I would assume that everyone is in agreement that 2020 was a very strange year. The societal, political, and economic fallout will, unfortunately, dog us for many, many years to come. Saying, “I told you so,” won’t help and won’t change circumstances going forward. But, looking back and evaluating where we are is a crucial learning exercise.
Check out the short (2 minute) summary of the 20 Tips and then keep reading! https://youtu.be/Fh7ZnVAyrV0
At Global NP Solutions, we started the year with a vision for 2020 (get it?). In January, a group of ambitious innovation professionals took part in the “20 Days of Innovation”. Each day, for 20 days, we looked at a quick tip for innovation and implemented an action associated with it. This led to my popular e-book, 20 Tips for Innovation in 2020. You can get your Kindle copy of 20 Tips for Innovation in 2020 here.
Now, as we are closing out the year of 2020, it’s time to review progress within our innovation programs. Let’s take a look at each of the 20 tips and measure improvement for new product development (NPD) over the past 12 months.
Tip #1: Ensure Your Innovation Strategy is Aligned
Everything, and I mean everything, about innovation starts with strategy. Looking back to the NPD projects that were started this year, can you identify a specific strategic goal that each addresses? Likewise, can you verify that you killed projects with no strategic alignment? (Note this is different than holding projects due to lack of cash or investment opportunities.)
Tip #2: Define your Innovation Strategy
If you cannot say that you clearly defined your innovation strategy in 2020, you will not be able to assess progress on any of the remaining areas. An innovation strategy identifies the technologies and markets attractive to the firm for future growth. Even if your strategy took a pivot or swivel in 2020, can you succinctly state your goals for product development? Do all of your team members understand the strategy, and do they incorporate it into their daily tasks?
Tip #3: Assess Your Competition
The year 2020 has introduced a lot of new business models through fear and government control. A lot more business is now conducted online and at home. Your competitors may have changed. If you have not already done so, make a list of your top three direct competitors and of your top three indirect competitors. Have these companies changed since the start of the year? How are you responding to these changes?
Tip #4: Meeting Organizational Goals
Many of our personal, professional, and organizational goals have changed this year. I cannot tell you how many friends and colleagues have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or suffered significant losses in pay or revenue. Product Portfolio Management (PPM) is the tool we use in innovation to balance active projects against strategic goals. We use PPM to optimize investment and resources. Is your portfolio up to date? Does it reflect current conditions? If not, join me for 100 Days to Effective PPM (register here). In just 100 days, you can tune up your innovation portfolio and begin delivering new products quicker and that delight your customers!
read more for LinkedIn
Tip #5: Communicating Strategy
Being a leader in organizations today is tough. It is not pleasant work to deliver the bad news of a shrinking economy or a decline in outlook for future growth. Yet, innovation leaders must be honest and vulnerable in communicating within and among their teams. Are you regularly sharing strategy and shifts in goals with your team members? Do you provide a forum for open questions, even if you don’t know the answers?
Tip #6: Customers and Competitors
At the beginning of 2020, our cohort of innovation leaders wrote short paragraphs describing their customers. As you review sales for the year (lousy or not), were your customers who you thought they were? Did they purchase your product, or did they buy from a competitor? If they did not buy at all because of the strange circumstances of 2020, do you think they will buy again? From you or from someone else?
Tip #7: Who Are Your Customers?
Building on Tip #6, you should revisit your primary customer segments. Compare your list from January with the actual buyers – demographics, income, geography, how they research and purchase products, and why they need the product. Are you now serving a different market or are your customers the same as a year ago?
Tip #8: Customer Understanding
Prior to government lockdowns, we always recommended being with your customers to observe and interview them. The big challenge from forced social division is how to interact with new and potential customers to learn their needs. What methods or tools have you developed over the last several months to prevent lack of customer understanding? What is your primary tool to get feedback? Is it working?
Tip #9: The Product Development Process
During turmoil or times of chaos, it is sometimes best to stay with the familiar to provide stability and sometimes better to adjust to the changes. If you went into 2020 with a staged-and-gated NPD process or with an Agile process (like Scrum), evaluate the success of your process. Do post-launch reviews on every project completed to ensure you know what works within your chosen NPD system. Consider a WAGILE process the blends the discipline and risk assessment of staged-and-gated system with the iterative learning cycles of Agile. Joined the St. Louis PDMA chapter on 8 December 2020 for a quick webinar on WAGILE or register here for the in-depth virtual course on 18 and 19 February 2021.
Portfolio Process & Decision-Making
Tip #11: Decision-Making
While 2020 was an emotional rollercoaster and has tested our faith in previously reliable institutions, we cannot and should not make decisions based on emotion. I have read that people are selling their houses in cities to move to the country, buying RVs for travel, and pulling their kids from community sports. These are huge decisions based on short-term fear. Good decisions rely on a stringent process and require a full set of data. Have your decisions involved accurate data and were they objective? Did your NPD decisions in 2020 turn out to grow or stabilize revenue? How can you improve decision-making going forward?
Tip #12: Product Portfolio Management (PPM)
We already mentioned PPM in Tip #4 as a way to frame innovation decisions within the strategic goals of an organization. Were all of your innovation projects reviewed and evaluated within a PPM process? Did you consistently define value, risk, and resourcing for each project? Does your definition of value align with what your new or existing customers define as a benefit? Register here for the 100 Days to Effective PPM implementation course.
Tip #13: Valuation in PPM
Valuation is often in terms of money, yet in innovation we also think about valuation in terms of market share and market growth. Because 2020 put pressure on nearly every business sector, cash flow for and from projects is more important than ever. Verify that your valuations not only examine customer benefit and resource allocation (see next tip) but did not / do not put a strain on cash flow. Can you cut back anywhere to save cash but still meet market demand? Maybe you could launch an MVP (minimal viable product) instead of a full-blown complete project with all the bells and whistles?
Tip #14: Resourcing for Portfolio Management
Again, many companies have been forced to reduce their workforce to survive this year. Government agencies do not seem to be as impacted, however. So, if your organization has cut staff to preserve cash flow, how have you managed the projects in your innovation portfolio? Is it okay to reduce staff and keep the same number of projects? Are you delaying launch dates? Do you have the skill sets needed to rebuild departments focused on innovation when the economy recovers?
Tip #15: NPD Process Framework
In Tip #9, we already discussed the benefits of a WAGILE process. Take a hard look at your NPD processes, procedures, and templates. Working with leaner resources, is it better for your teams to work across functional lines or do you need to double-down on depth of skills to serve your remaining customers? In some cases, you may want to use serial team development to ensure technologies are designed to meet needs in this complex market. (Read more about serial development teams in Chapter 3 of The Innovation ANSWER Book.)
Teams and Leadership
Tip #16: Cohesive Teams for Innovation
Innovation teams work with technical risks, tight schedules, and limited budgets. This year, the Trump administration demonstrated that innovation happens even under the worst circumstances with Operation Warp Speed delivering a vaccine for Covid in an extremely short time period. What’s most important to succeed with innovation under any set of circumstances is to empower cohesive and collaborative teams. Do the team members understand and work toward a single, common purpose? Are project goals clearly defined in the project charter? Do you have the necessary skills to complete the project?
Tip #17: Team Formation for Successful Innovation
Building a cohesive team requires understanding the work styles of each team member. I discussed the Team Dimensions work style this year in a podcast interview and at several different conferences. Your team will build cohesiveness when they trust one another, engage in healthy debate, and commit to common goals. As an innovation leader contact me at info@GlobalNPSolutions.com to take a complimentary team dimensions work style assessment and see how it will help encourage better communication within your NPD teams. You’ll receive a free half-hour coaching session to learn how to apply this important tool for your teams (one complimentary assessment per company). Read more about Team Dimensions in the 2nd Edition of the PDMA Body of Knowledge, Chapter 6.
Tip #18: Innovation Leaders Set Goals
Setting goals and measuring progress toward objectives differentiate successful innovation leaders. Look back at the goals you set for your innovation work and professional development in January 2020. Are they done, in progress, or removed from the list? One thing I like to do is analyze my daily “To-Do” list against strategic, tactical, and operational goals. This helps to prioritize work without missing longer range objectives. (Read more here on setting long-term, medium-range, and short-term goals.)
Tip #19: Innovation Leaders Delegate
In the “20 Tips for Innovation” shared among our master mind group members in January, Tip #19 described working with virtual teams. Who knew that we would all be working virtually throughout most of the year? Check out the Virtual Team Model (VTM) here. For 2020, did your virtual teams practice effectiveness with Initiation and Structure, Communication, Meetings, Knowledge Management, and Leadership? If not learn more about structuring virtual teams here. In 2020, Meetings and Knowledge Management have both suffered from inadequate virtual team coordination which, in turn, has harmed creative innovation.
Tip #20: Learning is the Next Step for Innovation Leaders
As you evaluate what worked and what didn’t in 2020, consider your growth as an innovation leader in 2021. Is your strategy clear? Do you have strong practices in place for decisions? Are you collecting customer insights and acting on this information? Do you have a robust and flexible WAGILE product development process? Check out our calendar for opportunities here.
Actions for 2021
- Review the 20 Tips for Innovation in 2020 – get your copy on Kindle here
- Sign up for the Global NP Solutions newsletter here so you don’t miss any innovation tips in 2021
- Apply WAGILE product development (register here)
- Join the innovation master mind (register here for the free pilot and Q&A session)
- Earn your New Product Development Professional (NPDP) or Certified Professional Engineering Management (CPEM) certification. Check out our 1Q2021 course schedule here.
- Feel free to contact me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 281-787-3979
© Global NP Solutions, LLC
Building Innovation Leaders
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at email@example.com or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.