6 Ways to Unleash Innovation in the New Normal
By Andrew McCloskey
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, companies across the industrial spectrum quickly onboarded digital transformation solutions. For the most part, this was to ensure business continuity. But in the age of the connected worker, digital solutions can go much further.
As we continue to recalibrate, digital technologies can transform how we innovate. Digital-first strategies can strengthen inclusivity and expand diversity of thought by allowing more people to contribute, generate more ideas, and build deeper business relationships. Digital innovation has led to more than 600 feature ideas, 20 patent submissions, and several product launches at AVEVA—all during the pandemic.
There are several routes to unlock digital innovation. Here are six that worked for AVEVA and could help your own organization’s digital transformation.
- Promote shorter feedback cycles through digital interaction.
Customer needs and feedback play an important role in spurring innovative thinking.
With no direct experience of supply chains at customer organizations, engineering teams rely on frontline workers to share their pain points in order to improve industrial processes—by building out quantifiable metrics, for example. Innovation is now the result of partnership between organizations. But when engineers can no longer gather on-the-ground evidence from visits to customer facilities, replicating the process online through virtual walkthroughs and remote, cloud-based demonstrations can shorten feedback cycles and speed up the exchange of ideas and feedback.
Virtual interactions between AVEVA and its customers resulted in a continuous feedback loop that returned a higher flowrate of software releases with new and exciting capabilities. In the business-to-business sector, this sort of online interaction can also be repeated up and down the value chain. So the entire ecosystem speeds up—and products can get to market quicker.
- Use quarterly reviews to build a culture of innovation.
Regular accountability can help you build and sustain a culture of innovation.
Pandemic-led change has favored companies that demonstrated lateral thinking with quick pivots. One way to pivot is to apply processes from one business area to another. An internal business review is a valuable tool for sales teams to share their achievements and outline their goals.
A similar approach can be applied to innovation. (At AVEVA, we call this the “quarterly innovation review.”) Gather team members virtually to look at new technological developments in the marketplace, and consider their implications against the company’s annual targets. This way, an organization can channel innovative thinking toward the areas that need it most, in real time, identifying action areas and anticipating customer needs.
- Unleash the virtual hive with a swarm event.
Digital teamwork facilitates problem-solving.
One concept from agile development that can extend beyond the technology industry is “swarming,” a method in which team members who encounter bottlenecks raise their hands to harness the hive mind. Every team member stops what they’re doing and converges on the problem, coming at it from different directions to find a solution. When the problem is solved, the entire team wins.
Swarming can facilitate collective intelligence, real-time collaboration, and improved teamwork because of fluid leadership roles.
This all-hands-on-deck approach can easily be adapted to the hybrid, global workplace. Your organization can apply the swarming concept to teams in marketing, finance, and even manufacturing operations, with spectacular results, particularly in productivity gains.
- Use virtual hackathons to create products.
Competitions have traditionally provided an incentive for innovative thinking.
During the pandemic, industries as diverse as healthcare, travel, and the arts organized virtual hackathons to tackle the significant business challenges resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.
Unlike a traditional hackathon, organizing these events virtually allows companies to expand participation beyond the number of people who can fit in a room—to the entire network, if desired—resulting in a corresponding increase in the number and variety of ideas. AVEVA held two virtual hackathons during the pandemic that generated 600 ideas from across the network. Six winners took home cash prizes—and the company took their ideas to market.
- Bring diversity to the fore with online events.
Leading hackathons and brainstorm events have another benefit: digital inclusivity.
By expanding the events within a digital setting, organizations can truly represent the diversity of global teams, with participation unlimited by job designation or office location. When physical limits disappear, exclusivity and unconscious bias can more easily be overcome.
During a virtual event about sustainability, to discover how AVEVA can help make the world a better place for future generations, AVEVA achieved amazing outcomes, some of which we are preparing for release to our customers. As a company, going digital enables you to leverage the diversity of your entire team to generate a broader range of ideas, and in turn, more exciting and relevant innovation.
- Emulate ad hoc hallway encounters.
Collaboration and innovation often result from chance encounters around the coffee machine, where colleagues can informally discuss work issues or respectfully challenge assumptions—sparking out-of-the-box solutions on the spot.
These water-cooler conversations are often the hardest to replicate virtually—but a one-on-one approach may help. At AVEVA, we reverse-engineered the process by asking colleagues to recall their most productive pre-pandemic hallway encounters—and give their counterparts in these encounters unscheduled video calls, so they could resume the energy, discussion, and real-time problem-solving they had had during in-office times.
Virtual hallway encounters turned out to be a simple, effective way to add another dimension of innovation back into the organization as we transformed to remote working.
As we have seen over the past year and a half, digital transformation assures business continuity and enhances organizational resilience. A digital pivot can similarly leverage innovation for spectacular results. At its core, innovation results from out-of-the-box thinking, collaborative teamwork, and attractive incentives. With the right solutions in place, these strategies can work as well in a hybrid environment as they do offline. Innovation doesn’t have to be complicated.
Learn more about how AVEVA can help your organization innovate.
Andrew McCloskey is Chief Technology Officer at AVEVA.