Agile · Effectiveness · Innovation · Principles · Product management

Six principles for continuous innovation

As I’ve mentioned recently, several of my teammates and I had the chance in early April to virtually attend the Everyday Innovator Summit (or did we attend the virtual summit? Hard to know) and I found several of the sessions very thought provoking. One I’ve continued to think about was presented by Ash Maurya, who adapted the Business Model Canvas into what he calls the Lean Canvas (check it out here). In his interview on creating continuous innovation through experimentation, he shared six core rules or principles for continuous innovation:

  1. If you can out-learn your competition you will win. Ash started here and I think this is a fascinating core idea. It’s not how quickly you can develop your ideas into solutions but how quickly you LEARN from your experiments that determines how successful you will be. If you can figure out the best and fastest ways to learn (a fundamental part of Agile as a development methodology) then you can make sure you are continually improving what you offer and how well you address market needs – and that will lead to victory over a slower learning competitor.
  2. The whole business model is the product. This is where Ash helpfully sets innovation in context, specifically the context of the Lean Canvas. Focused on nine key questions that can be summarized on a single sheet of paper, this tool allows you to summarize what you are offering to which customers, how to communicate about it and measure the success of the solution, what both the costs and the revenue streams are for this solution, and what unique and “unfair” value proposition and advantage you bring to the market. This is helpful reminder that having a good idea isn’t enough to drive successful innovation; you also need the foundation to develop, market, and sustain that idea.
  3. Tackle the riskiest assumptions first. I’ve talked about this idea before (a core concept for Marty Cagan in his book Inspired) and find it a very helpful way to think about developing solutions; start by identifying the riskiest piece of what you don’t know and try to mitigate that risk first, then move successively to the next most risky piece of the puzzle.
  4. Be customer-problem centric. This again is a common concept (it is at the heart of Jobs to be Done for instance), but I found it helpful that Ash stressed thinking about both the needs and the wants of potential customers. Successful innovations rarely touch on what is merely peripheral to customers; instead they hit deep hopes or painful problems and offer true solutions that will resonate with users.
  5. Use an evidence-based approach. Many people talk about measuring the results of your experiments and innovations, but Ash focused on making sure you use the right metrics to track and motivate the right outcomes. If you can identify the key metric that truly defines successful embrace of your solution and track that, you can be certain you are really reaching your target audience, while focusing on the wrong metric (even one that might be a good fit for some other solution) can lead you off track.
  6. Traction is the goal. Ash ended with this important sixth reminder that we are after more than a flurry of short-term interest from people. To gain lasting customers we have to ensure that our innovative solutions create value for the users and monetization for our business.

I’ve been wrestling with how to apply these principles in an enterprise software development context and looking for ways to communicate these ideas to others. I like how they inter-relate (you need good evidence if you’re going to out-learn the competition or address your riskiest assumptions), and how practical they are. It would be great if enacting these six core rules led always and easily to money-making innovations, but of course in truth it’s not that simple.

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