Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Digital Maker Revolution Why a "Tech" Mindset is the Key to Business Success

Ross Freedman, Co-founder and Board Member


We tend to think of “tech” companies as ones that approach the world with a software or technology mindset, like Microsoft or Google. But in order to stay competitive today, companies in EVERY industry must embrace technology and Go Digital or Go Home. Take these examples:

  1. While not a tech company in the traditional sense, a large and tech savvy garage door manufacturer has leveraged IoT to create a technology solution that enables consumers to open and close garage doors and control household lights from a smartphone.
  2. A global healthcare company primarily known for developing medical products, is harnessing technology to advance its product line by harvesting data from lab equipment to study usage patterns.

As the examples above illustrate, whether a company’s business is in manufacturing, professional services, hospitality, healthcare or education, businesses in every industry must rethink how they drive innovation and go to market. They must infuse “tech” deep into the heart of their company to transform the way they do business to stay competitive. They need “Digital Makers”.

Yet only those companies that can cut through their own red tape, sacred cows, and muscle memory around "the way they have always done things" will successfully tap into their Maker spirit.

Understanding this is the easy part. Actually doing it is the hard part. Here are five ways companies can harness their Maker spirit to drive innovation and transform their customer experience:

1. Implement agile processes

As an alternative to traditional project management, using an agile methodology, organizations engage in condensed or iterative work phases so that they can assess the direction of a project throughout its development. In doing so, each part of the development process – from concept to design to go-to-market – is continually assessed and revisited, allowing time to more easily change direction or alter the project as needed along the way. By implementing agile processes, organizations can realize significant cost and time savings and are better enabled to deliver the best product.

2. Conduct rapid prototyping

By implementing rapid prototyping techniques, organizations can quickly and efficiently develop a scale model of a product or part of a product. Utilizing three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) and 3-D printing, rapid prototyping bolsters an agile process by allowing companies to test a part or a product’s viability and efficacy before it is mass-produced.

3. Engage customers in testing

Going through the process of creating a product only to find out that your customers don’t get it or simply don’t like it can mean the difference between failure and success. Soliciting customer input and feedback throughout the development process is key to avoiding a detrimental loss or setback. Tried and true methods for engaging customers in the development and testing process including surveys and focus groups, can help steer a product in the right direction. Newer engagement techniques include using crowdsourcing or real-time social media to elicit votes, comments or feedback on pre or post-launch products; using data analytics tools to evaluate customer information; producing customer forums or forming customer advisory councils. Regardless of which method you use to engage customers, the key lies in capitalizing on these efforts to develop or improve your product.

4. Take a product mindset vs. project mindset

While it may seem like a simple difference in semantics, advocating a product mindset over a project mindset among development teams can trigger a critical shift in behaviors and attitudes that will ultimately produce a better product. Instead of focusing merely on completing the task at hand and checking an item off of a to-do list – a project mindset; a product mindset encourages teams to take ownership and responsibility for the overall outcome of their work. This shift puts a much greater focus on code and design consistency, elimination of defects and long-term product maintenance and vision.

5. Think like a VC

Like venture capitalists, who take a portfolio or all-encompassing view of their investments, the most innovative business leaders do not put all of their eggs in one basket. Rather, they evaluate the best ideas and develop multiple products or solutions to support them. Using an agile methodology to develop these ideas, they can carefully measure progress throughout the development process and determine whether to allocate more resources, scale back or ultimately drop a given product. This approach helps to balance risk and reward throughout the process and increases the likelihood of bringing a “winner” to market.

Bottom line, we are all Makers at our core. Yet only by embracing and a tech-driven approach to advancing a business or gaining a competitive edge will the true Digital Makers emerge.