|Book Review: Creating Innovative Products and Services|
Creating Innovative Products and Services: The FORTH Innovation Method
Written by: Gijs van Wulfen
Developing new products is daunting. Yet new products are critical to the long-term success of any organization. They invigorate your product portfolio, enlarge your bottom line, and interest new consumers to discover your products. The hard reality, though, is that the failure rate of new products is somewhere between 25-45%. While the Stage-Gate™ system, developed by Robert Cooper, has been a very useful tool to standardize and systematize the development of new products, it remains a framework that companies have to adapt to their needs. What the Stage-Gate framework lacks is a specific roadmap to get from the Discovery Stage to the Development Stage. That is what Gijs van Wulfen’s book, Creating Innovative Products and Services – The FORTH Innovation Method, offers.
The book is broken into the five sections that together outline the FORTH method as follows:
Full Steam Ahead
Observe & Learn
Full Steam Ahead
This is the beginning of the journey and, as van Wulfen points out, one of the most critical steps in that journey because the more prepared you are for the journey, the more chances you will succeed. In this section, van Wulfen specifically outlines how to develop an innovation assignment based on who you are targeting, what market you are targeting, and type of product you want to develop (new to the world, new to the category, etc.). This will guide the new product development throughout the journey and ultimately will be used as the evaluation criteria for the resulting ideas for development.
Once the innovation assignment is developed and approved by a senior sponsor within the organization, an ideation team is put together – a team whose members will appropriately lend their respective expertise to develop new product ideas, based on their enthusiasm and drive, responsibility, knowledge and expertise, and skills.
To complete this stage of the FORTH method, the ideation team meets at the kick-off workshop to outline the innovation opportunities – experts knowledgeable in the new product area being explored, sources of inspiration that could provide best practices in this area, customer groups most likely to use the innovation outlined in the assignment - that each member will pursue and report back to the team.
Van Wulfen concludes this section with a case study to show how this stage was run for a different assignment, and provides clear and practical checklists to follow.
Observe & Learn
In this stage of the FORTH method (that should last about six weeks), each member of the ideation team follows through with his/her portion of the innovation opportunities that he/she took on in the kick-off workshop. This is the investigative portion of the journey where each member gathers as much information about trends, technology, and consumer frictions that will help define the innovation opportunity more clearly. Every week and a half, some of the ideation team members report back to the team about what they have learned.
At the end of the six week-long Observe & Learn stage, the ideation team meets for a two-day brainstorming session with key members of management and a few outside experts to present their findings and together come up with as many ideas as possible. At the end of the first day of the brainstorming session, ideas are grouped together into, at most, 25-30 idea directions. Each member is asked to choose his/her favorite 7 idea directions, producing a clear leading group. On the second day of the brainstorming session, groups of three to four people are created to develop three new product concepts. At the end of the second day, each group presents their product concepts to the entire group. The group evaluates each product concept on the basis of criteria outlined in the innovation assignment at the beginning of the journey. Each person is then given the opportunity to vote for their favorite concept.
Van Wulfen provides clear schedules and actionable checklists to help guide anyone through the brainstorming sessions.
In this stage, which lasts only three weeks, the ideation team meets together to refine some of the top product concepts before they are placed into qualitative research with the target consumer group(s) to gain insight into the interest for each product concept. With the results, the ideation team meets at the beginning of the third week to further refine the concepts consumers favored.
In the final stage of the FORTH method, which last four weeks, the ideation team develops mini business cases for the top product concepts, based on consumer feedback and the innovation assignment, and presents them to upper management. The new product ideas that get selected move into the development stage, or Stage 3 of the Stage-Gate framework.
While the Stage-Gate system is a fantastic framework to follow, Gijs van Wulfen’s FORTH method provides the specific steps and tools to make “the fuzzy front end of innovation” more manageable and allow any team in any company to develop new products.
Stage-Gate is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate International, Inc.