Is innovating supported by a user-community, or the voice of the customer useful? Yes. Absolutely! Although, no. Well, maybe. It depends. Basically, as always, it depends on what what kind of innovation you are pursuing. In this post I try map my experience with community supported development/innovation on the well-known “Innovation Management Matrix“, to indicate in what situation you will make most out of the community.
What is the Innovation Management Matrix? This is a marketing 1-to-1 on innovation management. Vertically, we plot extend in which the problem is defined (ranging from not, to well) and horizontally we plot how well the domain is defined (also from not to well). Greg Satell in Forbes gives a good overview. He starts from two basic questions “How well is the problem defined?” (for example, Steve Jobs defined the problem for the iPod as “1000 songs in my pocket.”) and “Who is best placed to solve it?” (or what is critical for solving the problem) to arrive at the Innovation Management Matrix, as shown below.
So where are you in this matrix? Or where will you be with your project? Of course, in hind-sight, it is always easy to draw a straight line from problem to solution. Looking back, the road always was clear. Going forward, unless you work with a great visionary like Steve Jobs, the road might look a bit hazy. foggy, unclear, or even non-existing. And even if you do know where you are, then what? If I know I am disrupting the business, how does this help to make my innovation successful?
Allow me to side-jump for a moment and talk about on-line user-communities. A user-community to sound ideas is gaining popularity. “Sophisticated online crowdsourcing platforms are making it ever simpler to manage and support distributed workers. In essence, the crowd has become a fixed institution available on demand.” Advantages are clear; you can actually ask your users what the think. Better, you can ask what they think while you are working on your project. Not completely real-time, but close enough. This speeds up the process tremendously. Raving forward at virtually light speed towards the light of innovation is the kind of image you should be imagining now. The ‘only’ challenge is to create a community, which is time and resource intensive. But once you have established a community, you can just ‘throw in’ ideas and see what sticks. Well, sort of.
Personally, I had very good experiences working with STREAM-Research (offered by ATOM-Design), to create a user-community to support the UBS WM innovation team in understanding customer needs and driving one of their innovation projects forward.
Preparing a presentation on the success of the project, I came to the conclusion that “The Innovation Management Matrix” depicts the solution space, but not really helps to define a strategy on how to get there. However, placing this matrix in the context of user-community supported innovation, the options for each of the cells of the matrix become clear. See the image below.
Let me run you through the cells.
Problem space defined, but domain not defined. Basically you are transferring knowledge from a master domain to child domain. This situation occurs when for example, a product that is a huge success in on country is planned to being introduced in a different one, or when one business model (e.g. ‘Uber’) model and validating whether it would work for the room rental business (couch surfing). The strategy that might work best here is to run through a sequence of user-stories (as known from the mother domain) and see which applies or what problems you encounter.
Problem space is defined, and domain is defined. This is your incremental innovation. A user community might be an over-kill here, or at best to validate acceptance of changes and improvements. Still a valid use-case for community based innovation, but maybe not the most exciting one, or the best use of resources. Also, risk here is that the project slide off into either disruptive innovation or break through innovation, simply because of all the insights obtained through the community.
Problem space not defined, but the domain is defined. This is the basis for disruptive innovation, and a user community may be instrumental for finding-out undiscovered user needs and wishes. This situation occurs when for example new technologies or new approaches challenge the common way of doing things.
Neither the problem space nor the domain are defined. So, this basically is phishing. No need to consult a community here.
In sum. Innovating using a client community usefull? Absolutely. From my experience, taking the innovation management matrix as reference, there are two situations in which community based innovation are especially effective; the more straight forward transitioning from one domain to the other (Problem is understood, but the (new) domain is not) and, more challenging, using the community to gain insights and validate hypotheses (the domain is understood but the problem is not). Incremental innovation and more basic research seem less likely scenarios for which to apply community based innovation.