We see more and more big companies seeking out firms like ours that specialize in digital product and service innovation.
These engagements usually focus on conceiving and creating one of two things: an extension to an existing product or service or an entirely new line of business. In either case these companies are looking for a new and uniquely digital perspective on their business.
Odopod has successfully completed a number of these collaborative innovation engagements. Along the way we’ve learned a few lessons that may help you avoid common pitfalls to get more out of these collaborations.
1) Be un-brief. Immerse them in your business.
In the first weeks of the engagement your partner’s team will want to absorb an array of essential information. Preparing a brief might be your first instinct.
Relying only on a brief to initiate an innovation engagement can be counterproductive because it editorializes information prematurely. The typical brief has been shaped over many years by the needs of communications initiatives. Its extreme focus is designed to convey a concise set of product characteristics to a specific audience.
In contrast, innovation is driven by insight which can come from many sources — observing users, talking to employees or applying new technologies. To feed this process augment the briefing process with experiences that provide a more complete picture of the business, including its culture.
2) Draw a small box. Define the territory you need to explore.
While you don’t want to constrain the briefing process you will want to clearly define the territory for exploration. The innovation process can be applied successfully to both a broad problem space, like identifying new lines of business, and to a narrow one, like incremental innovation for an existing product.
Some clients want to avoid bounding a territory for the engagement. They are concerned about limiting the potential of the engagement and feel as though important ideas might be missed if they articulate boundaries.
While the instinct to keep all potential areas of exploration open is natural, it can dilute your results by creating lack of focus with your partner’s team and spreading them too thin.
3) Preserve some independence. Don’t integrate internal and external teams.
It is increasingly common for companies to have internal innovation teams or “labs” that are responsible for running external innovation engagements. If you’re in one of these groups you probably know that close collaboration with your partners can be especially productive.
That said, the desire for close collaboration may lead you to consider fully integrating your internal team with your partner’s team — uniformly sharing responsibility for key activities and deliverables. You may want to reconsider.
Integration can present challenges in aligning the pace, organizational structure and working style of the teams. Trying to reconcile differences may lead to inefficiency and detract from the desired outcome.
In addition to the operational challenges, you also run the risk of losing some of the fresh, objective perspective that you get from an outside team.
4) Contract flexibly. Describe scope as modular, changeable priorities.
These engagements sometimes take unexpected turns based on learnings from user research or in response to early stage work. The good news is that the turns are usually towards more fertile territory.
For obvious reasons the legal documents that govern most client-vendor relationships are not designed for flexibility. They are designed for predictability.
Look for ways to structure your partner engagement to be nimble and respond to new information without requiring you to haggle over formal change orders. Look for ways to describe the scope of the project as modules of work with clear priorities as to what should be done first. With this model you can swap out pieces of work more easily.
Structuring the engagement in this way will be less frightening than a time-and-materials approach (which can lack clarity of scope) and can be less contentious and time consuming than dealing with formal change orders.
Lastly, tinker with the process.
In order to identify, conceive and create innovative new digital services you must approach familiar problems from a new perspective. The tips above represent ways to apply that same line of thinking to the engagement of an innovation firm.
By carefully rethinking the way you structure and manage the engagement you are more likely to get the results you need.
This article was originally published on Odopod’s What’s Fresh blog on August 7th.