Tips, tools and models for a successful innovation process
  • Invest
  • Innovate

Tips, tools and models for a successful innovation process

You have an innovative idea and now you want to develop it into a market-ready product in a startup. Or maybe you've been an entrepreneur for a while and want to introduce a new product or revamp an existing one. You can also innovate with your business processes and techniques. The possibilities are endless. But in all cases, you need to think carefully about how you approach the innovation process.

Innovating is not easy, especially for startups. It is a road full of bumps and obstacles and the outcome is uncertain. Good preparation is important, but also don't be afraid to experiment! Above all, innovation is a learning process. Unfortunately, there is no ready-made innovation process or step-by-step plan. But fortunately there are plenty of tips, tools and innovation models that can help you. In this blog, we will explain some of them.

The innovation process: from initial idea to final product

An innovation often begins by identifying a particular problem for which you want to develop a solution. To develop this initial, and often still vague, idea into a product, service or solution, you go through an innovation process. Exactly what your innovation process looks like will depend on the type of innovation. For a product in the IT industry, you will need different things than in chemistry. But the stages you go through will be largely the same.

Innovation process steps

These main steps or stages in the innovation process are broadly as follows:

  1. Preparation: in this phase, you develop a vision for your innovation, set goals and form a team.
  2. Start analysis: next you map out your business and your market, and what the starting and desired end situation is.
  3. Ideas: in this phase you are going to generate as many creative ideas as possible, from which you will then make a selection.
  4. Validation: to test your ideas, you will develop a prototype of your product and then test and validate it in the marketplace. Based on this, you will develop your final product that you will go to market with.

This is certainly not a linear process! You will find that you have to step back periodically before you can move forward again. So be aware that it is an iterative process and not a direct route to success. Below we explain these steps in more detail.

Innovation process preparation: vision, goals and team

Innovating requires good preparation. When you go on vacation you also think about where you want to go, what you want to do and what you need for the trip. It is important to know what problem you want to solve with your innovation, what goals you want to achieve and what your vision is. In practice, many entrepreneurs cannot give a good answer as to what the goal of the innovation is and when the innovation is successful. So think about this carefully.

To develop a vision, the 5 Bold Steps Vision Canvas can help you.

You can't innovate alone. Therefore, it is important that you have a good team, and good cooperation partners. Look for the best people you need and form a team! Think about people in your own organization but also customers, stakeholders or role models.

Start-up analysis of your business and the market

Now that you have an energetic team and a clear concrete vision, it is important to understand the market, your business model, your customers and your company or business. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Market: What are the trends in the market and what are the opportunities and threats?
  • Owning your own business: What are the strengths and weaknesses of your business?
  • Business model: What business model do you envision or is operational?
  • Customer journey: what does the customer want and what makes him happy?

Thorough market and customer research is incredibly important. Because only then will you know whether your ideal customer really needs your innovation. This kind of analysis will make your journey easier, clearer and ultimately more successful.

For performing such analyses, the Business Model Canvas can be a great model to use.

NOM Mockup Whitepaper Innovative Idea
From innovative idea to commercial product

In this white paper you will learn:

  • What the innovation process looks like and what challenges you face along the way
  • What opportunities there are to fund this early stage of your idea/product
  • In what ways NOM as an investor can help you

    Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.

Generating ideas for an innovative startup

Once you know what the playing field looks like, you can start generating ideas for the problem you want your startup to solve with your innovation. Coming up with and developing these kinds of ideas requires a lot of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Working in a creative environment is therefore very important. Once you are in this creative process, you are likely to get numerous ideas. You can then prioritize, categorize and categorize these ideas by purpose, theme or impact. By evaluating them, you end up keeping the best ideas. There are all kinds of models and theories you can use to brainstorm and accelerate the creative process.

Besides the Blue Ocean Strategy, which we explain later in this blog, the Innovation Matrix and the What-if method are also interesting tools in this phase. In the What-if method, you sketch out different scenarios and ask yourself questions such as, "What if you offered your product for free?" or "What if you no longer had any costs.

Testing and validation

The ideas you have finally selected are mostly based on assumptions and research. Now it's time to implement your ideas and test their feasibility. To do this, you develop a proof-of-concept, prototype or mockup. A prototype is a model version of your product that you will test or validate with your customers and in the marketplace. Based on that, you make further improvements. You repeat this until you have an end product that is ready for the market and that meets all your wishes and requirements.

Watch carefully what your customers' reactions are and continually ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does the customer have a need for this?
  • Can I offer it at the right price?
  • Is the market big enough?
  • What evidence do I have for my assumptions?
  • What are the biggest challenges and risks? And how can I test this?

In this phase, you will learn the most about your idea and how to improve it. This is because you are going to test your assumptions in a real environment.

Developing a prototype

Developing a prototype also requires good preparation. Think carefully about what you need for this, how easily you can develop or produce it, and which partners can do something for you. Cost is also very important. Your goal should be to validate your product at the lowest possible cost! You can develop several prototypes that you want to test in the marketplace.

Some interesting tools for prototyping are:

Learning and experimentation

A common pitfall is that entrepreneurs want to build a perfect product right away before testing. But interim validation actually helps you achieve a better end product. You use the feedback to improve your product. Validation is therefore a crucial phase in your innovation process! Entrepreneurs who do this well will achieve success sooner.

Also, don't be afraid to still change your course during this phase. This phase is all about learning and experimenting. The Validation Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas are good tools for this. Of course, sometimes it sours to abandon your good idea, but letting go is important if you want to innovate successfully. Entrepreneurs who stubbornly stick to their idea and do not adjust their course are much less likely to succeed.

Strategic models for your innovation process

There are numerous innovation models that can help you shape your innovation process. Here we briefly explain three popular and widely used innovation strategies and models:

  1. Blue Ocean Strategy
  2. Design Thinking
  3. The Lean Startup

Blue ocean strategy: differentiate yourself from competitors

The Blue Ocean Strategy helps you discover new markets for an innovation. So you are not trying to beat your competitors with a better or cheaper product, but to come up with something unique. In that case you have no competition (yet). You are then fishing in a blue ocean, and not in the red oceans where it is teeming with competitors. Examples of companies that have done this successfully are Netflix, Spotify and Airbnb. They have created a new demand and thus changed the market dramatically. Important condition, of course, is that your innovation actually meets a need!

Blue Ocean Strategy

The Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas is a tool that allows you to compare products and companies. With it, you not only identify the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, but also the similarities and differences with your company or product. This is how you determine what sets your product or service apart. It also provides insight into what you can still improve.

Design Thinking: put the customer first

Design thinking is an innovation method where you take value creation for the customer as your starting point. So design thinking is all about people. So this is a good way to optimally connect your innovation to the customer's needs. A designer thinks primarily from the feeling that the product evokes in the user. And to know what that feeling is, you first have conversations with your intended users to understand their need or problem. Only then do you start coming up with ideas and solutions. You then develop these in short sprints into prototypes that you let the user test in between. Through this loop you gradually arrive at the best end product.

Design Thinking

The Lean Startup: develop a valid business model

Also The Lean Startup method mainly revolves around developing and testing ideas and prototypes in short sprints. In this method, you test prototypes directly in the marketplace. You determine what is minimally needed and test this directly with the customer. With experimentation and feedback from the market, you arrive faster at a good end product. The Lean Startup aims to make the innovation process as efficient and lean as possible. That is, with as little waste as possible. After all, if you're innovating from a startup, you want to know as quickly as possible what works and what doesn't work. This way, you can not only test ideas, but also develop them into valid business models. Although this method was developed for startups, it can certainly be used for existing companies as well.

Combine the best of different innovation models

It's not that you have to choose one model or strategy. Rather, you can combine them to get the best results and strengthen your innovation process. For example, if you use the validated prototype of design thinking to test in the market (lean startup), you can get to a good final product and business model even faster. All the methods mentioned above have good tools available that will help you develop an innovative idea into a market-ready product.

Read more about the innovation process

Would you like to read further on this topic? Then the books below may be of interest:

  • Zero to One - Peter Thiel and Blake Masters (2014)
  • Scaling Up - Verne Harnish (2014)
  • Value Proposition Design - Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (2014)
  • The Innovator's Dilemma - Clayton Christensen (2011)

Want to know more about innovating and funding for innovations? Then download our free white paper "From innovative idea to commercial product.

And read the 10 tips to spend funding for your innovation smartly.

NOM Mockup Whitepaper Innovative Idea
From innovative idea to commercial product

In this white paper you will learn:

  • What the innovation process looks like and what challenges you face along the way
  • What opportunities there are to fund this early stage of your idea/product
  • In what ways NOM as an investor can help you

    Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.