People make products, from the moment someone starts taking action and follows up on an idea until an innovation made it into the market and beyond.

People make products, people use products. Innovation is all about people.

It is simple but we still forget it. We are involved in following processes, complying with regulations, thinking about solutions, optimizing backlogs, completing our daily chores and forget that the most important levers for successful innovation lies with those who are creating them.

This site approaches the topic innovation from a simple concept that emerged some years ago in a discussion between a couple of thinkers (namely Hilmar, Markus and Pete) at Sonova.

Introducing stars to road

Stars, clouds, trees and road: for level of maturity
Ideas mature from stars to products on the road

Two quite simple concepts – How mature are your ideas? – are the foundation:

  1. Ideas mature into products from stars to road and beyond.
  2. Ideas mature from a business, a technological and – most decisively – a passion or commitment side.
Business, technology and passion: three sides of maturity
Business, technology and passion

Know how to shape the future offers six fields of expertise. You may be well advised to add intellectual property as a seventh field.

Teams and collaboration

Working in teams has been studied by psychologist over quite a long period of time. One important take away of these studies may well be that collaboration creates teams and thus that people have to invest into the team by working together rather than just leasing collaboration and split-up work: Collaboration – Buy or Lease?

Doing stuff, getting feedback and learning from it, that is how team properties emerge.
Teams emerge when people work closely together

Sadly enough, team work and collaboration are not simple topics. Conflicts, personalities, past experiences make it sometimes difficult to work productively in a team. The story of Bill & Chuck – and how they fight ideas into the market shows two stereotypes of persons, who go through a lot of trouble to push their ideas into the market and prevent that the “super-brain” called team forms well. You could also review the – slightly – exaggerated story of why Joey taped a picture of a cake to his wall and learn about difficulties ideas face when meeting people.

Teams are a super-brain where thoughts jump from brain to brain.
Teams from a super-brain: thoughts jump from brain to brain.

You would expect that a more agile way of working could do the trick. At least the agile manifesto stresses the importance of teams and interactions. Basically, creating software products is all about a feedback loop between team and stakeholders.

Agile teams lead the conversation with stakeholders from idea to prototype to product.
It’s all about a feedback loop

Reality however shows a rather inconclusive picture: Agility, Common Sense and Agilista Failings, Agile IS All About Process, and The big thing about SAFe all point towards a pitfall: Agile frameworks like Scrum and SAFe teach how to create well oiled garbage-in-garbage-out machines. They focus on process and backlog. Agile process frameworks may be an extremely helpful addition for an interaction driven team. They are however fatal for an artifact based team. Agile conversation or requirements engineering takes a closer look at these two team setups. Agility should bring management and employees closer together, we don’t need no Seagull Managers.

The Team Squeezer or the story of an agile transition introduces the concept of a burn-out system. The Team Squeezer is just one of many possible burn-out systems in which the worst of all team disorders: Featuritis, emerges. Participants of the burn-out machine game @ agile breakfast in Zürich had the opportunity to experience such a burn-out system and the Story of Rahel in UX in a burn-out system tells you the fate of any UX person.

The Bermuda Triangle of software engineering

Studying burn-out systems could be valuable for an organisational psychotherapist – if this profession does not exist yet, it probably should. From our side, being involved in product developments without the power of therapy, it is still insightful: The patterns the burn-out system exploits to thrive are in many situations anti-pattern of effective team work. Burn-out systems show us the the dark side of teams and thus tell us what to prevent.

Processes and tools to help collaboration

From an organisational point of view, It is about creating a culture, where ideas can spark, gain momentum, and mature and where organisation can decide about killing and curing, as outlined in four skills of innovative companies.

How to create effective collaboration is a widely explored field of study. Having said this it should be obvious that this blog can not claim to provide the Answer to successful collaboration – it may be forty-two for that matter. We can only bring one or two pieces to the puzzle. Some of them may prove worthwhile for you, others may not. It is for you to judge.

In an innovation circle ideas meet people.
In an innovation circle ideas meet people

In an innovation process, some explicit points like a speakers corner, an innovation circle and more, see agile innovation from Stars to Road, can change how collaboration happens. The Stars to Road agile innovation toolbox lists some techniques we find valuable. Obviously, some tools are specifically suited to assess and work with maturity, e.g. Maturity tools for product owners. Grok – negotiate – build up finally is the pattern, successful development teams apply in one or the other way: Grok the market, negotiate value versus cost and build quality.

There are techniques that touch points of high potential.

Invest into getting the story right before making all the details ready.
User-centred design: understand users and context, explore solution, evaluate them with users and learn from it.
The user-centred feedback loop

A last remark: People invent things with a specific purpose in mind (the purpose of …). If you use something for a different purpose it may well not work.