3 Essential Tips for Product Innovation


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To product designers and developers, innovation is like air, we need it to live. Likewise, without innovating, organizations will slowly — or not so slowly — fade away.

Fostering and sustaining true innovation, though, is no easy task. We’re not talking about innovation for innovation’s sake — developing a product around emerging technology, simply because it’s the “hot” new thing. We’re talking about innovation that’s focused on what’s truly important: solving problems for our customers.

The best approach to innovation involves well-defined end goals, and when done right it creates value for your current and potential customers. This type of innovation can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are three strategies to help you get on the right track.

Collect the right data from customers

If you’re going to innovate with customers in mind, you need to know those customers, right? This can’t be boilerplate information, it needs to be the exact data that pertains to developing your product — quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative data can come in the form of customer analytics, segmentation analysis, NPS scores and customer service feedback. When it comes to qualitative data, you need to cover both the stakeholders and customers. Stakeholders can be anyone from the C-level team, product creators, development and design teams, customer service and marketing. Some questions can include: Who is this for? Why do they need it? When do they need it?

On the customer side, it is about asking the right questions. You don’t need too many customers involved — five to eight will often do it — but you need to understand as much of the customer journey as possible. Questions to ask customers include:

  • How did you find us?
  • Who else did you consider?
  • What key points did you consider when choosing a product/service provider?
  • What was the ultimate deciding factor in choosing us?
  • What do you like or dislike about our offering?
  • Is our solution solving your top three pain points? If yes, how? If not, what can we do to improve?
  • If you could change or add one thing or feature, what would it be?

Once you complete your interviews, make sure to condense the information into readable takeaways and pain points, and prioritize them by considering the value to the customer, the value to your business, and the effort required to complete each one.

Update iteratively

We tend to think of innovations as these huge, singular achievements, but in reality most are achieved through a process. It’s great, and important, to have a grand vision for your end product, but trying to build it in one shot presents risks that are difficult to overcome, like project scope creep, extended timelines and developing features based on outdated assumptions.

Adding features gradually is a common way to avoid these pitfalls, and many organizations do it. What’s important to keep in mind when iterating like this is to make sure you’re adding and subtracting features based on their importance to your customers. Remember, you know how important each feature is to your customers from those interviews. Make use of your research to determine features customers mentioned frequently, mentioned without prompting, or were most excited about. Then think about the leanest possible solutions that deliver these features.

Validate constantly

We’ve been over just how important it is to collect real, actionable data from stakeholders and customers. Our third tip follows up on that point: Data collection is a constant, ongoing process.

Collecting data only at the beginning of your development process is a recipe for failure. Viewing testing as a project plan milestone to be crossed off a list will lead you to missing the information you need to truly innovate.

One of the single most valuable tools you have to reduce risk in innovation is testing, so you should constantly be seeking out customer feedback, throughout development, to help shape your iterations.

Using this strategy, you don’t need every little thing in your product built out to start validating your idea. You can test your ideas even with a basic wireframe for your target audience to validate (or invalidate). For functionalities that are more complex, there are a number of tools — including InVision, Axure, Justinmind, and Figma, among others — that can help you create a functional prototype from your design files.

A strategy like this can help you cut unnecessary features early on and reprioritize other features and needs as you continue to develop.

There’s no way around it: True innovation is hard. The key is taking steps to make it as smooth and attainable as possible. By following these three strategies, true innovation in your product development is within reach.

Lauren Slattery
Lauren Slattery is the user experience director at O3 World, a digital product design and development agency. With more than 7 years of experience, Lauren leads O3 World's discovery and user research efforts, where she helps companies better connect and understand their users' habits.


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