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The innovation roadblock: Why are organisations not following through from their POCs?

12 Mar 2019

Article by Arq Group executive director of innovation Peter Collins

New products and services are almost always launched into rapidly changing environments, whether that be from a market, technology, consumer or regulatory perspective. 

As technological advancement continues to accelerate, companies that want to keep up and identify future growth opportunities must invest more into understanding where their industries are headed, through structured experimentation.

This is where an established innovation program with a pipeline of “proof of concepts” (POC) can help. A POC is an approach that allows companies to test new ideas for customer-fit, in a way that considers multiple paths to market and potential technical challenges that may inhibit growth. It also allows companies to diversify their current product offering and enter new markets. Ultimately, its purpose is to verify that certain concepts or theories have the potential for real-world application. 

Despite this, POCs quite often fail to add their intended value to an organisation. 

Why is this so? We’ve identified five things organisations need to consider, to overcome common roadblocks in delivering valuable POCs and taking their innovation efforts to a new level. 

Its goals haven’t been clearly defined 

Companies invest in innovation to incite rapid change, and the key to getting change right lies in effective communication. 

Stakeholders often come into POC engagements with a wide variety of expectations, as well as unconscious bias. This is especially so when you are experimenting with new technologies, where there is very little precedent. In such instances, it is easy for these expectations to remain un-aligned until the final outcome is clear. 

Investing time, in the beginning, to make sure everyone has a clear and shared definition of what success looks like is imperative. Companies should look for ways to lay out all unspoken expectations as early as possible during the inception process. 

It’s not focused enough 

From the very beginning of any proof of concept, it’s critical to define the problem space, follow a hypothesis-led approach and then maintain a laser focus on the value proposition of the potential solution. 

Teams need to constantly question who the audience is and how they will benefit from the solution. Taking a structured approach to gathering quantitative and qualitative data to prove or disprove an idea will allow you to run highly effective POCs. 

It’s not aligned to long-term growth 

New capabilities, products and services that businesses need in order to successfully compete in the future will come from not one, but multiple coordinated POCs over a long period of time. 

It takes a long time and a series of investments to really scale capability. 

Companies that take a scattergun approach to POCs run the risk of incubating ideas that aren’t clearly correlated with long-term business goals and strategy. 

It hasn’t been tested in-context

From a cost and efficiency perspective, it is far easier to arrange product usability testing sessions in a controlled environment, but this can undermine the value of the data you are trying to gather. 

If companies are building a product to be used by a specific audience in a specific context, they must test it in that same environment to receive accurate intelligence about the viability of their solution.

It’s not part of your culture 

At a high level, for companies to effectively follow through and derive more value from their POCs, innovation must be a foundational part of their organisational strategy. This will ensure there is a company-wide focus on setting in place the right leadership structure, ring-fenced investment, and resources to create a culture around innovation. 

By addressing the culture of innovation at a core level, this will encourage every person from the top down to be proactive, as well as accountable, in driving forward all the elements necessary to make POCs valuable.

Ultimately, the hardest reality for companies to grasp is that a successful POC engagement may not actually result in a successful new product or service.

Whether the idea meets its success criteria or not, you undoubtedly will learn something. What organisations decide to do with that new knowledge will be a key differentiator and a critical part of future success.

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