“You can’t predict the future, but you can create it.”
I’ve created multiple version of an Agile Innovation Framework to help leaders reimagine how to create and capture value for their Future Business.
I also wanted to help make innovation a team sport.
I found that business leaders and technology leaders could easily talk past each other without a common framework or ontology.
Really, what I’ve done is create “an ontology for innovation”, as my one mentor put it.
The value of an ontology is is creating a shared mental model and language of the concepts and categories, and the relations between them.
It’s this ontology that enables and empowers individuals to dive deeper into their area and yet come back to a common framework to share and integrate ideas.
When you have an inclusive and diverse approach to innovation that values thinking differently and integrates diverse perspectives, you have a winner.
That’s how you bring ideas to life.
And that’s how you forge the future.
The Agile Innovation Framework for Individuals, Teams, and Leaders
This is a simple way to break the innovation challenge down into smaller, actionable components:
- Journey Map
- Solution Storyboard
- Tech Storyboard
- Value Scorecard
- Customer Story
These smaller components help the team think, act, and communicate as they work through the innovation challenge end-to-end, learning about the Current State and creating a Future State.
End-to-End View of Driving from Vision to Value
At a high level, the intent of the Agile Innovation Framework is to connect vision to value, and strategy to execution in a simple, visual way.
The purpose is to help leaders reimagine their Future Business by zooming out and stepping into the areas that represent the most important choice points, strategies, and decisions.
Customer Scenario Patterns are the backbone of the Agile Innovation Framework with a focus on addressing customer pains, needs, and desired outcomes in an agile way.
Here is a look from the balcony view:
When I explain the Agile Innovation Framework at a high level to folks in the hall, I simply say:
Reimagine – Reimagine the Future Business
Roadmap – Work backwards from the desired Future Business and create a business release roadmap to get there
Results – Drive results
I refer to this as the 3Rs of Digital Transformation and innovation.
The Big Ideas of the Agile Innovation Framework
You can think of the Agile Innovation Framework as a way to storyboard the future business.
I attempted to address several challenges that happen when people try to create their Future Business.
- Business because of technology. It’s easy to be technology-led (the tail wags the dog), but the key is to be business lead. A simple phrase to remember is, “Business before technology.” That said, it’s important to push the envelope—think “Business BECAUSE of technology.” In other words, what new things can you do now, that you couldn’t do before that changes the game of business for your customers, your employees, your operations, your products.
- Vision-driven and value-led. Big change starts with big vision. This is about working backwards from your Future Business while working forwards. North Star first. Simple questions like, “What will your future customers pay you for?”, or “What does your Future Business need to look like a year from now?” or “What do your customers expect your Future Business to look like a year from now?” go a long way in creating the right focus and perspective. The value of your vision is the value of the problem solved including how well you address the market’s pains, needs, and desired outcomes.
- Customer pains, needs, and desired outcomes. This is deep customer empathy in action. Innovation is at the edge. Actually, innovation is usually all along the end-to-end journey and experiences. By focusing on the “Voice-of-the-Customer”, and learning pains, needs, and desired outcomes, you create an empathy in the market that will be unmatched. So many businesses fail, because they are hammers looking for nails.
- Multi-Perspective. Here we take a page from the Design Thinking playbook and the key here is to pivot on 3 key perspectives: Human Desirability, Tech Feasibility, Economic Viability.
- Multi-Horizon view. Change doesn’t happen all at once. The key here is to be able to balance the tension between your Future Business model and your Current Business model, while doing small business experiments along the way. Time changes what’s important. As disruptive trends and technologies show up, this creates potential changes in the market. More importantly, as consumer values change, these shifts in values create changes in the market. The game here is to figure out what those shifts in values mean to your market and mean specifically to your business. Business drivers are the lens of market understanding.
- Scenario-driven approach to chunking big change. I have an Agile background so I’m use to chunking things down into smaller stories and scenarios. In my experience, use cases, stories, and scenarios are a powerful and empowering way to chunk the future down into chunks of change that can be used to pivot on business, technology, and user experience perspectives. Just like you can’t evaluate an architecture in a vacuum, you can’t evaluate the future without scenarios
- Exploration and Execution. I see far too many people jump into “execution”, without proper “exploration”. By learning how to drive small business experiments, you catalyze execution, while de-risking your future.
The Key Elements of the Agile Innovation Framework
The elements of the Agile Innovation Framework work great as standalone, but also work better together.
Together, they tell a visual story of how to reimagine the business to create and capture new value.
The collection of elements is optimized for business change and business innovation.
So by its very nature, the Agile Innovation Framework helps ensure you are focused on business value versus just science projects.
Here is a fast tour of each element:
Scenarios are the Catalog of Future Value
As you connect with customers, employees, and partners to address pains, needs, and desired outcomes, you end up creating a catalog of scenarios.
This catalog of scenarios represents your catalog of future value.
I tend to call it a Catalog of Future Value, but really it’s a Portfolio of Future Value.
The big idea is that it’s your master catalog of the Scenario Patterns that you will address.
When you do a good job building this backlog of value for your Future Business, you create a lot of clarity about your future.
And with great clarity, comes great confidence.
But the beauty is that they ultimately reflect ideas and hypotheses and assumptions about future value that should drive small business experiments to validate.
And by using this approach, you create a system for continuous value and for continuous learning and innovation.
In other words, your business gets smarter.
Here is an example Digital Scenario Patterns Catalog organized by customer, employee, operations, and products:
Each Digital Scenario Pattern is effectively a persona with a goal, or more precisely, pains, needs, and desired outcomes in the “Voice-of-the-Customer”.
The value of your solutions is the value of the problems you solve. If you want to create more value, solve better problems.
Skillful, savvy leaders use Scenario Patterns to chunk up the future into chunks of value.
The really savvy leaders know that you can frame and name the future, and that if you frame and name the future, you win
Example Digital Scenario Pattern
While the Scenario Pattern Catalog is the “master” list or the portfolio view, you need to know what each “detail” or pattern is.
What I’ve found through experience is to anchor on the customer’s pains, needs, and desired outcomes in the form of a Scenario Narrative.
The Current State reflects the current pains and needs.
The Future State reflects the desired outcomes and aspirations.
Here is an example of a Scenario Pattern:
When you do a good job here, you are really envisioning scenes of the future, or business scenes of the future.
The Desired Future State is effectively a simple story of what good will look like in the future.
This is not a story of technology, that is the means. This is first and foremost a story of a future worth creating, directly rooted in pains, needs, and desired outcomes.
While this is the narrative part of the Future Business, you can bring it to life visually when you whiteboard the future with a Solution Storyboard.
This is a rapid way to storyboard the future where it counts in a customer-connected way.
How the Agile Innovation Framework Elements Play Better Together
By deconstructing the Future Business into building blocks, you have effectively create a set of building blocks to build your future.
Here is a simple example how the parts really come together, for a “better together” set of building blocks:
First and foremost, each element has a specific focus so that the goal is to answer one question or address one challenge well. The worst is when a framework or tool or mental model tries to answer everything all at once.
The advantage of modular elements is that each one can be exactly what it needs to be and show exactly what it needs to show.
And yet, still work better together to light up a digital transformation or innovation story end-to-end, from a multi-perspective and multi-horizon view.
Let’s walk through this…
- Scenario Pattern – You’ll notice that in this case, the idea is to first get a story of the Future Business through a simple narrative of the Desired Future State.
- Solution Storyboard – Next, a Solution Storyboard is a great way to visualize and depict the Future Business, working from the Desired Future State narrative. And the Solution Storyboard is a really good place for business leaders to swarm, discuss, and agree to scenes of the future.
- Tech Storyboard – Next, a Technology Storyboard is a great way to frame out the technology building blocks in the context of the business.
- Value Scorecard – Next, is a simple snapshot of the business value perspectives. This is a quick “back-of-the-napkin” approach to explore the value perspective. If you think of value as benefits minus costs, then you have an informed view, after you figure out your technology investments. That said, you want to make sure you are investing in the right direction, and so Human Desirability is an early, leading signal.
Call to Action
- Get really good at talking through and sharing stories of customers pains, needs, and desired outcomes (your future depends on it
- Practice using Imagine If statements to explore the art of the possible. This is my favorite approach for building the skill of innovation—the ability to apply creativity and explore how things *might* be better.
- Break the Future Business you want down into small business experiments you can do today to validate your assumptions and hypotheses around how you will create and capture new value