Antibodies, Attack Dogs, and Success Cats: 3 New Product Lessons

We’ve launched ICON.

It has almost 200 companies signed up in less than 2 days. We’re feeling hopeful we have something people will really value. If you’ve already had a go of the tool, thank you. If not, signup is free, so please do try it.

Today, I wanted to talk about the process of getting a brand new product from idea to production. It was a cycle that’s had all the standard behaviours any company goes through when it attempt to do something new.

Are you surprised a company that does innovation for a living is really no different internally to any other company when it comes to doing innovation?

It is why doing innovation is hard. Here’s the inside story on the germination of Icon at Spigit.

Triggering The Innovation Antibodies

As I’ve written before, every genuinely new thing you suggest in an organization creates winners and losers. The losers quickly form groups to defend their territory.  There’s nothing aggressive or bad about this, it is just human behaviour.

But you have to be ready for it.

When we proposed a freemium offer internally a year ago, many people in our company were horrified.  In particular, revenue generating folk were strongly opposed. Their concern, obviously, was we’d cannibalize revenues from our enterprise idea management platform, Engage. How would they get paid on something that was free? And, they wanted to know, what would they tell their customers?

Icon, as it stands today, is pretty much in a separate space from our other products, but at the start, it wasn’t clear to everyone what our intentions were.

Here’s the problem you face: invariably, those with the most to lose are the ones who worry the most. They’re also the most vocal. Unless you’re careful, your concept gets shut down before you even start.

Vocal people with established business lines tend to have quite a bit more pull than a small group with a bit of an idea.  Furthermore, it simply isn’t reasonable to expect everyone in a company – even an innovation company – to be in an innovation-preferred segment. There are still late majority and laggard personality styles to contend with.

They’ll object to anything that deviates from the established trajectory, because these are the people you pay to make sure the established trajectory delivers. It isn’t malicious behaviour, they think they’re doing their jobs.

Actually, they are doing their jobs when they object.

Lesson 1: People will object. They’ll try to shut it down. Be ready with decent, non-confrontational arguments. Be prepared to take a longer term view, and create a momentum of agreement. Eventually, you get enough people on side your idea will become real.

The Attack Dogs Rise

As an idea gains momentum, and it looks as if it might actually start to happen, new behaviours start to assert themselves. This is especially true when resources start to get assigned to moving things forwards.

Spigit is still pretty much a startup, so our resources, especially in dev and design, are not unlimited.

But we’d decided with this product we wanted a beautiful user interface, one that people would look at and go “wow” no matter what device they were on. So that meant that we sucked up every graphic designer and UI developer in the company.

And then we wanted to make sure we had a beautiful backend, one that we could be proud to expose to the world eventually as an API. And that meant we sucked up the best engineers in the company as well.

In the meantime, other products still had their requirements too. And we’d taken many of the best the resources to do something that was gong to be “free”.

We were at the stage when people understood we were making an important play, but  couldn’t see anything except how inconvenient we were making things for everyone else.

This, too, is true of innovations in any company of any size. The pain that precedes any result is usually quite substantial, and you have to somehow show people that the stuff which will come out the end will be worth it.

We were lucky, though, that our engineering team decided to use an agile methodology for the build. It meant we had stuff to show very early.

Actually, one day, I walked past Paul’s office (our CEO) and discovered he’d been showing prospective customers our early wireframes.  Firstly, I was surprised he’d even gotten them, and then piqued that he was showing stuff that early.

But the point is, he had something to show. We were causing significant upheaval in the company but at least people could see early results. It is what saved our project from the attack dogs who wanted it shut down, or scaled back, or diluted to something that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

I don’t mean to be critical when I use the term “attack dog”, by the way. But as a person who studies innovation for a living, that really is the best characterisation of what happens when groups of people are threatened by something new. They form packs to defend their territory, and can be vicious when they don’t get what they (think) they need to perform their own jobs.

Again, I must emphasize that in companies with established businesses, this is what you pay these people to do.  You can’t possibly run a repeatable business without them.

On the other hand, of course, they’re the reason doing innovation so hard. Even for an innovation company.

Lesson 2: The attack dogs will rise. Your only defence is to have results early, something to show. Otherwise, it is all pain and no gain, and you will either be shut down or watered down. Be ready with great evidence of progress.

The Success Cats Come In

Eventually, you get your new thing to a point where even the most vocal objector can see there’s enough momentum that cancellation isn’t an option. At this point some of these folks even convert to the vision.

It is tempting, when everyone starts getting excited about the new thing, to relax and breathe a sigh of relief.  This is a mistake.

Two years ago, in my book “Innovation and the Future Proof Bank”, I wrote:

“Implementing innovation is a process of managing compromise… everyone will propose changes and enhancements to support their particular agenda. This results in dilution of the original idea which justified investment in the first place. Carefully select the compromises you allow so you have sufficient political capital to reject ones which have a dilutive effect on the initial proposition”.

There is a correlation between the amount of excitement your new product generates and the number of people and groups who want in on it. Success breeds success, obviously, but what you don’t want is a whole pile of new stuff introduced late.

As we got closer to the end and a launch, there were lots of suggestions made about product changes we should make and features we should add.

Now, I hasten to say, some of these were excellent.

But that is irrelevant.

Introducing things late is almost always a mistake. You have to hack your engineering and design, and invariably, the lack of thinking about implications bites you.

We had this a few times, and in the end had to make certain compromises to fit stuff in. For example, we had to limit the browsers we could support in order to free up development and QA time. The only version of IE we support right now, for example is IE9.

Most corporates don’t even have IE9 yet. So this was a significant and painful compromise. We’ll get to supporting IE8 and others, but since our target market is corporates, we hated having to do it.

Also, I think we made some pretty unreasonable demands on our wonderful development, design, and QA folk towards the end. I don’t really know how they lived through it, myself.

Perhaps if the team and I had managed compromises better, some of the scramble at the end would have been less painful than it was.

Lesson 3: Everyone wants to be a part of something that looks like it will be a success. To get their name on things, they’ll try to change your product in some way. Carefully manage this, and don’t accept stuff that will muck up the overall product if you can avoid it.

Out the Door

So we launched 2 days ago, and adoption is looking good.

People are feeding back positive things.

And we’re about to start the whole next development cycle, which will have icon do some more exciting things in June.

I’ll post back then with stories of how the second dev cycle went, and what we did differently this time around.


5 Responses to“Antibodies, Attack Dogs, and Success Cats: 3 New Product Lessons”

  1. May 4, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Hi James,

    Thank you for sharing such great insights! I loved reading it. This is the type of message we need to get out more often. Innovation is hard work!

    Congratulations on Icon, I cannot wait to try it out.

    • jawgardner
      May 4, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Thank you so much Henra – Am very much looking forward to hearing your comments when you get a chance to try Icon!

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