Three ways to drive innovation on existing products

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Three ways to drive innovation on existing products

Puja Lakhlani , Head of Product Management, UST Product Engineering

At UST, we imbibe these proven approaches to innovation: design thinking, rapid prototyping, and open innovation.

Puja Lakhlani

Puja Lakhlani , Head of Product Management, UST Product Engineering

Many organizations believe innovation is solely about creating novel, disruptive inventions. The idea is somewhat accurate, but there's more to innovation than disruption. In an ideal scenario, innovation also involves continually enhancing products that businesses already sell.

Despite the will, there are many reasons businesses stumble at innovation when it comes to existing products. It could be the baggage of past successes (or lack thereof), investor expectations or pressures, fear of cannibalization, or simply, the fear of change management.

But continuous innovation can rise above any of these, if put into continuous practice. Even if barriers to innovation seem insurmountable, there are multiple pathways that businesses can explore to reap the benefits of innovation-driven success.

1. UNCOVER UNMET AND UNDERSERVED NEEDS

The objective of innovation for most organizations is to develop products and services that meet unmet customer needs and enable customers to do tasks more effectively. One way to uncover these unmet needs is to apply the ‘jobs to be done approach,’ credited to Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen. The underlying premise of the idea is that customers do not simply purchase a product or service to satisfy their needs; instead, they buy it to perform a task that will enhance their lives. This deceptively simple approach can completely transform how a business functions.

By discovering how customers measure value when completing a task, businesses can align their cross-functional teams with these metrics, ultimately securing and maintaining a strong competitive advantage. With proper technique, the ‘jobs to be done’ thought process can deliver game-changing results for digital businesses of all sizes and across a wide number of industries. For example, a SaaS platform provider has the potential to improve market positioning and grow revenue by discovering new and novel jobs that their platform could do for their customers, rather than just focusing on the features the platform offers.

One of the most famous analogies in business comes from Theodore Levitt, who sums up this premise with a famous quote, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”.

Business leaders need to consider their customer's needs, why they are purchasing or what purpose a service can fulfill. Can they meet these needs by improving an existing product?

At UST Software Product Engineering, our product management and design teams get to these answers by conducting market research. They can uncover insights about business challenges the company’s products can address. They use the results to identify unmet or underserved client needs, making the innovation process well-planned, with predictable outcomes, and therefore more likely to be successful.

2. CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT FOSTERS CREATIVITY AND COLLABORATION

It’s no myth that most innovation comes from ordinary teams building extraordinary products. But it isn’t easy, especially for well-established enterprises, to systematically foster a culture of product innovation yielding business growth, profitability, and lasting competitive advantage. The reasons can be many – lack of agility, inherent risk aversion, plain inertia, or even lack of inspiration.

Innovations like the Apple iPhone and Meta Quest 2 did not conquer the market because their creators questioned the status quo with a - who has the best concept for enhancing our product? Therefore, it’s crucial to establish a diversified internal innovation network to find influencers and empowered teams that can help advance and accelerate innovation.

There are many techniques for instilling and maximizing creative outcomes in teams. One such is Plusses, Potentials, Concerns, Options (PPCO), a technique by Diane Foucar-Szocki, Bill Shephard, and Roger Firestein. It is designed to help anyone constructively vet ideas. PPCO is a thinking tool that effectively evaluates an idea while giving teams clear and precise feedback that supports creative thinking. Its simple structure is easy to use, and each letter in the tool has a meaning:

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3. APPLY TENETS OF DESIGN THINKING, RAPID PROTOTYPING, AND OPEN INNOVATION

There are numerous innovation techniques that organizations can utilize today, but there is no universally applicable method. Understanding some of the popular methodologies, how enterprises apply them, and the phases they share can therefore assist in implementing a successful product innovation process.

Design thinking, made popular by the renowned design firm IDEO, is a method that combines what is desired from a human perspective with what is technically and commercially viable. Deep understanding and empathy for consumer demands are the foundation of the design thinking process. Paired with rapid prototyping, the combined approach emphasizes the idea of failing frequently and early.

At UST, our Product Engineering teams embrace the open innovation paradigm. Pioneered by Henry Chesbrough, a professor at UC Berkeley, the notion of open innovation consists of two components. The first is the outside-in component, which promotes organizations to acquire and implement external ideas and technologies. The second component is inside-out innovation, in which internally generated innovations that do not match the organization’s business model are allowed to go outside and be incorporated into the innovation processes of other businesses. Understanding the possibility of open innovation enables new methods for generating and selecting the most original and high-impact product ideas.

At UST, we imbibe these proven approaches to innovation: design thinking, rapid prototyping, and open innovation.

DON'T STOP; KEEP GOING

In conclusion, product innovation lives in a world of the unknown. It is a convoluted and arduous process with challenges at every turn and often leads to surprising outcomes. This ambiguity plays a crucial role in innovation because to be new or novel, not all answers are known at the beginning. It recognizes that you have the opportunity to play a role in product innovation and that there will be challenges that root you in the reality of the marathon to create innovative and meaningful products.

Discover how UST Software Product Engineering can help you discover new growth opportunities and a value proposition that strongly resonates with your target market. Click here to read more.