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Winning the Innovation and New Product Development Game

In our last article, we defined the first step in the innovator’s playbook is to set a direction based on the current jobs categories a company provides, future jobs it could solve for existing job executors, modifying exiting job solutions to address new job executors, and the most challenging and potentially rewarding play in the book, addressing new jobs for new job executors.


Figure 1: Jobs & Job Executor Opportunity Matrix.

The Innovation Game

Innovation and new product development is fundamentally a knowledge transformation activity. It starts off as what Roger Martin calls in his book “the Design of Business,” the Mystery (a gut feel – an unexplainable – or yet to be validated –  problem), then to a Heuristic (rules of thumb that guide us toward a solution) and ultimately becomes an Algorithm (a replicable success formula).

To one degree or another, all successful and repeatable NPD processes follow a predictable flow of activities and decision points. It begins with setting a direction as to where an organization will compete (the strategic intent), followed by a discovery phase where ideas and concepts are created  and vetted that represent potential business opportunities.

The best opportunities are then selected based on a set of business criteria, and are then transformed into customer value through the design and development phases using stage gate or similar process methods. And finally launched and adopted by the market if all goes as planned.

Playing the Innovation and New Product Development  Game

We can think of innovation and new product development as game – it’s the game of moving through the knowledge funnel starting from an initial hunch (idea), to a heuristic (early market success), to an algorithm (mainstream market success).

The knowledge funnel is the “field” the innovation team plays on (see figure 2). There are a series of phases and decisions points the innovation team must traverse to move the concept down the field to achieve commercial success.


Figure 2: The Knowledge Funnel and NPD Phases

Football as a metaphor

Using American football as a metaphor, each phase represents first down markers. And the idea represents the football. When an innovation team makes a first down (achieves a favorable decision point), it can continue to march down the field until it ultimately crosses the goal line (a major product success). Or perhaps an innovation drive ends by kicking a field goal (an incremental success).

Of course there are many challenges to moving the idea across the goal line, including competitors who will want to stop you (the defense protecting its goal line). And other challenges the game will throw at you including technical obstacles and marketing challenges in attracting and retaining new customers (meeting the design thinkers triad of success criteria).

If we have a robust innovation process, the worse scenario is we shelf the idea (punt the ball) and live for another set of new downs.

The Skills of the Game

In football, players on the team must learn and master a set of skills to be competitive. Silks include:

  1. Blocking and tackling

  2. Running and ball handling

  3. Forward pass, running passing routes and catching

  4. Kicking and punting

  5. Reading the defense

  6. Reading the offense

  7. And so forth

Plays are built on top of the core skills the team collectively master.

For the innovation team, it needs to become skilled at executing an innovation system like the Jobs-To-Be-Done innovation framework. Skills the innovation team has to master include the discovery process, the design and development process, the manufacturing process and/or service creation process, and the marketing and sales process to launch and scale the business.

And like the football quarterback (or coach calling the plays), the innovation team leader must become skilled at deciding what’s the best set of plays to move the concept down the knowledge funnel, depending where the team is in the funnel, and the circumstances it faces in making the next move. Also known as the game strategy.

The “First Down” Markers and Goal Line for the Innovation Team

Once a team has  set the direction where it will play, and the game it plans to win (defined as attracting and retaining new customers by helping them get important jobs done), they now need to create a game strategy to move through the down markers on knowledge funnel’s grid iron.

Referring to figure 2 above – the next set of down markers (goals and decision points) the team needs to traverse are:

Discovery  – Find an opportunity worth pursuing.

Definition – Transform the idea into a viable concept.

Design – Understanding the problem set and creating a solution that customers will embrace

Demonstration  –  Validate the design and adapt the design as necessary

Deploy – Launch the product and scale

Delight – Continue to deliver value and favorable experiences for the customer

The game of innovation is not really linear

Though the innovation process has distinct phases, the process isn’t linear.  As we execute plays in the knowledge funnel, we learn what customers really want, what works technically, and the realities of the marketing playing field.


Figure 3: Core Skill of Learning

Like the football team, we learn by calling a play, executing the play, measuring the results, and assessing the next set of plays to call to move down the knowledge funnel. More often than not, our game strategy will adapt as our knowledge of the marketing playing field becomes evident.


Figure 4: Innovation Validation Loop

And like the football team, not all of our innovation efforts (for a football team – offensive series) will make it through the next decision point. But we will be learning and adapting to create more powerful concepts that will make it through the knowledge funnel the next time we take the field in the game of innovation.

Know where you are on the playing field, learn the fundamental skills of discovery, design, development, deployment and delighting – and play the game to win.

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