The three essentials of rapid business innovation

Man in black jumper sat at a desk

Written by William Owen, Founder and Director of Made by Many

Momentum is key to successful business innovation. We’re finding today just how quickly businesses need to adjust to new situations – and not just because of Covid 19. Only those agile enough to adapt can keep pace with changes in customer demand, technology potential, and market context.

Innovating at speed is a novelty in many corporations. Old school business processes are big on planning, and short on doing. They’re too linear to address complex and changing variables. They don’t employ the right breadth of expertise – often taking a technology-first approach – or they lack the authority necessary to cut across departmental silos. Often, the response is to give up as ‘too hard to do’, and to relegate innovation to a ‘Lab’.

But there is a different way — what I call, ‘Rapid Business Innovation’.

The goal is to recreate a business, but with digital at the core, driven by customer centricity and data analytics. Not for its own sake, but to enable adaptation to new situations, and to create and capture value quickly. Early success enables strategy to be crystallised, and new opportunities unlocked across a client’s business.

In a big corporate setting, it is possible to deliver innovation quickly and successfully. It takes a blend of methodologies — Lean Start-Up, Agile software development, Design Thinking and Systems Thinking.

The process involves multiple stages of rapid making, testing and learning. Unpacking the problem into short stages enables exploration of multiple aspects of product fit, with confidence and at speed.

How does it work? Rapid Business Innovation has three essential features.


1. Take a system-wide outlook

See the business as a system, and look for any available lever to drive new value: customer need, operational efficiency, technical or commercial innovation. The idea is to understand inter-dependencies and leverage and unlock hot-spots of latent value along and across the value chain.

This agnostic, holistic approach seeks out the right balance between the desirability, business viability and technical or operational feasibility of an idea. It’s a framework for both identifying opportunities that meet specific business objectives and prioritising them according to their potential to create the desired impact within a realistic timeframe.


2. Employ expert interdisciplinary teams

Speed and focus derive from using genuinely empowered, expert, interdisciplinary teams to identify and exploit those opportunities that can be built. Design without engineering expertise is blind to both opportunities and constraints; commercial sense without design and technical capability can analyse but not create or make.

A highly skilled team with a breadth of expertise across technology, design and business strategy can work together in creative tension to gather insights, validate ideas and prove concepts – making almost at the speed of thought. The team should have a direct line to leadership and work within the business in close collaboration and constant communication, with pre-set decision points to enable momentum to be maintained.


3. Iterative adaptive process

This is an evidence-based and iterative practice. At the start of an engagement we gather insights directly from customers, employees and managers to make an early informed assessment of digital strategy, then prototype and test to understand performance in the real world, adjusting and evolving the strategy accordingly. Making creates a bias for action; action generates evidence; evidence builds momentum and trust.

The Lean digital mindset is focused on creating early value, establishing product fit, then scale; it’s tested through co-creation with customers and rapid prototyping of propositions, interactions, technology and operations.

The idea is to go to market early, and to use your businesses’ assets – be that customer relationships, data, operational systems or ready capital – to provide scale.

Early success enables strategy to be crystallised and new opportunities unlocked across a client’s business. As the strategy is executed a portfolio of investment opportunities emerges around a coherent set of complementary product and infrastructure programs.

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