Product

Product Innovation for Today and the Future!

It’s Outcome-first, Timeboxed, and Accountable

Zemoso Product Studio

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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“If you've always done it that way, it's probably wrong.” – Charles Kettering

The harsh reality of the world we operate in today, try to differentiate ourselves in, sell our services in is one where “outsourcing” has been stereotyped. As a business model, it has been popularized as the way to go if you want to offset costs, save, and do staff augmentation. There is no strategic value add to be had here, only cost-benefits and resource-efficiencies. 

We can’t argue with that: not if we get into the traditional outsourcing arena. 

So we are dedicating this post to creating a new arena, a new category, dedicated to the few who are true innovation partners, whose business model is geared towards creating internal growth opportunities for you; not about savings, but about creation. 

Larger SaaS organizations, enterprises, digital disruptors are recognizing the value of bringing about institutional change to drive true innovation. It’s a culturally different mindset: requires a different appetite for risk, and for doing things out of turn. Methodologies and processes need to be adapted to the lifecycle of the product, not the company. 

When it comes to a new launch, the only advantage a company has over early-stage startups is that they probably have a straighter, less hindered line to get early trial customers. Try getting to paying customers generating monthly recurring revenue (MRR) with a product that doesn’t solve the right problem, and things won’t seem as different. So how does a large company successfully incubate the explorer mentality and the innovation agility?

#TruthBombs about product success

Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Solution illustrates the hard-knock world for product innovators better than us: #truthbombs

Accountable innovation cycles

We are lean startup model adopters. So we stand by, “fail fast,”, but we pay more attention to learn fast. And, we also recognize that de-risking is essential in early stages. Gaining not just internal, but market alignment is non-negotiable. Testing after spending 18 months of trying to build a solution, and then realizing that you’ve been working on the wrong solution, or worse, wrong problem wipes you out. 

So the modus operandi has to evolve, change, and prioritize speed over direction, because direction in innovation is muddled in ambiguity when you are doing things that has literally never been done before. Once the earlier versions and the iterations based on feedback resonate with customers, their jobs and pain points — direction becomes clearer. No customer is going to wait around to see if you’ve got it right, they will move on to someone who gets their job done, now. 

So, another hard-knock reality check: despite of the zillion books, models, and frameworks that all innovators are reading and learning from, and millions spent with the big consulting four to tell you what you need to do: a select few are getting it right. 

Why? 

Product innovation success has more to do about learning and action, making mistakes, than it has to do about conjuring the right answer. Attachment to your idea in it’s original form, confidence in your heuristic evaluations, a culture that penalizes mistakes: that’s the enemy. 

Zemoso Product Managers gave us homework!

In co-creating this blog post with some of our engineering and product team members, who have worked for some of the traditional IT Services and SaaS companies in their past life, we asked them: “Why Product Innovation Expertise? Why Zemoso or Zemoso-like?”

The barrage that came in response was too well articulated for us to even try to paraphrase:

  1. Find me a partner who’ll iterate with client, multiple times, as innovation is inherently complicated. They will channel a bias to action: getting it done, undone, and redone, until clarity emerges.
  2. Show me an innovation team that is so collaborative that they will condition their partnership on gathering and implementing customer feedback throughout the discovery cycle, insead of asking the CPO and CTO for user stories and backlogs to estimate the SOW and get started
  3. Find me a partner who’ll be willing to be held accountable for the final outcome (end-to-end). Not one Java Developer and 2 React specialists, but one Agile Pod to launch this feature in 3 months… Not 2 UX designers, but a design system for V2 in 4 weeks. 
  4. Take me through the pitch of one these companies and teams who’ll articulate specializations in launch goal terms, not tech stack and platform expertise. I need to hear: zero-slippage launches, not front-end engineers.  
  5. Give me examples or find me case studies on their websites that speak of wins in terms of % of internal growth facilitated or revenue generation, not % of cost savings.
  6. I’d like to see someone, and internal team even sometimes, who can commit to timeboxing everything and own it: Prototype in 4 weeks, Golden User Prototype in 7 days, MVP in 4-6 months, New feature discovery + launch in 3 months.

The reality is that once a team, a company, an ecosystem has experienced a certain amount of customer traction, they have to re-align and train on now deliver incremental wins, to be risk averse, to protect what they have at all costs, to play by the rules. And that’s fine.

But that leaves a gaping hole that makes a FinTech unicorn with a few thousand developers in various parts of the world, partner with us for new product introductions / innovation and continuous innovation initiatives. Complete disruptive innovation is not something that they are living, breathing everyday anymore. 

Favorite quote from Jim Price

To create that cultural offshoot for design, engineering, and other specialized go-to-market services for the explorers within the organization is incredibly hard. Few try it, fewer get it right. For true breakthroughs: incremental doesn’t cut it. 

Traditional design and development partners have a similar challenge: they optimized their culture, hiring, and business model for well-defined goals with a well-defined solution. It operates on the presumption of being able to deliver value through repeatability and reproduction. Therefore, completely new, never-been-done-before, and constantly changing playground are simply not what they are geared to support. 

What did we find?

We took these insights to heart and started looking for ways to counter them. We couldn’t. We spoke to enterprise innovation leaders, CPOs and CTO’s at Series B+ startups, and we discovered that the required level of accountability, ownership, ambiguity-handling, and acceleration in product innovation is being delivered by those playing in our category and is super hard to build and maintain in-house. 

  1. Most product development partners are derisking the situation for themselves, not de-risking the launch for their customers
  2. ‍Majority of product innovation partners boast of their know-how to solve known problems with known solutions, which goes out of the window when you’re building the first Uber or Dropbox
  3. According to a research conducted by Gartner, 45% of product launches are delayed by at least one month, and only 11% organizations reported that they met their internal launch deadline goals

How to solve for this? How do you increase your odds of success, create legacies, and innovate?

First, you gotta match what you are trying to do with talent and skills that is trained to operate in that zone of unknowns, acceleration, and product lifecycle. Don’t try to do new product innovations, which sometimes tag along with technology/infrastructure modernization, with a team that has only handled mature products maintenance jobs, or the vice versa. 

Accelerating product innovation

Secondly, you need to ensure that your go-to-market team is trained to self-organize (design, dev, user testing, and marketing) in a way that if requirements change along the way, it doesn’t add time to your launch. You process parallelly, you bring in what you need to get to the finish line, on time.  

Shrinking window of opportunity

Thirdly, as an innovation-as-a-service industry, we have to accept that our job of being an innovation team and a product enabler is not to extend the time of engagement with us, but to deliver opportunities of growth for our customers. 

Fourth, you prioritize user testing, market testing, and validation over all else. While we don’t really believe in sending our clients to market with something totally embarrassing is a good idea, but perfection is not the what you need to chase until you validate. Speed over direction, remember…

Wise words from Reid Hoffman

Finally, terms of engagement with innovation partners has to revolve around ownership, accountability, and outcomes, not output. And don’t let anybody tell you (your internal team or your partner) that it can’t be done, cause we are doing it, every day. 

Accountable innovation cycles

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