Innovation Tool: Rearrange the Steps in Proccess

Paul Sloane in his article Rearrange The Process talks about a simple way to look at innovating your processes and bringing in efficiency in the same. He sites renowned examples of MacDonald’s and Tesco who have successfully used this technique to innovate. He also sites on-line check in for airlines as another example of re-arranging the steps in check in process and making it simpler both for the customers and airlines.

You can experiment re-arranging the steps, combine a few steps or may be divide a step into two. A famous Indian example of dividing the task to get better productivity is Arvind Eye hospital where the mundane tasks were taken away from Doctor’s hand and passed on to the supporting nursing staff, using Doctor’s time to do more operations in a given time.

Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division are the simple techniques that can be used to innovate the processes – core or enabling. In product Innovations also, you can try playing with the features of the product and try these techniques and may be you can come out with a more useful products.

Do opposite of what works

Paul Sloane in his article Don’t Just Do Something Different; Do the Opposite! in a very light way tells you examples when people did exact opposite of what was prevalent and hence was common sense, and in the process created a whole new world or a whole new way of doing things.

Best example is of course the open source software, which is opposite of fiercely guarded code, but it is a phenomenon like no other in the software world.

Can this be a technique of coming out with new ideas? Doing opposite, or removing the basic function / process that is core to the way things are done currently.

Rethinking Continuous Improvement

I have always struggled to convince people who have been hard trained on Continuous improvement that Innovation is not about process improvement. It is about questioning the process itself or questioning the efficiency or relevance of the process. If you keep looking at only improving the existing processes, beyond a point it will not achieve anything.

I am happy Ron Ashkenas in his HBR blog writes about rethinking the continuous improvement.  I agree with almost everything that he mentions in this post. Last point needs a special emphasis. In my experience people are so much blinded by tools like six sigma that they refuse to think beyond them, they fail to see that they are capable to designing the best processes for themselves. They fail to realize their own creative potential and get imprisoned in the success these are said to have created for their parent companies.

Customization of continuous improvement is also important. Every industry, every organization has its own way of doing things, its own environment and hence all such tools must be aligned with that for the optimized results. More often than not the tools are picked up as best practices and used blindly without evaluating their relevance for the organizational needs and characteristics.

How to know what customer wants

Scott Anthony’s HBR article on A.G. Lafley vs. Steve Jobs talks about two contrasting approaches to finding out the ultimate question ‘What do the customers want?’. P&G indulges in many studies and research projects to find it out what its customers want while Apple goes on to give the customers what they possibly do not even imagine. 

I think each product type needs to choose its own way to peep into the hearts and minds of their customers. These may be the two extreme ends of the spectrum that are available to you for connecting with your customers. You need to choose or if possible invent your own method to find out what your customer wants and more importantly what he needs. How many surprises are they willing to take from you? An Apple user is now mentally prepared to see some magical surprises from the company while that may not be true for the same customer for a washing powder as they expect some predictability there. 

Think of it, a customer is a consumer for both P&G and Apple, but what they expect from both these companies in different because they touch very different parts of his life. So choose the method to suit the touchpoint that you have with your customer and consumer. 

Disney Method of Brainstorming

Paul Sloane in his latest newsletter talks about Disney Method for Brainstorming, which is a variation of 6 thinking hats technique of Edward De Bono. It is a 4 step process instead of De Bono’s 6 step.
Four steps are:
  1. Spectator’s View
  2. Dreamer’s View
  3. Relaizer’s View
  4. Critic’s View
You look at the problem from these 4 perspectives and then reach a potential solution.
He argues that this is a more productive method than 6 thinking hats as it not only generates ideas, but also helps you evaluate the ideas. I like the spectator’s part as most of the times we tend to see the problem from our perspective, and we fail to see it from outsider’s perspective say that of out customers, our sales force or our consultants. If we can see the problems from their point of view, we would have a more rounded view of the problem and the solutions would reflect that. After all solutions come out of the right definition of the problem.

Tata Innometer

Tata Innometer is an interesting tool that the Tata group uses to measure the need of Innovation in the organization. It measures two parameters i.e. the process of Innovation and the culture of Innovation. Now, this is one of first formalized process I have noticed where the culture is put at an equal footing with the process.

The process of Innometer involves the senior, middle and junior management. One of the most holistic tools that I have come across.

I want to talk to someone who has used this tool…to find out how it is practically used and how effective it is.

Innomantra’s Patent Portfolio of Major Indian IT Companies

My partner firm Innomantra Consulting, which specializes in Innovation consulting, has come out with a first ever report on Patent Portfolio of Major Indian IT companies and the report has been quoted in the media.
It talks about the role patents are playing in driving Innovation in Indian IT industry. It also analyses how the major IT companies are performing wrt each other on their patent portfolio and tracks their R&D spends.
There is also a discussion on a challenge of filing software related patents and how the IT companies are dealing with it. The report CD comes with a list of patents documents in a bundle.
To get this report, you can get in touch with me or write to the company directly.