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Melding Design and Strategy for Faster Innovation

| On 04, Sep 2007

James Todhunter

In the September issue of the Harvard Business Review (one of my favorite publications), there is a short article titled “Innovate Faster by Melding Design and Strategy” by Ravi Chhatpar of Frog Design.  In the article, Ravi suggests that innovation moves along more rapidly and effectively when designers are included in the strategic planning process.  Specifically, Ravi highlights the value of having designers iterate through many prototypes as a way of refining strategic thinking while that thinking is still malleable.

There is no question that coupling strategic planning and design is key to well-formed innovation best practices.  The input from the design process early in the strategic planning cycle can provide very valuable insights in to right-to-market fit, feasibility, and cost.  Similarly, the flow of strategic input into the design process helps to ensure the correct alignment between the strategic intent of the product effort and its execution.

However, there is a key point that should not be missed—a point that Ravi only hints at when he states in his example, “We explored nearly 100 ideas, from the basic to wild, and then used prototypes to investigate the most compelling.”  The point is that prototyping is very expensive, and a well designed innovation practice should seek to vet concepts before going to prototype.

The concepts can be pre-validated in a number of ways.  Assessment of alignment with corporate objectives, congruence with technical parameters, external validation points of similar solution frameworks, and many other measures can provide simple and accurate ways to rank ideas and focus attention on those which are most promising.

Innovation best practices must include the mechanism to provide for definition and capture of the appropriate metrics by which concepts will be evaluated and the process for the application of those measures.  This mechanism should be integrated with the ideation process which should span across the strategic planning and design functions.  Only through the rigorous application of such a vetting and evaluation system, can organizations fully benefit from a high-performance informed innovation process.

So as Ravi says, get the designers involved early and often in strategic planning.  However, don’t forget to arm the designers with the tools and processes to allow them to rapidly zero in on the right concepts and thereby be effective contributors to the planning process.

[Crossposted from]