Try this recipe for successful rapid innovation

By: Zach Hendershot Monday November 18, 2013 Tags: CauseLabs, innovation, prototyping, Zach Hendershot

A dash of "right team," a pinch of "external touchpoints"

By Zach Hendershot

Director of Innovation, CauseLabs

Zach Hendershot blog
My teammate, T.J. Cook, wrote recently about the power of time and budget constraints to drive innovation and impact. I want to explore further a few key ingredients to a successful rapid-solutions innovation process.

Like any good cook, you can adjust these ingredients to suit your organization and goals. As long as you are persistent in applying these techniques -- and you respond to feedback throughout the process -- you'll be on your way to real, measurable and impactful innovation.

Ingredient 1: The right team

Innovation does not exist without the right team. To be effective, keep the innovation team small and focused. Restricting the total number of innovation workshop participants to a manageable number allows that team to focus on strengths and not get overwhelmed in the logistics of communication and social hierarchy. Six participants is a great baseline number to invite. Allow yourself some flexibility here, but if you can target three individuals to build and iterate, and three individuals to champion and serve as stakeholders, you'll have a healthy mix of perspectives on the problem and solution. Choose individuals who don't have a large amount of overlap in knowledge or expertise.

In one recent workshop, we paired the project owner and people who would use the technology with a user experience designer and a software engineer. The variety of perspectives and ideas from these individuals builds consensus and drives action. Also, make sure these individuals are empowered to implement the innovations. They should be decision makers who will own the ideas and serve as internal catalysts pushing for action in the organization.

Ingredient 2: External touchpoints

External touchpoints are critical to decision-making during the rapid innovation process. What are external touchpoints? They are people who have industry knowledge or organizational knowledge. Involve them in the innovation process for short sessions of 30 minutes or less.

We've found great success bringing these individuals into the conversation because they are generally able to grasp the concept and provide quick feedback on an idea's feasibility and desirability. Use these individuals to focus the innovation team on synthesizing the thoughts and ideas gathered thus far. These external touchpoint sessions are also a great opportunity to raise new issues and expand the influence of the ideas.

Ingredient 3: Build to plan

When it comes to technology, building is the new planning. Often, there are an uncomfortable number of variables unresolved in any planning process. An innovation team will ask itself how those variables fit together, how the technology will interface with other systems, and the list goes on. Building something gives you something to test, so we build prototypes, and we build them quickly.

The faster you visualize and experience ideas, the better the ideas that emerge. Trying to plan around theoretical experiences, ideas and assumptions leads you down a path of confusion and doubt. Every organization and product has to operate in a unique and new set of circumstances, extract the critical user interactions or interconnection pieces, and build some version of it. Build enough of it to experience how it will work in real life. There are thousands of rapid prototyping tools out there. You should get comfortable with them. They include, Easel, Invision, and others. Don't be afraid to just get it out there and share it with the team, even if it is just a diagram.

Ingredient 4: A militant time keeper

Time is a precious commodity when your innovation team comes together. Treat that time like a scarce resource. Set strict time constraints to force decision-making. Use a stopwatch or a clock to make clear how much time participants have to decide on a particular idea to prototype. But please keep the time you have together contiguous so the team can focus -- distraction free -- on ideas and brainstorming. In our experience, one eight-hour session is immeasurably more valuable than eight one-hour sessions.

These are just a few ingredients that go into a successful innovation recipe. Try adding them to your own internal ideation and innovation session. Adjust them to fit your culture and team. But most importantly, be the master chef with an innovation process that brings your organization's most impactful ideas to the table.
Zach Hendershot

About the Author: Zach Hendershot

Zach Hendershot is director of innovation for <a href="">CauseLabs</a>, a Denver-based expert in rapid problem-solving workshops and emerging technologies exclusively for great causes. Reach him at <a href="mailto:[email protected]?Subject=InnovatioNews">[email protected]</a>

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