A 5 Step Innovation Methodology


  • Innovation is not born from wacky ideas or aimless expeditions. It's created from novel ideas that solve customer problems. And it's cultivated from a progressive process that advances those ideas through a maturation cycle.
  • It's not prescriptive but follows known patterns that can be repeated. It benefits from a framework that replicates processes, techniques and best practices that have created many breakthrough products.
  • The Johnny Grow Innovation Methodology is a 5-step framework that harmonizes people, processes, and tools. It applies patterns and lessons proven effective many times over and brings objective measurability to an otherwise difficult to measure undertaking.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Innovation is no longer reserved to eccentric futurists. It is a growth strategy available to any business leader. And for many forward-thinking leaders, it has evolved from an interesting idea, to a company priority, to a business imperative.

While the goals are fairly consistent – to create differentiation for competitive advantage, price premiums and higher revenues – how companies innovate shows little consistency.

I began leading an innovation consulting practice in 2009. Since that time, I've incurred many failures and successes, so I am the first to recognize that the process is not systemic nor prescriptive. However, through training and experience I have learned many replicable patterns, processes and methods that put into a framework bring a structured approach to an otherwise mysterious and unstructured challenge.

I have also learned that more business leaders would innovate if they knew how. Here's how, using the Johnny Grow Innovation Methodology.

Johnny Grow Innovation Framework

See the 5 step Innovation Methodology to aid creating breakthrough products and services.

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The Quad

The Johnny Grow Innovation Methodology is a holistic five step process that begins with a Quad model. That's an underlying operating structure assembled on four building blocks.

  1. Culture. An effective creative process begins with an effective culture. Corporate culture is the human performance engine that directly impacts any creative effort. It's a precursor and top contributing factor to anything and everything that requires employee effort. A high-performance culture defines, reinforces and measures the shared company values that drive the behaviors that determine the creative quality and quantity of employee discretionary effort.

The best cultures are built on data driven operating models. They encourage safe expression, measured experimentation and calculated risk-taking. Safety and interplay go hand in hand. When participants feel safe to share ideas, comments and feedback, without fear of judgment or personal critique, interaction flow expands, and ideation, concepts and prototypes evolve much more quickly.

  1. Talent. Getting the right people on the team is essential. Look for staff who are not only vested in the program's success, but who are inquisitive, intellectually curious and continuous learners. These are the people that demonstrate customer empathy, work well with teams and get stuff done.
  2. Team. The innovation methodology is built on agile principals. Like Scrum, the autonomous team should be small enough to remain nimble and large enough to have the multi-disciplinary skills to solve tough customer problems. Team size should be 3 to 9 members. Fewer than 3 people lacks sufficient collaboration and produces limited break-throughs. Larger than 9 requires too much coordination and moves too slowly.

Teams with autonomy, without bureaucracy and unencumbered by artificial constraints will outperform the alternative every time.

There's a reason why startups out innovate big companies. Many reasons actually. That's why we promote teams designed to use lean methods and mimic the hunger, passion and pace of an entrepreneurial start-up.

The team should include cross functional staff that contribute diverse ideas and multiple perspectives. There is no defined make up of required roles. But most teams will include a mix of customer facing staff, product managers or R&D staff, marketing staff, IT staff and executive stakeholders. It should also include customers or staff who are intimately familiar with them.

Progress will accelerate if customers are on the team. They are used more sparingly, and for focused tasks such as problem validation, co-creation, measured feedback and acceptance testing. It's been our experience that customers are generally not well suited to proposing creative concepts. I'm reminded of the advice from Henry Ford, who said "If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

It can sometimes be hard to get certain roles such as customers and senior executives on the team. Everyone must recognize that the absence of any role will reduce the pace and increase the risk.

  1. Insights. Creating breakthrough products or services stems from buyer insights and customer intelligence. In fact, without a clear and measurable customer understanding (by persona, customer segment, etc.) your innovative ideas and prototypes are little more than wishful thinking and your execution pursues a trial-and-error approach. If you don't already have good customer intelligence, I suggest you take a step back and get it before launching an effort or program.
Customer Insights

Problems Worth Solving

The next step is to find a customer problem or opportunity that matters and is worth solving. A fundamental difference in the Johnny Grow Innovation Methodology is that it does not search for novel ideas, shiny objects or the next big thing. Instead, it surfaces the most pressing customer challenges or problems. This is a contrast to some alternative methods but has been instrumental in accelerating results by aligning measurable customer problems with specific target audiences.

Be clear that the process doesn't shy away from tough problems, audacious objectives and BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). To the contrary, it seeks them out because it only succeeds by solving customer problems that matter.

Customer input to find, validate and measure problems worth solving can be gathered from market research, Voice of the Customer (VoC) tools, customer insights and ethnography customer research. Internal resources should also be fully leveraged. These people include marketers, product managers, R&D staff, manufacturing leaders, operations staff and customer facing staff such as salespeople and customer service agents.

Once the biggest problems are identified, the process becomes more co-creation with customers than experimentation for them. Your customers and their advocates will provide you real-time guidance to adjust and steer your concept toward products and services that will be enthusiastically embraced.

Thorough analysis and definition of the problem statement is critical. Expert designers do not begin searching for solutions until they have thoroughly defined the real problems. As Einstein once advised, "If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it."


Design Thinking

Identifying, quantifying and prioritizing the innovative solutions for the most meaningful customer problems is best accomplished with Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is an iterative, people-focused design and problem-solving method that applies deep empathy for customers and collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams. This process identifies what customers most want – and are willing to pay for. This ideation method uses a sequence of workshop activities such as personas, empathy maps, as-is solutions and Hills to flush out what customers most want in measurable terms.

Design Thinking

Workshops must be run by a facilitator who promotes customer behaviors and group interaction. A good facilitator will bridge one member's contribution to another, a process we call progressive input. It happens when one participant's interplay builds upon another (i.e., yea, and it's kind of like …).

Expert facilitators also know how to use both divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking creates a more expansive solution set of ideas and alternatives to be explored. Convergent thinking then focuses on getting to the best solution. This approach encourages nonconformist thinking, defers judgment and is more likely to uncover an "a-ha moment" that will identify a powerful advantage or benefit that would otherwise remain silent.

Design Thinking concludes with Hills. This is the term used to identify the highest impact and most important goals in measurable terms.


Progressive Prototypes

A well-defined, fast paced and high-velocity prototyping process is needed to efficiently advance from ideation to solution and cross the chasm from concept to commercialization.

So, Design Thinking Hills are then brought to life with illustrative Playbacks and Prototypes.

Playbacks are stories with visual illustrations (i.e., sketches, storyboards, journey maps) directed to your stakeholders and customer participants. They show how new ideas, experiences or solutions will be delivered. They bring the ideas, experiences or solutions to life by making them visual or tangible. This process solicits collaboration and feedback to refine and improve.

Prototypes then drill-down on the Playback stories. These use low fidelity designs, mockups or wireframes to demonstrate how the ideas become actionable or the solutions become tangible.

The prototyping process should advance a tangible archetype with each successive iteration. At the end of each iteration, the prototype should be demonstrated, measured and scored. Then the team should perform a retrospective, reassess prototype assumptions and collectively determine new input for the next iteration.

That last step of coming up with the next creative input can be a challenge. Some things we often suggest to stimulate group collaboration that leads to a breakthrough solution include the following:

  • Should we apply consumer or social technologies to our prototype? Digital disruptors quite frequently leverage consumer technologies to find better ways for customers to acquire, use, share or consume products and services. These technologies can reduce friction and lower cost while at the same deliver more rewarding customer experiences.
  • Should we consider start-up innovation methods and techniques? Entrepreneurial disruptors approach problems very differently than mature organizations. They often take a Ready-Fire-Aim approach. It's interesting to me that many mature organizations scoff at this approach, until they try it and learn how effective it really is.
  • Should we consider other industry disruption events? Innovation blurs industry boundaries. Taking lessons from industry leaders outside your own market will provide new ideas.
  • Should we adapt our prototype to introduce product or service modularity? Products or services can be altered with a component approach to permit focused procurement or consumption, possibly with plug and play assembly for extensibility. Or you flip this idea to morph multiple ideas into an all-in-one solution.
  • Should we combine our concept with other types of transformation? Perhaps we can apply other proven transformation methods such as digital transformation or customer strategies such as omni-channel customer engagement, customer experience management or social business.
  • Should we aim to disrupt a market or industry? Innovation and disruption are complimentary but different. Disruptors are innovators, but most innovators are not disruptors. Industry disruptors most often enter a market at a fringe point with a new but inferior product that iterates and advances quickly. From an ideation perspective, disruptive ideas are most frequently born from irrational, absurd, novel and non-conformist thinking.
  • Should we consider digital technologies for our prototype? The convergence of technologies such as mobile, social, big data, machine learning, AI, IoT, blockchain and others create new opportunities for products, services, and new business models. They may facilitate new growth strategies (new customers, markets, services, offers, channels), improve ways of doing business, or take significant costs out of the value chain.
  • Should we alter or extend our customer persona, ideal customer profile or market niche? Rethinking the problem statement with a slightly different target market often creates new ideas that apply to both the new and former customer audience.

Success Measurement

Prototype iterations continue until you achieve an exponential breakthrough or discontinue the concept as not plausible. The Johnny Grow prototyping process sets a maximum number of iterations and total cycle time to prevent marginal improvements at the cost of endless spend.

Our innovation methodology also uses a continuum to measure customer acceptance. The customer acceptance continuum is built on the previously referenced buyer insights. It identifies a clear minimum threshold for prototype release. In the example diagram shown below the concept is incomplete until exceeding the customers risk reduction goal.

Innovation Customer Acceptance Continuum

Once the strategy alignment tier is pierced the company is ready for a trial launch. After customer adoption begins you can close assumptions, collect data to extrapolate forecasts and refine your Go-to-Market plan.