May 5, 2016

Key steps to accelerating digital product innovation

By: Thelton McMillian, CEO, Comrade

As an agency that specializes in helping our clients create a superior user experience for their products and services, we spend a great deal of time thinking about the best way to transform an innovation from a good idea to a great digital product. This doesn’t happen by accident: it requires a measured, disciplined approach to the entire process. Here are some of our thoughts on what’s required to accelerate digital product innovation.

Innovation starts with all the right people

The first step on the path to success is getting all of the right people involved from the very beginning of the process.

As quality and excellence guru W. Edwards Deming observed, “Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team…” Ideas developed in silos with little (or no) input from others rarely succeed. Even the great innovators like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison didn’t work in a vacuum.

Innovation is about taking an idea and exploring all of its facets to determine what is possible, desirable, and profitable. Doing so requires input from the experts in product, design, and technology – each bringing their own expertise and experience to the conversation and ensuring that the user stays at the center of the discussion.

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Slow down to speed up

We live in a go-go world where the expectation is that everything happens quickly. In the world of digital product design, “Scrum” and “Lean Startup” are the buzzwords of the day. This is not to say that these strategies don’t have value – in fact there are significant merits to being the first to market with a new idea – but there are also inherent dangers in moving too fast and rushing a product to market that’s not really ready.

There may be a fatal flaw in the design itself, or it may lack key functionality that’s needed to make it truly adoptable and usable for users. It’s important at this point in the innovation development cycle for the team to take the time to properly define the digital product they want to create.

Prototype, test, refine, validate

Once the team has agreed on the correct strategy for its product, it’s time to develop a prototype, and then test and refine it. Taking a design to market without this kind of careful inspection and iteration can be disastrous for a product, and can kill the ongoing prospects of even an established offering.

And of course a key component to the prototype-test-refine portion of the program is putting the design in the hands of real users through market testing, online testing, even live-on-the-street testing for validation.

If you want to know what customers will actually adopt and use, you have to engage them in the design process.

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Build for Chapter 1

Just as it’s important to have all the right players involved, it’s also important to cover all the major considerations for new product development and innovation. This includes minimal branding and naming, developing the correct look-and-feel elements of design, defining the appropriate features and functionality, and selecting the delivery model for the completed solution or service.

And despite the provisos earlier about moving too quickly or not doing enough validation, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction either – you’re writing Chapter 1, not the whole story. Getting your innovation out to users in a timely fashion for greater validation and refinement by the market is essential. According to Adobe, usage for the average mobile app falls off by more than 50 percent after the first six months. This provides an opportunity for competitors to steal users by offering richer functionality and better performance, forcing product designers of existing apps to find ways to entice users to stay.

Decide how to go to market and when to refresh

Determining how to break into the market (and how long to stay before refreshing the technology) are among the hardest decisions to make when innovating. The first involves deciding what the delivery model is – is this a digital product delivered via the cloud, a distributed product delivered as a product, or both?

Once you’ve completed your planning, your iteration and validation, your branding, design and functionality, and your market channel, it’s time to execute. And then recycle and refresh your design, based on market feedback and performance, and do it all again.

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Summary

Thomas Edison once quipped that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. As the designers of new digital products, we like to celebrate the inspiration that creates the great idea – that’s much more fun than the perspiration-producing hard work that follows. But it’s important to remember that true innovation is found at the intersection of vision and to sweating all the design details.