It’s a challenge to prioritize and choose innovation projects. There are open questions on the technology, the product/service, the customer, the price and sales volume. Other than that, things are pretty well defined.
But with all that, you’ve still go to choose. Here are some questions that may help in your selection process:
1. Is it big enough?
The project will be long, expensive and difficult. And if the potential increase in sales is not big enough, the project is not worth starting. Think (Price – Cost) x Volume. Define a minimum viable increase in sales and bound it in time. For example, the minimum incremental sales is twenty five million dollars after five years in the market. If the project does not have the potential to meet those criteria, don’t do the project. The difficult question – How to estimate the incremental sales five years after launch? The difficult answer – Use your best judgement to estimate sales based on market size and review your assumptions and predictions with seasoned people you trust.
2. Why you?
High growth markets/applications are attractive to everyone, including the big players and the well-funded start-ups. How does your company have an advantage over these tough competitors? What about your company sets you apart? Why will customers buy from you? If you don’t have good answers, don’t start the project. Instead, hold the work hostage and take the time to come up with good answers. If you come up with good answers, try to answer the next questions. If you don’t, choose another project.
3. How is it different?
If the new technology can’t distinguish itself over existing alternatives, you don’t have a project worth starting. So, how is your new offering (the one you’re thinking about creating) better than the ones that can be purchased today? What’s the new value to the customer? Or, in the lingo of the day, what is the Distinctive Value Proposition (DVP)? If there’s no DVP, there’s no project. If you’re not sure of the DVP, figure that out before investing in the project. If you have a DVP but aren’t sure it’s good enough, figure out how to test the DVP before bringing the DVP to life.
4. Is it possible?
Usually, this is where everyone starts. But I’ve listed it last, and it seems backward. Would you rather spend a year making it work only to learn no one wants it, or would you rather spend a month to learn the market wants it then a year making it work? If you make it work and no one wants it, you’ve wasted a year. If, before you make it work, you learn no one wants it, you’ve spent a month learning the right thing and you haven’t spent a year working on the wrong thing. It feels unnatural to define the market need before making it work, but though it feels unnatural, it can block resources from working on the wrong projects.
There is no foolproof way to choose the best innovation projects, but these four questions go a long way. Create a one-page template with four sections to ask the questions and capture the answers. The sections without answers define the next work. Define the learning objectives and the learning activities and do the learning. Fill in the missing answers and you’re ready to compare one project to another.
Sort the projects large-to-small by Is it big enough? Then, rank the top three by Why you? and How is it different? Then, for the highest ranked project, do the work to answer Is it possible?
If it’s possible, commercialize. If it’s not, re-sort the remaining projects by Is it big enough? Why you? and How is it different? and learn if It is possible.
Image credit – Ben Francis
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.