How to push collaborative innovation

During IPMA event, I had a chance to interact with Head of Product Management, Wipro and I asked him how service organization could enforce collaborative innovation. He was quick to point out a top-down approach.

Top-down approach is that every BU by default would have certain sales target and he wants to strictly enforce that certain percentage of the revenues had to come from either new solutions/new markets. Even if the overallsales target is achieved and X% of sales revenue is not contributed by either new solutions/new markets then the target is to be missed. Such approach will ensure that the BU heads will persuaded to push for collaborative innovation and they will bring in required process to capture the value arrived out of collaborative innovation. However from the conversation, I could not sense that there is no deliberate attempt to spur the collaborative innovation from bottom-up.

I sincerely feel that there should be some equal focus on the bottom-up approach too for the success of collaborative innovation. As stated in previous blog article, engineers are more focused on their individual component that they often fail to relate their component with every other component in the entire end-to-end solution. We have to facilitate them to think how their components work in relation to other component in the overall solution. Such thinking is also called as Systems thinking and it will help foster a mental map that will provide a holistic view of how each component is related to the entire system or rather solution in our case. System thinking will act as stimulus for collaborative innovation as the engineers would have the urge to understand every component in relation to every other component in the system. But the biggest challenge is to inculcate systems thinking in the minds of engineers.

How –> What –>Why (Are we here?)

Last week I attended P-Camp hosted by IPMA @ IIM B and was privileged to listen to series of talks by some of the leading professional in the industry. One such talk was delivered by Mr. G. Venkatesh, CTO at Sasken. He was talking more about collaborative innovation and how imminent it is in the flat world structure.

Before we delve into the details of collaborative innovation and various reasons for its necessity, we have to take a look at how outsourcing industry in India has transformed over the last 2-3 decades. During early stages of outsourcing, customers used to elaborate WHAT task is required and HOW to perform that task. Companies in India diligently followed the instructions and later delivered the task as instructed by the customers in the west. Later Indian companies started focusing on process excellence, execution excellence and they evolved themselves to decide HOW to perform a particular task. So they never expected companies from the west to let them know HOW to perform the task, rather the focus now is only on WHAT task has to be performed. Such a transformation to happen is really great and over the years most of the Indian companies (especially the top 4) have pioneered the art of formulating a process and have consistently proven in execution excellence. However, the larger questions that loom is that whether those companies have reached next level of transformation or at least inching towards such a transformation. The next level of transformation as the blog title suggests is to ask the customers WHY they would have to perform such a task. Asking WHY would facilitate to gain deeper insights into the core problem of the customers paving way for solution based thinking. More importantly, it will help Product Managers identify/discover new market segments, new use cases.

Let me try to put things into perspective with some simple analogy. Last week, one of our customers is asking us to increase the number of HW entries in our product. Those entries do the functionality similar to ACLs (Access Control Lists). During the design phase, the architect did not see any demand beyond ‘X’ entries and HW limitations too do not allow us to go beyond ‘X’ entries. However, when there was a new requirement, engineers were baffling to find out WHAT should be done to increase those entries. After a long struggle, when they almost hit a dead-end, someone out of blue started asking WHY would the customer need such an enhancement. Later both PM and engineering team found that the customer was using the HW entries differently than it was designed for. Actually, there are alternative means to achieve their requirements. Had the engineering not hit the dead-end and had there been a feasibility to increase the HW entries, there would have been a definite attempt to increase the HW entries costing us few additional dollars. As in this scenario, asking WHY does not always help us to identify either new market segments or use cases. However, it definitely helps us to put things into better perspective. Asking WHY is very simple, but more often engineers are so focused on their individual components that they lose the larger picture of the end-to-end solution. Now let me get back to our original focus on collaborative innovation. Collaborative innovation will facilitate us to move away from the mindset of individual components to end-to-end solution level focus/thinking. Such thinking is imperative for succeeding in WHY transformation

In another case, we found out that our product was bought by a data center company. DC was not part of our market segment so focusing on WHY they want our product rather than WHAT they want from our product will help us in understanding their requirements. Later PM team can factor those requirements to either create a new of the product or position the existing product exclusively for DC customers.

When the World is getting flatter and when India is slowly but gradually losing its status as a low-cost delivery region, delivering more value is the only way to regain the momentum and maintain an invincible position. Asking WHY helps us move in that direction.