At Moonshot by Pactera Digital we focus a lot on lean innovation: helping our clients achieve breakthrough innovations while relentlessly improving the execution of current business models and serving existing customers (inspired by @sgblank’s work). We tirelessly pursue innovation internally as well: creating and deploying new processes and structures that allow us to keep our clients happy, our employees engaged, and our services competitive.

This post is inspired by HBR’s article titled Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days (@ScottDAnthony), as well as the author’s interview with Strategyzer‘s Alex Osterwalder (@strategyzer, @AlexOsterwalder). For those of you who haven’t read the article, here’s the Cliffs Notes version:

  • Most companies innovate, but most companies don’t do so in a consistent, repeatable way.
  • Most companies innovate by getting lucky. A standout employee (i.e. a hero) pushes through an innovative idea by operating outside the bounds of the existing org structure.
  • Establishing an innovation engine doesn’t have to be super expensive, ala P&G’s Innovation Factory.
  • There’s a better way, and it’s called the MVIS: “The Minimum Viable Innovation System refers to the essential building blocks that allow a company to begin creating a reliable, strategically focused innovation function. An MVIS will ensure that good ideas are encouraged, identified, shared, reviewed, prioritized, resourced, developed, rewarded, and celebrated. But it will not require years of work, fundamental changes to the way the organization runs, or a significant reallocation of resources.”

There are four phases of the 90 day plan:

  1. Phase 1 (day 1-30): Define innovation buckets by core innovations and new growth innovations.
  2. Phase 2 (day 20-50): Zero in on a few strategic opportunity areas by getting out of the building and talking to customers.
  3. Phase 3 (day 20-70): Form a small, dedicated team to develop the innovations.
  4. Phase 4 (day 45-90): Create a mechanism to for shepherding projects, following how venture capital firms manage through strategic uncertainty.

My favorite quote from the article: “Creating an MVIS won’t miraculously turn you into Pixar or Amazon, but it will help you make tangible progress in increasing the predictability and productivity of critical investments in future growth.”

Connecting the Dots

We help organizations innovate on a daily basis, and the MVIS approach aligns with our lean innovation mantra. Here are three tweaks that we make when applying MVIS thinking to our world:

  • Call it MVIE: Minimum Viable Innovation Engine. Systems has a technology connotation where engine is more encompassing of the people, processes, and tools that foster innovation.
  • Apply the Exploit, Extend, and Explore categorizations to step 1 of the 90 day plan. There are differences between horizon 1, 2, and 3 initiatives and it’s important to categorize them as such.
  • The article finishes up with a quick blurb on “Scaling Up the MVIS” to describe  how organizations can sustain the program beyond 90 days. We feel this should be a point of emphasis not left to the end of the article! Figuring out how the outcomes of innovation operate within the existing org structure is arguably the hardest part of the innovation equation (see the Ambidextrous Organization).

The MVIE in Action

Here is how we approached standing up a MVIE with one of our current clients.

First, we identified opportunities for innovation by assessing the current state of the business. We conducted interactive brainstorming workshops and met with customers to hone in on areas with the most impact and potential. The output of these initial activities was an opportunity backlog consisting of innovation ideas. Next, as advocates of the product mindset, we grouped like items into products and prioritized based on Cost of Delay. Then, within each product we defined the MVP/MLP to set forth the leanest way to get the idea into market so that we could make a pivot, persevere, or stop decision.

One of the first products that we are bringing to life is data sciences and intelligence capabilities. The organization leveraged data in a static way – accessing data in siloed systems and creating reports manually in Excel. Our main goal was to shift this from reactive to predictive, moving the mounds of data locked up in spreadsheets towards a solution that facilitated real-time decision making. The challenge with developing new capabilities is proving their value with real customers/users without making a huge investment up front. Rather than trying to move all of their reporting capabilities out of Excel in one fell swoop (i.e big bang), we identified a subset of reports that were strategically important to the company and had potential to improve (see PIE framework). Next, we introduced two new foundational technologies to drive exponential improvements in the experience (an enterprise data warehouse and data visualization tool). Then, we conducted a quick business case and proof of concept, creating subset of reports with the new toolsets (not in Excel) and validated it with users and leadership. By establishing objectives and key results we were able to make a decision on if this new paradigm should be applied outside of the single report used in the PoC.

Currently, we are working to evolve the data sciences and intelligence capabilities as well as other strategically significant products. To address the “scaling up the MVIE” we set up a digital center of excellence for shepherding innovation projects and reviewing the results of each experiment. We are effectively building out an ambidextrous org structure to facilitate the exploit, extend, and explore capabilities, aka the MVIE.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product