We often separate innovation management into organization and process:
- Structural change and organizational undertaking cover corporate governance aspects like “The Ambidextruous Organization” (Charles A. O’Reilly), “Organizational DNA for Strategic Innovation” (Vijay Govindarajan), “Open Innovation” (Henry Chesbrough);
- Innovation process and design approach unfold methodologies to create meaningful products such as ‘design thinking’ (David Kelley), ‘user-led design’ (Eric Von Hippel), ‘shortening new product development’ (Smith and Reinersten), ‘rugby approach’ (Ikujiro Nonaka), ‘continuous innovation management, innovation culture‘ (Gary Hamel), ‘innovator’s dilemna & solution’ (Clayton Christensen), ideation and problem solving approach.
I was recently debating about Rapid Innovation with Professor Christophe Midler, Research Director at the Polytechnique Management Research Center, and Innovation Management Chair Professor at Ecole Polytechnique.
He told me this sharp statement which struck me: “The strength of the Rapid Innovation model is that it addresses both innovation disciplines, organization and design process. Actually, the properties of what you design are further enabling organizational undertaking for innovation: designed thing changes the organization of innovation.”
When modular design changes the organization
Well, let me to take a moment to translate this intense summary.
Rapid Innovation is a kind of “New Corporate Garage” as named by Scott D. Anthony: it starts with organizational impact, by creating autonomous creative units or innovation teams. It crafts an organizational model based on:
- setting-up an agile and autonomous innovation entity;
- designing within a framework involving “creative tension”, an exciting environment mixing stimulating and stretched goals with a proven expertise in innovation discipline;
- aligning with innovation group strategy, across a shared portfolio and permanent connections, in order to facilitate adoption of the innovation output by the core business.
In the course of seeking adoption and engagement from the core corporation, we came to refining our innovation process and shaped modular design, an “innovation by component” approach.
“Designing with, rather than designing for” is the mantra of Innovation by Component. A component unfolds the idea of combining breakthrough innovation and bold exploration, with the leverage of letting others get ownership of your innovation in their activity, and build value on top of your platform.
Concretely a component is a functional module, that can be embedded in multiple services through an API, delivering relevant data to them, and giving birth to derived consumer-facing services : “one stone, multiple birds!”.
But a creative component can be seen not only as a part of a new product, but as a platform enabling further innovation: a component can be considered as a “Toolbox for design” as Pascal Le Masson named it.
Moreover, the module we design, and its properties, changes other’s units organization. By empowering them with building blocks, it puts them in capacity to develop their services, to “hack our innovation” or start a “project fork” (taking a copy of software module and developing independent code on it, creating a distinct piece of software).
Modular design enables partner organization to innovate, like the way you pass the ball creates an opportunity to score a try.
Thus, modular design unwraps new plans both for organization and process.
This mix creates a real impact, and brings tangible benefits in term of speed, agility, and distribution:
- Time to Market and Flexibility. Applications and components are decoupled: while product manager focuses on application and user interface, innovation team can focus on the component, enjoying meaningful autonomy, and allowing the team to speed up, when needed.
- Parallel Implementations. The component can become a hub easily and receive simultaneous connections from different applications.
- Crossfunctional Enhancement. The needs of the different applications are mutualized in order to enrich the component functions: it’s a virtuous circle of innovation, the progress of any member is benefitting to all.
- Cooperation. Concentrating on conception of components avoids mixing genres. It guarantees to the product manager full control on the user interface of his application. In such conditions, the possibility of dialogue is stronger and enables spontaneous exchanges.
Setting-up a portfolio of components enables infinite possibilities of modules combination and assemblage. Consumer-facing applications can benefit from a continuum of improvements, strengthening customer relationship and loyalty.
Modular design is like the “radical incrementalism, leading at last to disruption” as Armand Hatchuel puts it in the case of Tefal. “None of the individual innovations involves a fundamental change, but the succession of the small steps built the important change observed in retrospect”.
Creative components are raising an API ecosystem: whereas APIs often address to external third-parties, we launched an internal ecosystem of APIs to accelerate innovation.
Designing a successful component becomes then a major issue. Excellency in code writing must be complemented by strategic innovation skills, and proceed on the route of ‘design thinking’: designing an API as a truely accomplished innovation component is a cultural achievement.
Here modular design is not a split of a complex system in multiple modules, it is not either the exposure of internal assets through infrastructure APIs like Amazon managed successfully: it’s a bottom-up design, an organic innovation embedded in “a future object already modularized” as Christophe Midler noticed.
- Meaning: A clear meaning, “a reason why”: whether it results from identifying market trends, or from observing users, one must forge his conviction, establishing willingness to take risk, and shaping the focus of the API. API is not such a sexy word that it drives someone to get up in the morning: we need an enticing vision! Meaningful innovations also meet with social imaginaries. They fit in the power of ‘sameness’ described by @brada: “you don’t read rental car manuals because all cars work basically the same way!”.
- Target: your service gets better when you can project who your customers will be, and listen to them once the service is alive. “Focus on user, not yourself; your developers can’t read your mind!” underline @brada and @kcwalina. Having in mind the end-user, we have to imagine for our developer’s community the best methods and formats (“go for plurality”), assess data relevance and their vizualisation, differentiate the access (‘closed API’, ‘partner API’ , ‘open API’ ), and measure usage.
- Evolutivity: API design goes the prototype-test-iterate loop. Unexpected demands may arise, coming from other areas : API must be evolutive enough to travel across borders. Start focusing your development endeavor and prepare to extend, or in @brada words “Do as little as possible now (but no less) to ensure room for extensibility in the future!”
- Scalability: no one is immune to succes: the more customers your innovation seduces, the more workload will support your servers. In this domain, Google and Faceook are totally impressive, being able to add millions of users without any interruption of service.
- Innovation Ecosystem: your component was initially targeting a handful of services: growing your innovation business requires a holistic approach. ‘Crossing the chasm’ involves systematic marketing and a customer relationship state-of-mind. Providing online explicit documentation (“don’t force consumer to be archeologist of your innovation (@brada)”), staging the API with a “killer demonstration-app”, making an appropriate exposure, streamlining subscription process, helping others to design (“Make your API hard to misuse, explicit error message suggest parameters values” suggests @piwik), and monitoring users return loop are required tasks.
Desirability, openess, originality are the features of a successful component.
Making your creative module a smooth living operating system, and shaping a portfolio of combinable components lead to perpetual innovation: APIs, by delivering data, facilitate knowledge sharing, and can create endless chain reactions for innovation. While scaling innovation in the 20th meant manufacturing, in the 21th, scaling innovation relies on information network connections.