inventory – will be.
Converting Your Inventory into a Compelling Visual
A spreadsheet capturing this inventory will help you move forward, but how will you capture the imagination of your cross-functional teams? How will you create a compelling image of what needs to be done to get alignment with – and funding from - leadership?
It’s time to create an Innovation Map...
About the Author
Diane Pierson is the Founder and Chief Market Strategist at Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy helping organizations achieve market-driven success through planning, executing and communicating effective product innovation. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org.