In our ever-changing world, there is naturally a lot of talk about innovation and the need to innovate to stay relevant, or even to stay alive. There is less said about how to actually do it. Below are four of the strategies (plus one hidden bonus strategy), that we use at Boundless to drive continuous innovation.
An innovation mindset really starts at the core of your company. Either you really care about it or you don’t. You can’t fake it for very long. At Boundless, we take our core values seriously. We live them every day, and our very first core value is “Find a better way”. We deliberately did not call it “innovation” or some other buzz word. We used plain and simple language to make it accessible and understandable by every single person in our company. Because innovation can and should happen at every level of your organization.
Many companies think that it is only the responsibility of the senior executive team, and maybe the software development team, to innovate. They think that innovation is so strategic that it can only be trusted to a chosen few. We believe that every person of our team can find a better way to do what that team or individual is doing. We believe that often the best ideas come from the front lines, from the people that actually interact with customers and partners. And innovation is not always related to technology―it can be in any aspect of your business from how you market, to what you sell, to how you sell and deliver what you do, how you bill and collect, how you communicate, and the tools you provide your customers to manage the whole thing. In truth, innovation permeates any and every way we can deliver value to customers or streamline the way we do it.
In his best seller Lean Startup , Eric Ries talks about how no truths (rather, only opinions) can be found inside the four walls of your office. The truth can only be found in the real world―talking to your customers.
We subscribe to that philosophy, and have developed several processes to continuously drive new innovation, driven by customer demand. That includes the following four:
- Order management process – Our daily order flow represents the steadiest flow of customer information. We see every complaint or request for service as an opportunity to find a better way. We review service logs regularly to see what requests or complaints occur with the greatest frequency to identify the biggest pain points (log jams). “We have always been doing it this way” is never a good reason to keep doing something that causes friction and dissatisfaction among our customers.
- Client implementation process – Every new engagement includes a discovery phase with the goal to uncover our clients’ real goals, going beyond just identifying the products they need, and actually engaging in dialogue about what they are trying to accomplish. We lead with lots of questions and often uncover opportunities to solve problems they did not expect to be solved, or didn’t even know they had. Sometimes we uncover needs to find new products and suppliers, to create new services, or identify needs to develop platform features we did not know we needed before. “One Size Does Not Fit All
- Platform development – We have established a “product council” that focuses on our technology development, and includes representatives from every department in our company from customer service, to marketing, to accounting. Anyone in the entire company can nominate a feature enhancement to bring before the council for consideration. The council meets on a monthly basis and reviews the merits of each feature and prioritizes which ones to work on next. Notice, I did not say “which one to implement next,” because at this stage we are not ready for that. Our process has four distinct milestones, and the first two are designed to determine a) the actual need and business case for this feature, and b) how it should work in order ensure adoption and be embraced by our users. Only after completing these two steps successfully do we decide to spend the time and money to actually write code and develop it.
- Customer advisory board – We have assembled a small group of our most important client executives to form a customer advisory board that meets regularly to discuss our business strategy and plans. This group works as a sounding board for new ideas and provides feedback on key planned initiatives and solutions that we plan to develop. This group has been an incredibly valuable way to establish an ongoing dialogue about our business with experts from different departments in large organizations that really understand our business.
Whatever process you have to drive innovation, I encourage you to make your customers the primary driver of new ideas, and to put processes in place that ensure you consistently listen and improve. There is always a better way. Go find it!
PS – Did you catch the fifth bonus strategy? It is the institution of valid and staff-elected core values I mentioned up top. If you really want to drive change, make it part of who you are as a company.
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