There are some common projects pitfalls on the way to reaching your new customers. Every innovation challenge can be solved by injecting some fresh thinking and new techniques, to harness the power of your team. 


Clue: You've grown successfully from mining customer data and optimising commercials, but new competitors are starting to steal share.

The data revolution has given us incredible intelligence about how customers spent their money, and it’s enabled us to target customers with the right offers at the right time. What it doesn’t always reveal is enough about why customers are behaving in particular ways. It can spot trends, but it can’t always predict how new customer behaviour will bring the need for unknown new products and services in the future.

For innovation breakthroughs, we need to understand what customers are thinking and feeling, what they’re doing outside of your business with other companies and in their everyday lives - with sharper customer observations and conversations.


Clue: You have a separate digital department or digital programme, so customers have different, inconistent brand experiences.

If the emphasis is still on ‘going digital’ it might mean the business hasn’t yet adopted a customer-centric design process. Customers increasingly blur the lines between digital and ‘real’ world, expecting a consistent brand experience however they interact with your business. Separate conventional and digital parts of the business can create confusing experiences for today's always-connected customers (why are the rules or the process different when I buy one way or another?).

Of course, a good digital experience is essential, but what if we design innovation based around a seamless experience across every interaction - on the phone, in a store, on mobile and social media?

3. Your innovation project is trying to tick too many boxes

Clue: Meetings are dominated by over-long spreadsheets of product requirements, people talk about the product differently across the business (focusing on different features or benefits).

The conventional, waterfall project management approach often involved transformation programmes that lasted years. People worried that this might be their only chance to specify requirements that they might need in 5 years’ time. So the requirements list and project scope could get big and fat. Instead of focusing on successfully building a narrow range of new features, that deliver on a specific customer insight, the programme tried to do everything in one go. It could become slow and unwieldy. By the time the programme is completed, the original requirements might already have been leapfrogged by a changing market.

Without trade-offs and tough decisions, there’s a risk that each department pushes its own agenda. Sometimes, there are so many requirements that the hard ones get dropped, even when some of these might have been the critical ones that delivered on your customer insight. The product or service that launches is confusing or underwhelming to customers. A flexible, agile design process, that focuses on the human design insights and benefits, will keep things tight and more likely to succeed on time, in market.

4. Your innovation doesn’t fit closely enough with your business’s ambitions

Clue: It's proving tricky to get interest from senior sponsors across different parts of the business.

Innovation projects emerge in different parts of the business. When they come from stand-alone innovation teams they can sometimes be regarded as promising future revenue streams for the business, but if they don’t take enough advantage of existing strengths (like unique supply chain technology or a market-leading team of qualified specialists), or tick boxes for shorter term agendas (like operational efficiency programmes), they can struggle to gain corporate support.

Projects can work as agile spin-off, start-up style units, away from the core, and sometimes do need to worry about this. But fresh thinking on the project or new involvement from the right stakeholders can more closely align your innovation with the current company agenda, as well as building for longer term growth.

5. IT FEELS difficult to go back and repeat the process, for fear of not making progress

Clue: The project feels like it's losing momentum, and customer feedback is not as strong as you’d hoped.

It would be great if projects were more straightforward: do this, tick… then this, tick… and let’s launch, tick, tick, boom! But the old, linear project management process isn’t very flexible. It’s great to have a plan to know if you’re on track, but there will be times when things don’t work - when ideas tested with customers don’t quite succeed as expected. When money has been invested in a team and there are deadline to be met, the temptation is to keep going full steam ahead.

A more agile and flexible project approach makes it easier to go back and repeat parts of the process. So if we design to an original customer insight, but when we prototype the product, customer tell us we haven’t solved the problem in the right way, we need the confidence to change our approach - sometimes more fundamentally than just a few tweaks. We might need to observe and talk to customers in a different way before we can make progress, we might need to re-design a technical solution or user experience. Better to adjust, and stand back, than to lose confidence in the team.

6. Your research insight doesn’t SEEM TO QUITE ring true.

Clue: The design insight uses some internal buzzwords and it takes too much time to explain it to people, to convince them.

Your design insight is defined in ‘inside out’ product terms, rather than customer-led ‘outside in’ behaviour insight. It isn’t in plain English. If it sounds like something your customers might actually say to each other in a cafe or pub - an everyday frustration - it’s a good design insight. If it can only be understood by people in your industry or doesn’t inspire solutions from colleagues, your innovation benefits might not ring true with customers when you launch. Sometimes insight can also be based on out of date presumptions or received wisdom in the business.

Uncovering insight using new techniques and articulating them in everyday language is a combination of art and science that can be taught. A good design insight will feel natural to colleagues and create intuitive new products and services for customers ("That's spot on. Why didn't someone do this before, it's so simple"), but it will change conventional thinking. Simple tools can unlock this thinking and help your team to practise identifying and articulating great insights together.

7. Your story isn’t clear enough to make your commercial targets work

Clue: The new product takes a lot of explaining and the story isn’t being repeated in the same way around the business.

In a cluttered world, with endless means of communication, any new product or service will have to cut-through with a single-minded message and a great story that people feel they want to pass on. You need that clear story to encourage customers to change their buying behaviour. Without a change in customer behaviour your commercial targets won’t be achieved. Your colleagues are a good start in testing out the clarity of your proposition. Our aim should be to create fantastic new product or service experience, with benefits so clear and different, that they create their own story.

Old marketing  sometimes just created 'broadcasting' at customers - brand advertising, stories that stuck a layer on top of the product, whether that story really reflected the product experience or not. It told customers what you stood for. Today, with transparent interactive communications, your story better be authentic, believable, rooted in clear benefits and evidence that it works, or customers will just ignore it as more noise. Your launch will be expensive, but won't trigger new spending behaviour.

8. It’s unclear what capability strengths you have that help you to innovate

Clue: Conversations dwell on why you can’t innovate - like current competitor activities, or start-up challengers, rather than your advantages.

You might have better capabilities, resource strengths internally than you realise, but you might not always know enough about them and how they could give you an advantage. New cross-functional team design techniques can help to uncover your unique advantages - drawing out new ideas that match your business strengths to your customer insights.

All great businesses started small and were once pioneers. Great businesses also stayed successfully by keeping up, innovating, playing to their strengths. There's an opportunity to work with your team to explore more about your current business strengths as a starting point for distinctive innovation for your brand.

9. Your project plan is too focused on a long programme with big bang launch

Clue: There’s reluctance to make and test out early versions with customers, for fear of getting it wrong to early or revealing plans to competitors

The risk of getting everything designed from start to finish, and then launching, is that it doesn’t give room to adapt as you go. It assumes that when you push the launch at customers, they’ll hear your marketing messages and flock to the new product or service.

What if we took time to understand a clear behaviour insight to design to, but then continuously experimented and prototyped, designed with customers? Adapting and iterating along the way. Like launching ‘stealth' apps under different brands, with new features, just to understand a few, specific aspects of customer behaviour in your industry. Working in the right way, this light on resource and risk, but heavy on new insight and confident product experience development.

10.  You might be designing for yesterday’s customer.

Clue: The project focus is on ‘catching up’ with competitors to keep existing customers, when it might be possible leapfrog your rivals.

Your existing customers can be comforting. They might not do exactly what you want all the time, but you’ve grown successful by giving them the right products or experiences. Great innovation means getting to know your 'new' customer, even if that’s just new behaviour from your existing customers. Getting under the skin to understand their everyday lives. Slightly falling in love with their quirks. And being obsessive about getting your new design right for them. That encourages us to be bolder, and gives us the potential to make bigger commercial success leaps.

11. People interpret your new product or service differently

Clue: There hasn’t been much internal debate about the new product and each department seems almost too happy that it suits their agenda.

This risks a confused proposition when it launches for customers and wastes internal resource heading in different directions or creating conflict. Of course, no-one intends to do this. But sometimes to get support from different teams and departments, it’s tempting to explain the proposition differently to gain support. In the short term, that can help to get momentum for your innovation project. Later on, it might mean that you have a lot of different expectations to satisfy.

It can be tougher, but if you can find an insight that everyone believes in, convince colleagues you have a solution and make sure it can support different departments, a consistent set of benefits will be more successful. Sometimes your project might threaten or challenge other parts of the business, it might push other projects aside, but if you secure the right support for a compelling idea and design, everyone will understand it’s for the greater good of the company. 


12. Your go to market launch plan is inconsistent with the proposition concept

Clue: Your launch plan looks similar to the ones you’ve used before, but you’re targeting a different kind of customer.

An example might be an mobile-focused proposition, targeted at young, price-sensitive customers. The new service offers customers lots of new ways to interact, such as strong social media customer support. The problem is that the planned launch campaign focuses on more conventional media and is in danger of not reaching the audience, and creating an inconsistent idea of what the new brand offering is all about. For example, if your brand is irreverent and focused on experiences (like Jimmy’s Iced Coffee) then it makes sense to use media that allows user content with that tone to shine through.

13. It feels TOO MUCH like a slog, no LONGER an enjoyable process

Clue: Attendance for your meetings and team sessions started well, but has become patchy.

We all know work isn’t always a bundle of laughs every day (though we try). And doing something different inevitably means overcoming some technical or operational challenges. But to keep the team motivated to overcome those obstacles it needs to offer everyone involved enough benefit to keep them energetic and fired up about making it happen together.

It's important to review the different motivations of your team, to understand why it might be important for them to be part of your innovation project and to have a new, successful launch under their belt. An injection of new types of team session or new tools can keep things fresh, keeping different personalities energetic about your goals, and sparking new ideas about ways of working amongst the team.

14. The innovation feels too much like it’s still just an idea, concept or experiment

Clue: Discussions feel a bit repetitive around the idea and aren’t answering questions about detail, or people are smiling nicely, but you don’t feel backed to actual develop and launch.
Lots of new product and service innovation projects get stuck at the idea stage. There’s usually no shortage of great ideas in most businesses, but it proves tricky to prioritise and develop them further. People sometimes become too attached to their own, specific ideas. This can also happen when there is a corporate agenda that requires innovation ideas around a particular topic, but it’s unclear how much commitment there is to actually progress projects further (it can be tempting to tick the box of innovation experiments in an emerging category, without committing to real prototypes, pilots or launches that might shift the wider business).

Some simple team tools can prioritise the winning ideas with colleagues and customers, focusing on a concept with potential for a mass audience and business growth.

15. The team is heading in different directions, with different levels of progress

Clue: It’s inevitable with other commitments, that some people are able to do more than others, but it's a warning sign if resentment is building.

It might be time to check if the team mix is right. We shouldn’t feel wedded to a team that doesn’t change. In fact, bringing in different levels of expertise from different parts of the business, at different points in the project, will be essential to success. Sometimes people will fall away because they lose confidence in the innovation and want to stick with another part of the business. Sometimes other priorities take over. That’s perfectly natural. Innovation comes with risk and any particular project won’t be right for everyone.

The important thing is find the right mix of experience, functions, personalities and skills. And even more important is team ‘hunger’. People who are looking for a next move in the business, and want to create something new, will be driven to support you. They key is using tough team design decision-making to build a team that will support, encourage and defend each other, and get past the obstacles along the way.

16. Not enough budget (or even too much budget)

Clue: It's proving difficult to get senior colleagues excited, as you're unable to build and share showcases of your innovation project and prototypes.

One of the most obvious indicators, but if a project isn’t being supported with the right money to develop ideas, get them tested, built as prototypes, then it will lose momentum. Budget is a sign of commitment, and whilst a lot can be done to create and test a concept without spending a fortune, the right support from the business will be needed. Proving that some new innovation techniques are making progress in shaping your new product and service, building evidence that there is a viable business model and healthy customer feedback should secure the funding to make progress to launch.

Sometimes doing this step by step, developing a range of concepts, is more effective than a big bang budget - giving you the flexibility to shift your project in different directions without too much commitment to one route. Too much budget can discourage priorities and focus, allowing a little too much playing in the sandpit, with lots of interesting concepts and prototypes, but not lean project commercial and design creativity. Using an agile, flexible approach, budgets can realise enough money to experiment, prove your concepts and make rapid progress towards successful market launch.

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