How to get innovation moving with Lean product development

How to get innovation moving with Lean product development

If there’s a product you want to bring to life, Lean development could be what you need to make it happen. Not next year, not “at some point”, but right now.

As we saw during Covid, a crisis is precisely the time to innovate. The faster your business can respond to a suddenly changing market, the better your chances of survival.

Those who were able to spin up new digital services quickly in 2020 survived and even prospered, despite the volatile state of the global economy. Now, as we face recession and deal with the shockwaves of war, it’s vital to keep moving, and keep investing.

Recent figures from research firm Gartnersuggests that most CEOs agree: 94% of them said they planned to increase or maintain the intense pace of digital transformation in 2022. And 70% of CFOs expect digital technology to be given a bigger slice of the budget.

The Gartner report also makes an important point about decisiveness and pace. Businesses which performed best during the last great recession in 2008 didn’t dither, they committed “before the downturn to the differentiating elements of their strategy to position themselves to power through uncertain times, not simply respond to them”.

Assuming you want to drive innovation in your organisation, how do you make it happen in practice? I’m going to make the case for Lean product development as the answer.

But first, let’s look at something else: removing blockers and obstacles.

The curse of inertia in product innovation

Speed and energy are implied when we talk about innovation.

Everyone knows that if you don’t get there first, you’ll lose out to competitors who got their act together – or to disruptive, more agile startups.

So why do so many businesses still struggle to get things moving? Why are they having meetings about meetings to discuss meetings about maybe potentially kicking something off in Q2 2023? Q4 2022 is right there for the taking!

In my experience, there are a few cultural problems that lead to this kind of inertia. They all fall under the umbrella of perfectionism.

It’s good to want to get things right and to take care when developing new features, products or services. Some organisations go too far the other way and rush things to market without enough thought – and without putting them in front of real users.

Getting the balance right is tough, and the more people are involved in the decision making process, the easier it is to slip into harmful perfectionist tendencies.

First there’s release anxiety. This is the instinct to do just one more round of checks, consult one more group of stakeholders, make one more tweak, before launching. Then, before you know it, six months have slipped by and your competitor has beaten you to it.

Stakeholder mapping can help here – who do you really need to consult, and whose input do you need to take most seriously?

Establishing decent processes is also important, part of which is making sure that someone (ideally below the level of CEO) has the power to actually give sign-off. That job shouldn’t be passed around like a hot potato.

Secondly, there’s the principle that perfect is the enemy of the good. The first release of a new product needs to be good, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Because releasing it – putting it in front of users – is part of the process of iterating and improving. Arguably the most important part.

Finally, there’s a tendency to try to guess what users want and need rather than actually getting them involved. And because it’s almost impossible to do this in a meaningful way, it only introduced more hesitancy and doubt.

Ask yourself:

  • Will this damage the reputation of the organisation?
  • Will it harm or seriously mislead users in its current form?

If the answer to both is “No” then get it out there. You’ll learn more from that than from sitting on it.

Why does your business need Lean?

Lean product development offers a way to:

  • really put people first
  • get something done and in front of real users
  • iterate it quickly and stay ahead
  • do more with less – vital in a recession
  • focus resources and energy on what really matters.

It also solves all of those problems around organisational inertia.

It’s an established process which applies just enough pressure to prevent distractions and keep things moving, while still allowing time for important reflection and consultation.

It encourages collaboration rather than endless chains of sign-off and input – fewer meetings, fewer emails, less waiting around. And because the key people are in the room you don’t have to explain the decision making process to them, one at a time, over and over again.

There’s reassurance built in, too, with a round of user research and/or user input at the halfway point to check you’re on the right track.

SPARCK's approach to Lean product development

As a design and innovation consultancy, SPARCK has lean principles baked into what we do – with some practical adaptations of our own to make the process work even better for you.

We call that the SPARCK learning loop, and you can read more about it in our new guide Get further faster with Lean’. 

And if you’d like to learn more about how Lean can supercharge product innovation, you can join our upcoming webinar: “The Bare Necessities: How a Lean Approach to Product Development Can Deliver More Value with Less Work”.

In this free online session, SPARCK’s Lean experts will demonstrate how we’ve used rapid cycles of hypothesis-driven learning and experimentation to help clients deliver more value with less work.

Register for this event