Role of People & Process in Innovation

Role of People & Process in Innovation

29 July 2021

Innovation for the next generation depends broadly upon People, Process, Market, and Technology. These four pillars have already done wonders & will do many more wonders in the coming centuries. There is no limit to what can be achieved when we use the combined potential of these forces. The number of ways we can place them to align with innovation is simply mind blowing.

Which one of these would contribute more towards innovation?

There is no ranking of these but one can infer the fact that all of them have a bearing on the next generation innovation. We cannot simply discount anyone over the other for any reason. There can be other contributors which are equally important but as of now given the context, these four would constitute the major partners in innovation.

If an organization were to face dilemmas over investment on any of these four pillars, then one can conclusively say that investment in people would take priority. This is more so since Process is strongly aligned to People and Technology is digital infrastructure that is a supportive investment. Markets are volatile & also can be created or disrupted only when an organization has enough capabilities powered by people and processes.

Any given time, People investment would be high on investors’ minds. There is a catch here as well. Since People investment is only to realize an innovative idea becoming reality, the actual investment is in the idea that would form the core of the business. But ideas directly or indirectly reflect market demands so in a way it’s also investing in markets.

People

Skilled & experienced resources are primary elements of innovative products.  People conceive ideas to convert them into wonders that we see around today. There is only one glitch. The more innovative ideas people convert into products, the more irrelevant people become. To solve this paradox, we must understand that innovation happens by people. Machines are created by thoughts originating from human brains that get physical manifestation.

More & more internet products have made humans get into the race of designing much more intelligent products than those that exist in the market. Why do humans get into competitive races with something created by themselves?

There is no school that can teach how to think, it comes from human experiences and the ecosystem. Albert Einstein, Edison, Steve Jobs, Google Guys, Bill Gates etc. have been exposed to a powerful technology ecosystem that enabled creating some world class products. Humans are built to innovate, but they do need the right environment to ignite the spark. Creating an atmosphere of scientific temperament is the responsibility of both the governments and the communities. Companies need to define specific strategies to accommodate free thinking and enable it through supportive systems/processes in place.

Process

Process oriented innovation makes business much more fruitful. We all know that innovation most of the times is a spike that arises with situational impetus. People either are inherently innovative in approach or follow a pattern that leads to something creative. Since we can’t create innovative people, we can definitely create processes that lead to an innovative outcome.

What type of process enables innovation? We need to understand innovation in its true meaning to answer this question. It’s a myth that processes are an impediment to innovation.

Let’s remove this notion once and for all. Since we cannot de-risk the process by not believing in it, let’s start placing our bets on process-oriented innovation.

Process is a sequence of steps to create a product or service that is time tested for business value. What we mean here is a process must prove its efficiency through various tests and glitches to become a standard that guarantees predictable outcomes most of the time.

Application of innovative product management processes result in creation of  successful products & enable targeted marketing. Products for enterprise human resource development (SAP) or to validate financial systems (FINACLE) are some examples of successful application of innovative processes. Tudip has created some very innovative products  that have high market value, all driven by smart people and flexible process mechanisms.

When we want to eat in a restaurant, we take a seat & order the eatables. The waiter takes it forward to the kitchen as a requirement. The cooks prepare the food & give it back to the waiter who carries it to the customer. Information flow is regulated & recorded at every step. The information is then translated into user desirable actions thus ensuring customer satisfaction. If the customer enters the kitchen to order the pizza, that would not only break the established process, but can also become counter productive leading to undesirable results.

Technology is a bridge between process overweight and user requirements. Since processes tend to force themselves onto the product creation, technology comes in handy to balance the situation.

Microsoft Project Plan helps create accurate plans that can be tracked & updated. Similarly Email/Chat technologies ensure communication happens at lightning speed.  Research enabling products that contain document security, work flows and communication features boost innovation to large extent (Microsoft Teams).

Processing of petabytes of information available consolidates the thinking process by filtering what is mundane while highlighting the most needed (Cloud Platforms). All this happens at lightning speeds so next generation products take shape in the minds of the creators before it enters the market.

Generic product development process:

  1. Identify user requirements (explicit or hidden)
  2. Prioritize the requirements as most important to most unwanted based on current market conditions
  3. Develop revenues oriented cost/benefit analysis to arrive at Go/NO GO decision
  4. Define rigid plan of action with definitive deadlines & responsibilities
  5. Device mechanism to address the needs using inflexible processes & technology
  6. Assign minimal or constrained human & machine resources accordingly
  7. Work on the rigid plan with micro monitoring & reporting
  8. Take action where required to ensure meeting deadlines

Innovative product development process:

  1. Identify user requirements (explicit or hidden)
  2. Drill down the requirements to identify Points of Differentiation
  3. Market Research the Points of Differentiation to identify Competitor’s Solution
  4. Filter out the Points of Differentiation to create a list of requirements that have no readily available market solution
  5. List out the filtered Points of Differentiation in Order of Priority aligned to current & future  Market Strategy
  6. Develop Value Oriented Cost/Benefit analysis to arrive at Go/NO GO decision
  7. Align the innovative product features development with Organization Strategy (Long Term)
  8. Device mechanism to address the needs using flexible processes & technology
  9. Establish dedicated research team to assist the development team
  10. Define plan of action with definitive milestones & responsibilities
  11. Assign most suitable human & machine resources(technologies) accordingly
  12. Establish a centralized communication channel for information flow between sales, research, development & senior management.
  13. Keep a tab on changing customer needs &  avoid non-innovative/redundant methods of addressing the requirements
  14. Work on the plan with collaborative monitoring & reporting
  15. Take meaningful action ( doubling the working capacity or providing incentives or bonus, shuffling the teams to address specific skill set gaps) where required to ensure meeting milestones
  16. Release Incrementally ( iterative development ) to the end users as Beta to ensure the broad roadmap is aligned with Consistent Consumer Feedback
  17. Take corrective measures on the product (includes scrapping outdated features/stories, including futuristic scalable differentiator ) based on the consumer feedback & changing market conditions
  18. Repeat 1-17 and tailor as needed

As can be seen, there is more process involved in innovative product development than in those products that hardly have any innovation quotient. This is quite contrary to the popular belief that process is an impediment to innovation. This is proved in almost every innovative product developed and sold in the market.

The choice is, do we want to create products that simply sell in the markets or do we want to create innovative products that generate whole new markets; this choice alone pitches generic processes against innovative ones.

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