Aug 11, 2008

Product and Service Innovation Team-Building

Are you innovating in a vacuum?

When you read this question, the knee-jerk response is to say “Hey, Scott, I don’t innovate in a vacuum. I always ask several of my friends and close advisors their opinions of my new (product/service/website/store layout/etc.).

If you’re focusing efforts on innovation, I’ve got a question for you:

Who are you involving in the process?

Some people think that by involving a bunch of other people means that you’re got a “team” approach to innovation. I beg to differ. I conceptualize that you need different personalities to make sure you’ve evaluated the full spectrum of personalities and perspectives on the product or service you’re innovating. Who do I think ought to be on your team? Check out this list:

The 7 Core Critical Innovation Team Players

1. Idea People.

If this isn’t you, find a couple. I’m fortunate, in that I’m able to “get on a roll” when I start brainstorming. I’ll throw out one idea (which might suck) and that leads to another idea (which might be good). If you’re like me, and think of ideas, then great. Otherwise, get someone like me on your team!

2. Designers.

The next people you need on your team to innovate are designers. Notice, these aren’t operations experts, family members, or other people you might have claimed were your “A-Team” before reading this. Nope. Designers think differently. They stop verbalizing and start DRAWING. Designers think visually. I love designers, because designers think differently than the average person. Designers are visual. A designer will take a concept and immediately start drawing it or combining random objects to visualize, physically, what you’re describing. I’m not talking about a PROFESSIONAL designer. Many people with design thinking aren’t even considered design professionals. Several qualities good “design” thinkers possess include: (a)”can-do”attitude, (b) think and draw simultaneously, (c) simplify complexity, and (d) consistency in performance. Designers also help you make sure your outcome is visually more attractive. Always have one designer – if not more – on your innovation team.

3. Logistics Experts.

By logistics, I don’t mean a nay-sayer, but someone who can think through the critical process of discovering an obstacle – finding a workaround – creating a solution type thinkers. Logistics Experts understand operational process, and quite good at constructing things. These are the engineers, the builders, and also include people who can reverse-engineer. Find one or two of these people to add to your team, and you’ll eliminate problems in functionality.

4. Marketing/Copywriter.

You’re going to need someone who knows how to spin your pitch. Make sure you’ve covered your basis. Don’t try to write your own copy when an expert will help you sell 10x whatever you might otherwise. Tighten your pitch and get good copy. You’ll be thanking me later.

5. Legal adviser.

You will need legal on your innovation team for trademark search and filing when you’re creating a new name. Make sure you don’t get the whole product or service designed, labeled, and shipped and then find out your trademark is in violation of someone else’s name. This will save you money down the road.

6. Accountant.

Make sure you can produce your design or service economically. When you ramp to scale, you do need a bean-counter on the team to make sure your ideas will be profitable.

7. Test-users.

I’m always surprised how few people conduct field-testing before rolling out a new service, a new product, or other innovation. If you haven’t tested people’s reaction to (a) your pitch, (b) product/service, (c) name/slogan/copy, (d) buying process, (e) usability, (f) customer experience, and so forth, you’re leaving a loophole that kinda matters: what people who buy your product/service actually THINK about it. Without that data, how are you ready to release? Make sure you test FIRST. It’s like the old carpenter cliché: “measure twice, cut once” and it applies to your innovative team, too.

So, that’s the core critical 7 team members of who I believe you need on your innovation team. Do you have other people or personality types you’ve found useful to develop innovative products and services? If so, share your comments below.


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