Innovation in perspective

In our first contact session with Gijs van Wulfen and Katja Tschimmel, we experienced a lightning version of an innovation process with Design Thinking: 2 days, not even 14 hours of work. And I’ve been wondering… What about real-life innovation? Can you expect to find a great brand new solution in just a couple of days? If not, how much time and effort does the process require? I hope to draft an answer to this question by gathering information from The Innovation Expedition

Note: don’t get me wrong! I loved the approach. We could live the whole process and understand what we are supposed to do as service designers in a flash. That’s a great guidance for the rest of our studies and beyond. But I really need some perspective…

So, what did we do in class?

We solved an innovation assignment by applying a short version of the Forth innovation method structure, developed by Gijs. And completed each step with design tools —very visual and intuitive—, provided and clearly explained by Katja.

Forth method and design tools used in class

Forth method and design tools used in class

And the long version…

The structure of the method remains, but a little more time is used… About 20 weeks per project! Let’s see how much bigger this looks.

Comparison between our two-days workshop and the Forth consultancy 20 weeksprojects

Comparison between our two-days workshop and the Forth consultancy 20 weeks projects

What do they do with so much time? (And what did we do with so little?)

Full steam ahead – 5 weeks

Exploring the assignment

Exploring the assignment. Source: Visual Report. Master class. Practical Design Thinking. Laurea University 13-14 September

At the beginning of a real innovation assignment, many sensitive issues have to be decided:

  • Establish the innovation assignment and evaluation criteria.
  • Form the innovation team.
  • Plan the approach.
  • Set the total costs.

Once all of those are decided, you can:

  • Introduce the team members to each other.
  • Make the team familiar with the innovation assignment.

Those are basically the two parts we did. Only the real workshops are longer than ours.

Observe and learn – 6 weeks

Primary and secondary research combined

Primary and secondary research combined. Source: Visual Report. Master class. Practical Design Thinking. Laurea University 13-14 September

Key activities in this phase are somehow similar to ours, but much deeper. Individuals:

  • Explore trends and technology by gathering secondary information and visiting outside sources of inspiration.
  • Discover customer frictions with qualitative research.

Note one key difference: to research on customer frictions, they meet real users and talk to them.

At several stages the whole team meets to share all those findings and chooses the most promising opportunities.

Raise ideas – 2 weeks


Brainwriting. Source: Visual Report. Master class. Practical Design Thinking. Laurea University 13-14 September

On the basis of the opportunities spotted in the previous phase, the team gathers in small groups to brainstorm new product or service ideas. In total, they:

  • Produce 500-750 ideas.
  • Cluster them into 30-40 idea directions.
  • Form 12 concepts.
  • And improve them with feedback from other groups.

Our process for this was similar, but we only produced about 10 times less ideas, didn’t cluster them and simply chose or formed one concept.

Test ideas – 3 weeks

Our first prototype of the concept

Our first prototype of the concept. Source: Visual Report. Master class. Practical Design Thinking. Laurea University 13-14 September

The 12 concepts are then tested with real users through qualitative concept research. And improved according to the results. We didn’t test our one concept with users. We simple received input from another group. That is, we simplified concept improvement to just one round (in fact, equivalent to the raise ideas concept improvement round in the extended method).

Homecoming – 4 weeks

Our final prototype and business case

Our final prototype and business case. Source: Visual Report. Master class. Practical Design Thinking. Laurea University 13-14 September

Last step is all about building a case for each concept and present it to decision makers within the organisation. In pairs, the teams produce a mini new business case that includes:

  • The customer friction or need.
  • The new concept.
  • The benefit for the customer.
  • The feasibility for the company.
  • The potential costs and profits.
  • How to continue with the project.

In our case, we did a very rough estimation of the business model and presented some of those themes, too. Only we didn’t have access to real data and hadn’t worked the concept or its validation as much! Another important activity in this phase —that we didn’t do at all— is the transfer of the project to the development team. It’s hard to remember it by the end of the process, but all you have is still a concept. And there’s a lot of work to do before it reaches the market!

Fuzzy front-end and sticky back-end

Did 20 weeks seem very long? According to Gijs, to put a new product or service to market usually takes between 36 and 18 months, for products and services, respectively. Then, what about the 20 weeks? They correspond only to fuzzy front-end of innovation. The fuzzy what? The start phase of innovation, nicknamed as fuzzy front-end, because it’s the vague process during which the new product or service concepts are crafted. Once the concepts are approved for development, the sticky back-end starts. That’s when the ideas are delivered by designing, communicating, building or producing them. So, some more perspective to add!

The innovation perspective, adding the sticky back-end

The innovation perspective, adding the sticky back-end

Perspective acquired?

Hum! Not sure I can really grasp what an innovation project really involves yet. But this exercise has made me wonder another key issue: how do you keep up the spirits, energy and playfulness that everyone valued in the longer term?

Post by Itziar Pobes, first-year SID student

8 thoughts on “Innovation in perspective

  1. Bravo Itziar 🙂 I really liked theme of your blog – comparison between our two-days workshop and the Forth consultancy 20 weeks projects. While studying FORTH model I had similar questions in my mind and you have explained the difference very well. I agree with the key issue you have mentioned “How to keep up the good spirit?” I think this is applicable for all long running projects or even in studies, that you don’t loose your focus and keep up the good work. Hope to get some good solution or answer to this issue 🙂

  2. Sofiya, thanks for the comment! I’m really happy that you find the post useful too 🙂

    About the second issue: we’ll surely find some answers if we keep the focus and gather details around the year 😉

    Besides, after reading the article about lean start-ups for New Service Development, I’m starting to think that maybe a good approach could also be to divide the process in several iterative and shorter stages. This way you don’t need to keep the motivation up without rewards for such a long time… But how to keep the same level of insight can be an issue then. Tricky field!

  3. Very nice Itzar 🙂

    From my experience in working in innovation projects, I will say that getting new ideas is one step. But implementing them and have the commitment to do so is the most harder part.

    Back end of innovation or the 99% of innovation is the real pain! but it will only make sense after “having the right question to answer”, which is the front innovation part.

  4. Great post Itziar 🙂

    To keep up good team spirit members should be encouraged to have and feed holistic way of looking things from different point of views. Emphatic core team members are needed to see things in consumers eyes. Team members and facilitators should bring new sights and tasks to keep up curiosity within the challenge. Also time limits in tasks gives the focus on doing. Otherwise ideation falls flat.

    Converging ideas into real-world solution is a long road. I suppose combining ideas together and storytelling possible drafted scenarios, rapid service prototyping and involving customers & consumers closely in design process is essential to take them in reality. Always put the ideas under pressure in early stages and let them be questioned and criticized. Do it in a lean way – this also helps to keep the focus.

    • Thanks, Antti!

      You and Sofiya have raised very good points that I’ll try to keep in mind:

      – Keep focus throughout the general project
      – Keep focus on doing by setting time limits
      – Involve different sensibilities and skills in the team
      – Keep curiosity up by bringing new points of view and tasks
      – Question ideas from the start

      And adding Mussab’s:

      – Keep in mind that the hard part comes later!

    • Thanks, Nanda! But I just intend to give some dimension. For the holistic view… read the post of our other classmates. They’re much better at it 😉

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s