Innovate in 12 Dimensions

When it comes to innovation, I have been guilty of thinking only in one dimension. I have mostly focused only on new features and functionality changes in my products that differentiate it from the competition. I know I am not the only product manager with this limitation.

However, not envisioning a new initiative as a whole new business process may result in failure. A good product may target the wrong buyer in the right segment, a marketing message could hit the wrong audience, a sales force may react negatively to your new solution.

So it is worth mentioning when a tool is available to help product managers think more systematically at an early stage of their innovation process.

Such is the case with the “Innovation Radar” presented in a complete fashion in “Grow from Within”, a book from Robert C. Wolcott and Michael J. Lippiz published in 2009. The Innovation Radar forces you to look at innovation in 12 different ways and encourages product managers to adopt a comprehensive view of their innovation initiative. The book is tackling a more general topic: investigate what makes an intrapreneur successful and the innovation radar is only a chapter of the book. Great read nonetheless.

The goal of this post is not to extensively discuss the model, as I could not do it as well as the authors.  However, in this post, I will provide a brief description of the Innovation Radar and help you imagine how you can apply the model to:

  • Innovate with your existing products
  • Build a comprehensive approach for developing new products
  • Anticipate avenues that your competitors could take

So in order to discuss the Innovation Radar, please look at the illustration above, which is directly taken from the book. There are 4 major dimensions, Offering (What), Customers (Who), Processes (How) and Presence (Where). The other 8 dimensions are distributed between these 4 dimensions based on their type of impact. For example, the customer experience is obviously between “Customers” and “Process.” Let’s go through each dimension, with a short explanation and a few questions you can ask yourself about it:

1 Offerings: Creating unique products or services that are valued by customers. What unique architecture or feature set can we bring to our customers? That’s the dimension most of us focus on.

2 Platforms: Common components which can be developed and reused for multiple markets or customers. What are the common technologies, architectures and modules which can be shared by my customer base to reduce my costs?

3 Solutions: Customized, integrated set of products and services to solve a customer’s specific business problem. Can I package my offering differently in order to simplify, bring more flexibility, or reduce cost  in order to attract different buyers?

4 Customers: Discover new customer categories, different buyer personas, or unmet/unarticulated needs. Could there be unidentified business problems your customers may be facing?Is there an unserved up- or down-market?

5 Customer experience: Everything each actor in the sales cycle and end users see or feel about your product and your company. What collateral would resonate with my audience? Can I simplify the user interface to address a new segment? What type of support do I need for this new audience?

6 Value Capture: The mechanisms a company creates to earn its share of the market. How can we redesign the sales cycle in increase our margins? What pricing model leads to optimal profit margin?

7 Processes: The configuration of business activities to conduct operations. How can I reorganize support to reduce costs? Can I develop a single methodology which can be reused for a specific class of services?

8 Organization: How the company structures itself to respond to the needs of the customer. Will this new concept benefit from an internal, separate organization that can execute faster? Are the proper incentives in place to ensure that each team member delivers on the strategy?

9 Supply Chain: The method to deliver product and services. What could be automated, or configured by the customer to provide faster delivery, cheaper cost or improved flexibility?

10 Presence: Channels employed by the company to bring the offering to the market. Should I replace my “farmers” account managers by “hunters”? How can I integrate my offering into a partner’s larger solution and use that partner as a new channel?

11 Network: How a company or product can connect to the customer to improve the value of the product. Can different types of users in my installed base benefit from my existing products? What interfaces should I build to leverage a partner’s solution and unleash new value for my customer?

12 Brand: Symbols, words or marks used by a company to communicate a promise or an image to the customer. How can the company’s brand be leveraged to reinforce the new concept? Would my audience feel that the innovation falls naturally within the brand, or would it be considered a stretch?

The true value of the tool is that, when used correctly, it forces you to envision many of your innovative product’s implications upfront.

Gather a multidisciplinary team in one room for a brainstorming session and go through a series of questions which you will have carefully prepared in advance for each dimension listed above. Be careful not to lead your audience or you will kill creativity. Together, in a few hours and under your lead, the team can minimize the surprises your innovation will produce and define what’s needed, rather than forcing you to operate later with a set of options limited by your budget and time-to-market imperatives. That could mean the difference between success and failure. And maybe you may even find new ways to innovate in the process.