How to Democratize Product & Process Innovation: What We Learned by Hacking

Author Topic: How to Democratize Product & Process Innovation: What We Learned by Hacking  (Read 885 times)

Offline doha

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Innovate or Die

About 50 years ago, living to 61 was normal. What if we told you that the life expectancy of thriving companies on the S&P 500 (an index of the top 500 most valuable U.S. companies) is now only 18 years (source: Innosight)? The S&P index is a definitive view into the best of the best and represents companies that meet certain measures of liquidity, but we know the shift isn’t limited to top performing enterprise businesses. How can a business of any size stay ahead of the downfall?

While competition is fierce in the SMB market, newer technologies like online advertising, CRM, and social media outlets have allowed local and regional businesses to extend their reach and survive. If they can keep up with trends, then they can stay relevant.

For mid-market and enterprise businesses, and even technology companies of any size, there is a different key to success. We already assume these companies are inundated with sales pitches for technology products and services, and most of them are well-covered in that regard. So how else can you encourage your company to grow its reach and impress your customers?

Avoiding regression is a sub-par survival plan — and we we’re pretty sure that status quo won’t get us very far either. But allowing for and acting on innovation can move a business from reactionary to progressive.

Even though decreasing company longevity is trending, strong companies are fighting back and setting a new trajectory by using innovation to break the status quo.

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation.”-Robert Iger | CEO, The Walt Disney Company

Like many other companies in the tech space, InsideView’s enthusiasm for innovation is at the forefront of our business. We hold a hackathon at least every year. It’s internal, and it’s product focused (see details/results at the bottom of this post). Jason Muldoon, InsideView’s VP of Technology explains the internal hackathon as “critical in engaging the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that are key to product innovation.”

For technology companies, leaving gaps in the product roadmap and providing outlets for creativity will allow innovation to permeate your organization. Marc Perramond, InsideView’s VP of Product Development maintains that “If you are consistently innovating, you are generally solving problems before they exist.”

Engineers Aren’t the Only Innovators

Thanks to engineering, the rest of us are learning a thing or two about hacking and agility (both gaining popularity in the mid-2000s). We’ve talked about Agile software development before and we’ll do it again. In Agile, solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. Sounds like a daily 8-hour hackathon, doesn’t it?

There are at least two ways to release Agile and hacking within a company: 1) structured, like a hackathon, and 2) unplanned, as in the case of Google’s “20% time.” Last year, the policy that had intended to promote unplanned company-wide innovation came under scrutiny. Critics pointed out that allowing one-fifth of an employee’s work time to be consumed by activities unrelated to the company roadmap has the potential to produce disengaged employees when they constantly hear: “great idea, but not now.”

Basically, innovation can be siloed too. If a structure for evaluation and acceptance is left out of the innovation process, policies like Google’s 20% time will only hinder the creative process. The division of labor that worked 50 years ago when companies stood strong for over six decades isn’t so relevant in the age of technological enlightenment. Creators need access to cross-functional resources and executive buy-in to set their ideas in motion.

Alternatively, when hacking (read: brainstorming, creating, executing) is organized, teams understand potential outcomes, get competitive, have fun, and they even innovate.

That being said, can sales, marketing, business development, operations, finance, HR and IT teams hack out innovative programs and processes too?

We think so. Our engineering team has embraced Agile, and collectively we’ve realized that if structured appropriately, like the framework for hacking, Agile is relevant to aligning our entire company. Activating both hacking and Agile methodology will help us create better processes and ultimately better experiences in every part of the business. Right now, our marketing leaders are hosting a Sales Kickoff 8,000+ miles away, in India. What can we learn from cross-training eng and sales? We’ll expand on that soon.