Nov 16, 2022

Succeeding at Innovation With Top-Down Directives

Emily Collins

Emily Collins

Succeeding at Innovation With Top-Down Directives

The opportunity for product or service innovation is filled with possibilities, from carving out a niche in the market and attracting a new customer base, to growing a legacy brand with a new product to delight existing customers. With many possibilities comes many ideas, opinions and stakeholders who want a seat at the table in crafting the “next big thing.”

However, organizations struggle to drive fresh thinking and face hurdles in the form of pre-existing processes, structures and short-term incentives that favor the status quo.

To mitigate these challenges and create space for new ideas to come to life, companies turn to the creation of an agile innovation team—a team that can quickly test, learn, create, and iterate on the path to success without too much internal influence. However, these innovation teams are often faced with predetermined, timeboxed and specific outcomes for their product or service—elements that are inherently at odds with the principles of innovation.

The Challenge of Top-Down Directives in Action

Imagine you are a product manager at a leading food and beverage manufacturer. You are tasked with creating a new product that appeals to a growing marketing of health-conscious consumers who want sustained energy with the promise of longevity and wellness. The market opportunity here is largely undefined and options for innovation many—the sky’s the limit!

Feeling inspired, you set off down the path of product discovery. You investigate the current state of the wellness food and beverage market and talk to consumers who are passionate about other leading brands. You begin to estimate the potential market opportunity and narrow in on areas that could really meet the needs of consumers, as well as make up for gaps in the portfolio of products within the company.

You are then given new directives for this product launch. It must be within the ready-to-eat section of the business, packaged with sustainable materials and you must launch the product in six months and hit $200,000 in product sales in eight months. Lastly, you are given an agile team of seven members to accomplish this goal. Suddenly, the sky feels… limited.

With fixed goals in hand and an agile team ready to execute, you begin to wonder, “How can I meet the top-down directives of the organization on time while also taking the time needed to create something truly innovative?

8 Key Activities and Principles for Agile Innovation

Let’s explore a few key activities and principles that can help teams set themselves up for success while managing the friction between agile innovation and timeboxed, fixed organizational directives:

  1. Product discovery: Make sure you are creating the right thing before creating it the right way. Get close to your consumer and understand their needs, wants, and pain points. Understand and investigate the market through competitive and consumer research. Only then can you determine if you have the right solution to meet your customers’ needs and something worth truly innovating on.

  2. Establish an innovation strategy: Define the boundaries of this innovation effort in context of the broader goals set by the organization. Think through critical pathways and what information still needs to be uncovered, as well as processes and plans for taking the product from idea to launch. Outline the roles of each team member and establish ways of working within the team.

  3. Engage in a design sprint early on: When you want to sift through and validate each idea, but need to get to the next step quickly, a design sprint can help you quickly generate solutions for business needs. Credera’s design sprint allows you to go from idea to prototype testing in front of customers in just five days, shortening the timeline but still allowing for learning.

  4. Establish product/market fit and a go-to-market roadmap: Once you have a solution identified, engage in go-to-market planning to ensure the target market is reachable through available channels, and that your organization is prepared to handle new customers operationally.

  5. Define leading indicators across desirability, feasibility, and viability: If the top-down directives may not be met on time, it can be helpful to supply metrics that demonstrate future success. This could be number of sales leads generated, supplier quality ratings, or completed online bookings.

  6. Report early and advocate for the customer: Showcasing customer findings can be a great way to share updates with stakeholders while ensuring that business directives do not dilute the customer benefit. Teams should feel empowered to share insights broadly and be given the freedom to reframe and/or pivot if new needs are uncovered.

  7. Subject matter expertise (SME): Allow team members who are experts in their field to drive functional decision-making, ensuring they are sharing expectations and outcomes with the rest of the team. SMEs can also act as good advocates for the customer—knowing what may or may not work from their functional point of view.

  8. Progress over perfection: Encourage teams to embrace steady progress and small wins, making sure to report on these successes as proof of achievement. As mentioned earlier, leading indicators can act as barometers of future success and can help assure concerned stakeholders.

Principles Worth Embracing for Agile Innovation

It can feel overwhelming to deliver quality outcomes on time to stakeholders while also maintaining the integrity of innovation. With proper emphasis on product discovery, testing and learning, and early reporting, innovation teams can both deliver on organizational goals while also meeting true customer needs—and staying agile along the way. Whether you are launching a new wellness product or simply exploring new opportunities to refresh your brand, agile innovation can help you reach your goals, no matter how daunting they may seem.

Interested in exploring a product or service innovation opportunity but no idea where to start? Contact Credera Innovation and learn how we help our clients solve exciting business problems at

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