From Idea to Development: The Innovation Process. (Part 2 of 3)

Welcome to Part 2 of the Innovation Process. In Part 1 we looked at Ideas. Now it’s time to look at development.

Here’s the handy chart again, just for reference.

Steps in the Innovation Process

Innovation is a process consisting of 3 primary stages; Idea, development and production.

Stage 2: Development

What Usually Happens

More often than not, Stage 2 never happens at all. The idea stage often ends up being driven by a huge committee and, as previously discussed, almost every idea except the most trivial gets killed before it grows.

When Stage 2 does happen, it’s usually mixed up with the Idea Stage. Unformed ideas get engineered before they are ready and the result is a mess.

Some years ago I participated in a brainstorming session with a video game group that wanted to create a new, story driven gaming franchise. Let’s say the story theme that everyone got excited about was Wild West Vampires. Those words had barely left someone’s mouth when the conversation shifted to “so is this a first person shooter?”. The entire discussion immediately became technical… “because if it is, are we targeting console or PC?”…”If it’s a console game, how will we handle targeting” etc.

The idea, in this case the core of the story, was quickly left behind and the process got derailed.

If you want a story-driven franchise, you have to start with the story. That’s classic idea stage stuff.

What type of game that story could become is a task for Development.

What Should Happen

A successful Stage 1 will produce a handful of ideas for further exploration. Exploration is the job of Development. Note that exploration is not the same as production, so Development is not the place for costing and making. It’s the place where an idea becomes a viable notion for a product. And again, I’m using product as a general term for an end result.

Typically, the development team consists of some product savvy folks and a few key stakeholders. Take care to only bring stakeholders who will participate, not ones looking to lead. Some idea champions from Stage 1 should take part to present the idea to the rest of the development team and champion and defend the idea’s roots.

As with Stage 1, you need to dis-empower NO and put the team in the posture of looking for ways to say yes.

The development stage is highly iterative, cycling through three steps, each informing the next until the idea has become the basis of a product.

Step 1: Interpretation. What does the idea really mean? Where does it fit?

Step 2: How can the idea be expanded? Where else does it apply? What else can it become?

Step 3: Evaluation. Where does the idea fit within the company and the marketplace? How does it fit? What do you expect it to contribute? Who should eventually take ownership?

The answers to each of these steps will inform further discussion.  Expect to go through this set of questions several times. With each cycle, the idea should begin to take shape. It’s not unusual for the first couple of rounds to be contentious and bumpy. Things may seem to get off track in the early stages, but this is typical in a good development process. You can’t keep cycling forever, but usually a natural stopping point is reached and it becomes clear whether there is a viable concept, or if the idea should be filed away and not pursued. Note that I did not say discarded. Ideas have an interesting way of being useful at different times, so it is wise not permanently discard any of them.

And again, this still isn’t a discussion about costing or product launch processes. Development is about growing your idea to its full conceptual potential, not the process of launching a product.  At the end of Development, you should have a clearly formed idea, a home for it and an understanding of who should take ownership of the resulting product.

And then it’s off to Production. Next post.

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