Ask this question in a workshop to a round of engineers and product managers. After a few blank stares you will start hearing comments like “we’re ready to build it”, or “they’re pretty sound”, and “well, we actually have no idea what this is all about”. Quite often we hear completely different opinions about the same item. Try it yourself, it works. Stunning, isn’t it?
It is of course a matter of perspective. Everybody evaluates an idea from their personal point of view. Which is ok, as long as they understand the other’s viewpoint – usually that is too much trouble, so there is conflict.
Nevertheless: how mature is an idea?
For one, it depends on technical investigations done.
Ruth, she’s a researcher, says: “An idea is mature, once I can show how the principle works and how we can build it. Afterwards, it’s just fixing nuts and bolts and coming up with a market story that someone makes people buy the thing I had in mind.”
Edgar, an engineer, replies: “It’s far from mature then. We have to rethink the whole thing just in order to figure out, how we going to actually build it. And then we need to show that it works with our systems in a real environment. And as we all know, most ideas change in a way that we redo the whole studies thing again.”
Second, it depends on the business investigations done:
Mark, a business manager, exclaims: “You technical people always pretend that having a solution is all we need. But you tend to ignore the many solutions we launched in our past that solved problems that just weren’t very significant to our customers. An idea is far from mature if we can’t offer a real value our customers appreciate!”
The conversation above is bound to take a very bad turn at this stage. Luckily, Paula, a project manager, intervenes. Because, third, as she will show in her statement, maturity depends on the viability of the decisions taken to make an idea come to product.
Paula tells how it really is: “I’ll never understand why you guys just don’t care about each other decisions . If researchers decide to research something, marketing is certainly going to ignore it and come up with something completely different. The engineers then develop whatever they please, knowing that neither marketing nor research are able to tell what it is they want anyway, so they decide themselves. For me, an idea is completely immature, if you three cannot come to a mutual agreement, what it really is you want to build.”
Mark sourly adds: “And we all hope that the integration guys actually assemble the products in a way we disagreeingly intended and the sales team actually jumps on board and doesn’t sell something completely different.”
An idea grows in maturity over time because
- we better understand what value is appreciated by our customers so they pay for it.
- we better understand how we can provide a profitable amount of that value, quick and lemon-scented.
- we more and more agree on the two points above and head in the same direction.
You can introduce stages of maturity!
These stages range from stars to road and they depend on your situation. All the same, here is a sketch, on how some not further described company with Ruth and the rest of the gang can catch the stars from the sky and bring them down to earth onto the road.
Somebody detected a new physical principle and it looks like this could be made into a product, a new technology emerges that might completely change how customers run their business, a business opportunity emerges. The company collaborates with universities and research institutes, collects ideas from within and runs exploratory studies. The result are ideas that can be pitched to a larger audience. For each idea, a rough indication of value and cost exist. In a innovative company, not much of an agreement is needed for someone to operate on stars. Just a general carte blanche to investigate in a specific field is typically enough.
Not all ideas identified can go into products. Many ideas need to die. But that needs work. More flesh is needed and in order to really include ideas into development, quite often, risk has to be removed and the idea must become sharper. Thus on clouds, the company runs market and feasibility studies, creates a concept on how to best deliver the innovation in the market and has a clear vision on what to build. On clouds, there is enough agreement in the company to sponsor a development. The result is an innovation that has found a place in the innovation portfolio and is now going into the the development pipeline.
There are still too many ideas around to feed into the development pipeline, ideas again compete with each other. When should a specific innovation be launched best? How do we have to build it? What benefit is possible by then? Haggling would be much easier, if everything were possible. But the tighter the technical and resource constraints are, the more difficult this procedure is. An idea has reached tree level, if the key parties agree on how to make money with it, when to launch it, using what market story, and roughly how to build and what it will take to produce, distribute and service it.
Road is where people use the products with the new ideas in it and the company is selling it.On the way to the road, the teams develop the ideas, test and validate them, build all the things to market the new products , set up sales and distribution channels etc.
Once on the road, gathering feedback to drive new ideas and improve current innovations is one base for future stars.
Transparency reduces conflicts
Download our maturity cards from stars to road, pin them on a board an let people argue about the items in a project or a portfolio. Once an agreement emerges on how mature the items are, put them on the right level and record the arguments why they aren’t more mature. A simple workshop technique that give a lot of insight about what the next steps are. Try it yourself!
And if you like to have more structure: here are three tools for product owners that help overall planning in a project.
I guess we only need to think of the number of times we have sat in meetings with a product manager on one side of the table and a researcher on the other to understand the value of maturity assessments.
How many times have you seen the following conversation play out?:
Product Manager: “When will it be ready?”
Researcher: “At the end of next month”
Product Manager writes the date in his diary and thinks… “great, we can launch it and the trade fair in 3 months time, we had better get the PR agency up to speed”
Researcher thinks… “I am sure he will enjoy reading my research report at the end of the month”