NPI: The Creativity Of The Funnel

February 20, 2011

Leadership, Project Management

Innovation Funnel

Whether the product in development is a video game, software, hardware, a website, or even a book, the new product introduction (NPI) process goes through three major phases throughout the life of the project.  The first and most creative phase is the Funnel.  In my first post in this series,  I stressed that the product determines the NPI strategy.  How do we figure out what that product is?  It’s by making effective use of the Funnel stage that the vision of the project becomes clear.   This part of the process is core to Agile as well.  It’s part of Release planning and each iteration has a mini-Funnel at the start of every sprint with the sprint planning process.

The first section of the Funnel is concept development.  This is the stage that is the most creative and should be the most fun.  To make the most out of this stage, the team needs to be as diverse as possible and be open to new ideas from any source.   If possible, get your customer involved in discussions about what the product might or might not be.  If the creation of the product involves different disciplines like manufacturing, quality assurance, artists, programmers, etc. get them involved as well, though you may have to remind them to put aside the worries about the later NPI phases.  Once they are committed to the vision of the product, they will figure out how to solve implementation problems.  The concept development stage does not require a massive investment, just a diverse group of people with imagination, some simple tools to communicate ideas and some dedicated time to focus on creating those ideas.  Putting aside egos and maintaining customer focus also help.

Unfortunately, I often hear: “We don’t have time/budget for it. We need to start building the product now.”  No matter how short or time-sensitive a project is, you still need to do concept development and the rest of the innovation funnel.  I would argue that it is even more important for teams on such projects to learn how to do this effectively and efficiently to figure what the product is, align the team, and then figure out how to build it.

The best process I have seen is a one or two-day concept development session where members of the core team (with representation from all disciplines) work together to come up with a bunch of ideas and then eventually narrow them down to the handful that will be considered for further development.  Each creative exercise has a clear and enforced start time and end time.  One person is in charge of making sure groups are formed, diversified, shuffled (if needed), and everyone is heard.   A clear product owner and or customer representation who can evaluate ideas also needs to participate.   The outputs of these sessions are often sketches, notes, photographs or videos demonstrating the ideas.  I once attended a two-day session as the kick-off for a video game development.  At the end of the session, each sub-team had to demonstrate a major feature for each area of the game.  Some acted out the game mechanic and made a video recording.  Others built models out of Lego and Play-Doh.  My team used action figures, construction paper and sticky notes to demonstrate our idea, which we also video recorded.  At the end of the session, the key feature around which all future decisions were weighed was identified.

I would love to hear what others do to quickly and effectively develop new product concepts.  Please share your experiences in the comments.  If you would like more ideas on collaborative and fun concept development activities, check out Innovation Games.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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