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Accept a small mess when innovating under pressure



executive summary

In general, pre-tuning and other standard best practices are reliable tools for teams trying to develop new products. However, under extreme temporal pressure, these traditional approaches are inadequate. The authors analyzed 13 hackathon teams responsible for the development of health technology devices and identified common pitfalls and effective strategies for accelerating the innovation process. They found that the most successful teams abandoned standard collaboration techniques and minimized pre-adjustment. Lack of coordination could hinder these teams in the short term, but they stay flexible, try out different ideas quickly, and ultimately get a new product that works in just 72 hours. I was able to develop it.

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The Covid-19 crisis has put many product development teams in a difficult situation. They are required to accelerate the process quickly, but research often shows that extreme temporal pressures hinder creative work. Innovation best practices emphasize advance coordination and synchronization. All of this is time consuming and should not be rushed. Is it really possible for an organization to get to the creative team quickly without sacrificing quality?

Our recent research suggests a simple yet counter-intuitive strategy to do that.

We tracked the development of 13 medical technology projects across two hackathons to better understand which strategies are more or less effective for fast-paced innovation. The ad hoc team was given only 72 hours to develop assistive technologies such as remote-controlled breathing devices and seizure warning devices from scratch. Despite the key challenges these teams faced, six out of thirteen teams found that they were able to successfully accelerate the product development process in just 72 hours, a process that would normally take weeks or months. ..

Why did these 6 teams succeed when the remaining 6 teams failed? We investigated everything from different disciplines of participants to different educational and professional backgrounds, but these factors did not explain the results. All teams had similar levels of expertise, tackled equally difficult medical technology issues, and had equal access to resources, materials, and technology. The only thing we found in common was the team’s work process. Specifically, our analysis determined that all failed trials shared two common pitfalls.

Pitfall 1: Compress established processes into tighter time frames.

The low-success team imported standard innovation best practices and compressed them for a short period of time. For example, one participant thinks that agile and scrum methods are really good frameworks for a team. For example, speed up with a hackathon. Witness once a day. Maybe every 2 hours.

When faced with uncertainty, it’s natural to cling to a familiar process. However, many of these standard processes do not work when compressed in such a short amount of time, leading only to frustration and failure.

Pitfall 2: Try a complete pre-adjustment.

In general, spending time and effort in advance to coordinate and build a shared understanding of your work process will improve team efficiency. Also, under time pressure, adjustments are often more important because they can reduce costly misunderstandings. However, when it comes to innovation, this approach can be counterproductive.

Advance coordination and agreement on design direction hinders the flexibility needed to innovate under extreme temporal pressure. At the hackathon, teams that take a fully coordinated approach will continue to work towards an agreed design in the face of unforeseen technical challenges. At some point I thought about trying another approach, as one participant shared in a retrospective interview. [original] The approach will be more robust. This reluctance to shake plans prevented them from testing new, potentially better, faster options.

So what can you and your team do to avoid these pitfalls? The team, which succeeded in designing a fully functional health technology device in just three days from the beginning, consistently adopted two strategies:

Strategy 1: Abandon the traditional process.

The new condition requires a new process. Instead of trying to compress existing known innovation processes to fit into a very limited time frame, successful teams realized that they needed a new process, and importantly a new way of thinking. .. These teams accepted the ambiguity and uncertainty of the situation and realized that their usual methods for organizational innovation did not apply. At work, we hold meetings to discuss different concepts and usually choose the next path, but here we didn’t really have that luxury, one participant explained.

The six successful teams have found that it is probably even impossible to clearly define the potential design in advance. As a result, the design of these teams was created through rapid and iterative experimentation rather than following standard product development guidance.

Strategy 2: Minimize pre-adjustment.

Successful teams discussed plans in less than an hour before splitting into groups of one or two to quickly try out different solutions. As one participant told their team: we need to solve this problem, but the way we get there from here is pretty open.

I was observing these teams at the time, so it was hard to believe that this would be a winning strategy. Minimal adjustments are very cumbersome and cannot be achieved without cost. These teams have experienced many difficult moments of spending valuable time and resources, such as redundant work and work in the wrong direction. However, they also gained incredible flexibility, repeatedly adapting and pivoting product orientations in response to each other’s experiments.

For example, in one of these teams, one person assumed that the component needed three control buttons, and two teammates working on the related component had only two buttons. .. It took me hours to discover the misunderstanding, but as soon as I found it, I decided to adapt and take advantage of the opportunity to test both options.

The team fully embraced the uncertainty. When I asked one of the team members which iterations of the component worked, I shrugged and was surprised at the question, but I don’t know. I will try both. With minimal adaptive adjustments, teams can collaborate and iterate, eventually resulting in better, faster results, despite (or often due to) hiccups along the way. You can.

It may be counter-intuitive, but our research shows that ad hoc teams that innovate under extreme temporal pressure minimize pre-coordination and compress and accelerate established work processes. It will be more effective if you do not fit the time frame. It’s perfectly natural to seek order and become accustomed to when things get chaotic. But the only way to succeed is to accept the confusion.

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