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Agile Innovation and 1 Dollar

February 21, 2011

Last year I stepped in to lead the development of the UI for Avaya’s
next generation desktop phone
.  The time pressures were such that there
were only 90 days to complete a major innovation, and numerous
obstacles that made progressing a challenge.

The approach used to get that done has some interesting intersection
points with the value of the 99 cents music download and the $1.50
cup of coffee.  Let’s see, innovation, being agile about innovation and
the value of 1 dollar… hopefully I can pull that together in the next couple
of hundred words and make it an interesting read at the same time.

Before I go further, there’s a great read by Charles Mauro on unwrapping
what makes the game Angry Bird such an innovative success.  Be sure to read
his blog when you get a chance.

To innovate rapidly and be a success at it, you need great people on the
bus.  You also need protection, someone who will protect your time and
priorities, and who also will run interference when you need it.  But that’s
been written about regularly, so let me go back to this intersection point of value.

Let me ask you a question, “What if you could only define innovation by
the value the user assigns to it?”   How would you go about determining
the user’s criteria for their rating card?

During this sprint, several predicatable ways users assign value emerged,
tying innovation, agility and decision making.  Let me list three for you:

1. The innovation has to make sense and be recognizable. It has
to form a gestalt that the user has experienced or can rapidly adopt based
upon previous experience.   Translation – if you do this right, the user “gets”
how to use the product very quickly, because the product is using structures
that the user already recognizes.

2. The innovation has to coincide with the mental sequence that user’s
follow to use a tool, like your innovative product, to solve their problem.
If you get this right, then the product seems intuitive.  That means it
works through a series of steps that the user is already familiar with, and
they are sequenced in a way that they don’t disrupt the user’s anticipations of
what should be done next.

3.  Each level of Innovation has to be consumable.  It has to be
entertaining, and it has to do so at the detail level such that the user
could decide to buy it (if it were for sale) at the $1 level.  Think about
this for a moment.  When we are faced with choices, including determining
if a new “innovative” product is of value, we often look at small dollar, but
consumable features.  It’s the small things that we “consume” that
we’re most comfortable assigning value to.  It’s easier to decide on a
.99 cent single track music download, then paying $12 for an album.

When it comes to innovation, the small things and whether or not
they please or satisfy (or substitute whatever consumption word you prefer),
in a way the user can easily identify is critical.  There are a number of
ways to go about this, but one over-arching key is to verify, verify,
verify that your assumptions about product value are validated by the
user at the $1 level.  The faster you can test specific innovation features,
the more agile and accurate the innovation.

Bottom Line:

Innovation is best done as an agile exercise in which the value is based
on being recognizable, intuitive, worth a dollar, and verified with
repeated, rapid testing.  Borrowing from the manufacturing world,
you want your “cycle time” between innovating and verifying the
user experience to be as short as possible, as you test to see if you
have hit the combination of perceptual gestalts, cognitive sequences
and consumable value that get a thumbs up from the user.

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