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Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

Presenting Service Innovation at University of Exeter MBA

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Exeter University logo

Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, presented the ‘Service Innovation’ module at the University of Exeter MBA programme on Friday 10th February 2017.

Alastair said “It is always great to share experience with experienced students, get useful feedback and better understand the innovation challenges they face in their businesses and sectors.”Alastair also lectures on Service Innovation at the University of Southampton MSc in Strategy and Innovation.

Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 7

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 7. Key challenges and sustaining innovation

Introduction

This is the last in a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms. This final article reviews the key challenges that professional service firms will face in establishing, accelerating and sustaining an innovation programme and some of the approaches that can be used to address them. To read the first article in the series go here.

Key innovation challenges

In establishing and operating a programme for innovation within a professional services firm, many challenges will be faced, for example:

“Carving out real time for innovation instead of chargeable work is a major challenge…we don’t do enough of it.” Partner, Management Consultancy

Motivation challenge for employees is that chargeable hours win.” Partner, Accountancy

“Innovation does not come naturally to most risk-averse lawyers.” Partner, Law Firm 

“People don’t want to take risky ideas to the boss.” Partner, Management Consultancy

“We’ve been in our functional silos too long and they’re too deep.” Manager, Business Services

“There is lip service to innovation at senior levels due to the difficulty of making the required cultural change.” Partner, Law Firm

These quotes are from clients and a Codexx study in 2012-13 investigating the key challenges encountered by professional service firms in innovation. The study examined 15 predominantly large professional service firms in law, consulting & business services, accounting and insurance. The participating firms were asked to identify their top 5 innovation challenges. The results are shown in Figure 1. A copy of the study report can be found here.

Innovation challenges figure

Fig 1: Innovation challenges in professional service firms (Source: Codexx)

Two of the top three challenges are culture-related issues, each identified by 9 or more of the respondents. The highest challenge was ‘the motivation for employees to innovate’. Firms see that in most cases there is not enough encouragement for employees to innovate. The second highest challenge identified was ‘no/poor innovation process’ – the lack of an effective structured approach for gathering, exploring, selecting and implementing ideas. The third highest challenges was ‘a hostile culture to innovation’ which has some similarity to the highest challenge, the difference being that the first challenge covers a lack of incentive for employees to innovate which covers things like management encouragement and support and reward. This third-ranked challenge identifies an active discouragement for employees and managers to spend time on innovation.

The ‘Other’ category covers a number of other challenges that were identified by respondents. Some of these do overlap with the existing categories, but others capture additional challenges such as the difficulty of managing multiple stakeholders and the issue of functional and departmental silos which can limit the sharing and development of new ideas across the firm.

Innovation system diagram

Figure 2: The innovation system (Source: Codexx)

Addressing key challenges

Establishing and operating an innovation system, covering the 7 practice areas, as outlined in Part 3 of this series and shown in Figure 2, is the most robust approach for dealing with the common challenges faced:

  • Employees will be motivated to participate in innovation activities if there is supportive leadership within the firm and a performance management system that measures and rewards innovation participation. Champions need to be found, to lead projects and help execute required changes.
  • An ideas management process will address the frustrations and inefficiencies that occur when ideas cannot easily be explored, evaluated and selected for implementation in an effective way.
  • A hostile culture for innovation occurs when partners and employees are exclusively focused on today’s business and are effectively penalised when working on innovation (i.e. tomorrow’s business). This can only be addressed by moving the culture to innovation-positive through communication, espoused values in the firm and recognition and reward systems that support it.
  • Innovation needs to be resourced – in a professional service firm this particularly means partner and employee time made available for innovation, some common tools and methods (process mapping, analysis and Lean-enabled improvement for example).
  • Firms need to engage clients in their innovation activities, to gain insight and identify opportunities for enhancing value and to look externally for new ideas and resources.
  • Learning needs to be enhanced in firms, especially to support process-based innovation, with the use of process management and measurement and continuous improvement. Additionally a culture of capturing, sharing and reusing improvements is needed to get innovation beyond the silos of teams and departments and applied across the firm.

Sustaining innovation

Leading a programme to establish sustainable innovation within a professional services firm requires a long term outlook and effective change management. In making change within a partnership it is key to get the support of the majority of partners (unlike a corporate where a board-driven ‘It’s my way or the highway’ approach can be effective). Partners need to recognise that the benefits of the change will outweigh the pain and cost of the journey required. This individual assessment of the pros and cons of change are captured in the ‘change equation’ developed by Beckhard and Harris. This is a simple equation but is powerful in recognising that the viewpoint of change must be both at the personal as well as the organisational level. That is, answering the question from the viewpoint of those key individuals who hold power within the organisation, rather than simply from the viewpoint of the organisation as a whole. This is because it is the perspective of the key decision-makers in an organisation that is critical. The ‘change equation’ states that for successful change:

 

DVP > C

where

D= Dissatisfaction with the status quo

V = Vision of desired future state

P=  Practical Plan to realise the future vision

C = total perceived Cost of change (covering energy, emotional, financial)

(Source: Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris).

So for someone to be supportive of a proposed change the combination of their dissatisfaction with today’s situation, the attractiveness of the future vision and the proposed plan to realise it must be more compelling than their perception of the cost of making the change. Change leaders need to be able to effectively ‘sell’ the proposed innovation programme at the outset and then continue to sell it during the years it takes to fully establish it within the organisation. This is why measurement and communication of benefits, visible recognition and reward of those effectively leading and participating in innovation activities and establishing innovation behaviours as key to progression in the firm are all key to successfully sustaining the innovation programme.

Summary of the series

The objective of this series was to introduce the key elements of an effective approach for driving and managing innovation in a professional services firm. This is based on my experience of working in Codexx on innovation and re-engineering with major professional service firms over the last decade.

In this series I defined a framework for considering and identifying innovation opportunities, using the ‘innovation dimensions’ model and then gave examples of the four key innovation categories. I then outlined a system to support innovation within a firm, based on 7 key practice areas. In the final two articles I discussed approaches for starting and accelerating innovation within a firm and identified the typical challenges that will be encountered in this journey and key approaches for addressing them.

I won’t pretend that this series will make its readers experts in innovation – that was never the intention! Instead, I hope that readers will have a better appreciation of the opportunities and challenges for applying innovation in professional service firms and to recognise that there are proven approaches to effectively manage innovation so that it can ultimately deliver improved competitiveness for their firms. And from my experience, there is major opportunity for professional service firms to utilise innovation to drive significant improvements in the value provided to clients and the efficiency in which it is delivered.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This is based on the author’s ten years of experience working with professional service firms on innovation projects. It provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 6

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 6. Starting your innovation journey

Introduction

This is the sixth of a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms. This article focuses on the approaches for starting or enhancing an innovation programme. To read the first article in the series go here.

Beginning a journey of change

There are a number of ways for a professional service firm to become a measurably more innovative business. There is no one ‘best practice’ way for how a firm should make the journey to realising their own effective innovation system. For that is as much to do with the goals, culture and the leadership of the firm as anything else. However, there are three significantly different approaches that are worth reviewing, as one of them may very well fit with your own firm’s situation and culture. It is important to note that just as an innovation process is drawn as a straight line, but in reality is closer to a lump of spaghetti, so the execution of an innovation programme is rarely clean. Here are three different practical approaches for developing an improved innovation capability in an organisation:

1. Top down strategy

2. Emergent

3. Champion led 

 1. Top down strategy

This is in many ways the classic consultant-advocated approach to innovation, which is logical and structured, putting in place the required ‘infrastructure’ (i.e. process, training, metrics, resourcing etc.) and the conditions (i.e. leadership, cultural changes and new behaviours) – as described in the previous articles – to enable and sustain innovation.

Strengths: This approach will deliver the conditions required for effective and sustainable innovation.

Weaknesses: This approach requires resourcing and will take time to deliver results – the other approaches can be faster to yield initial benefits.

 2. Emergent

The emergent approach offers a pragmatic way to build or enhance a set of innovation capabilities. The trigger will be an existing event (typically external) such as tough business conditions driving the need for efficiency improvements to save cost; or a new requirement from a major client(s) for a dramatic change in a solution(s) value or price; or a business event such as a merger or acquisition.

Strengths: The innovation programme can piggyback on an existing change driver and enable more innovative behaviours and outcomes as a result. The existing change driver helps legitimise the need for innovation, so helps management push through the typical inhibitors to establishing innovation activities in a professional services firm. It can yield faster results than a ‘top down’ approach.

Weaknesses: It is unlikely to be sustainable beyond the short to medium term as the conditions for ongoing innovation have not been put in place and a ‘crisis-driven’ change programme can only run for so long.

3. Champion led

This is an opportunistic approach, which finds potential champions for innovation and then supports and resources them.

Strengths: This can be a fast and effective way for bringing new offerings to market. Individual champions are motivated to make their ideas a success. This can be a low resource approach, with little supporting infrastructure required, and only the matter of budget.

Weaknesses: Success depends on a few key individuals and if they fail to perform or they leave the organisation, then the innovation capability dies with them. This is not a system that leverages the capabilities of all the employees and is not sustainable in the long term. This approach is not uncommon in partner-based organisations when individual partners can be ‘given their head’ to take their ideas forward. Success is mixed however, typically with successes at least equalled by failures. And unless the budget is effectively allocated and controlled, a money-pit can be created….

What does experience tell us?

I’ve worked with a number of professional service (and industrial) firms over the last ten years on innovation programmes and inidividual projects and researched many case studies in the writing of my recent book and other articles. What are the three most important lessons that I have learned?

  • It is difficult to start (or ramp-up) an innovation programme
  • It is even more difficult to sustain innovation programmes
  • You cannot underestimate the importance of committed leadership

As discussed in previous articles in this serious, innovation requires a different paradigm to the dominant one that is prevalent in professional service (and most) businesses – i.e. the focus on delivering today’s business. Establishing an innovation programme requires focus and resources pointed at developing tomorrow’s business. This is why leadership is critical to its success. AXA Insurance (Ireland), IBM, PWC, Allianz Insurance plc and the law firm RPC all provide examples of successful innovation programmes where the senior management personally championed and were active in the programmes.

But the starting of innovation programmes benefits from the ‘excitement of the new’ which can help gain initial support, resourcing and involvement. Existing innovation programmes do not benefit from such enthusiasm, which is typically eroded over time, and it is often a struggle to maintain and progress them. These programmes must be kept fresh – through new focus themes, new champions, innovation competitions and rewards, for example.

But most importantly innovation must be embedded in the fabric of the firm – as part of ‘the way we work here’. This means strategy, budget, good people, time, management, measurement and rewards need to be allocated to innovation on an ongoing basis. In effect, professional service firms need to establish something similar in purpose (though not necessarily in structure) to the Research & Development (R&D) function that exists in industrial firms to enable an ongoing focus on innovation.

So what approach is best for taking innovation forward in your firm? My experience leads me to recommend a pragmatic approach that is the hybrid of the above:

  • Work to establish the required infrastructure – a system of innovation – whilst building involvement and gaining demonstrable results (thus maintaining management support and increasing employee buy-in).
  • Employ opportunistic approaches that make use of the energy and capabilities of key personnel acting as innovation champions.
  • Build on any ‘burning platforms’ that are available and help legitimise the need for the innovation programme.

In the final article of this series I will identify the typical challenges that firms face in seeking to improve their innovation capabilities and the approaches that are helpful in sustaining innovation into the longer term.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my new book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 5

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 5. Innovating to increase client value

Introduction

This is the fifth of a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms. This article looks at how to enhance client value using innovation. To read the first article in the series go here.

Enhancing value – introducing the value table

In the previous article I discussed the opportunity for cost reduction in a firm’s internal processes or services. In this article I’m focusing on the opportunity to improve value to clients through enhanced or new services. In what ways can we improve value to clients? We can think of value of a table, as shown in Figure 1. Functionality is the surface, as this is what clients/customers wish to buy in the first place – they are buying a service or a product to meet some specific requirements they have. The functionality of the service offered has to at least meet their minimum requirements to be considered. The four legs of the table represent the four attributes of how that functionality is delivered: The price of the service; the time it takes to deliver the service or respond to customer requests; the quality of the service provided (whether corrective actions are needed to address errors or omissions); finally the user experience in the lifecycle of acquiring and using the service. Innovation in any of these five areas will increase value to clients.

The value table

Figure  1: The Table of Value (Source: Codexx)

 

Examples of value enhancement

Functionality

  • Improving the fit of the service with client needs
    This is effectively customization – it reduces the time and cost required by the client to tailor the service deliverables to their needs. This could be as simple as the structuring and format of reports to address different audiences, or to enable them to use reports or information directly with their own customers or suppliers. Much customization is achieved by adding additional cost and time, a better way is to achieve this is by what is called mass customization – using a modular service offering that can be configured to a customer’s requirements, with little additional time or cost.
  • Improving the functionality of the service
    This can be achieved by enhancing the existing functionality (for example by adding additional analysis or reporting) or by broadening the scope of the service offered.

Price

  • Reducing the price of the service whilst maintaining key value elements
    Cost reduction in services (as discussed in the previous article) can enable firms to either increase their margins or improve their competitiveness through keener pricing of their services. Fixed fee service offerings allows firms to make this choice, hourly fee arrangements automatically give clients the benefits of efficiency improvements. Another way to enable price reduction is by removing some existing work elements that clients do not value or by getting clients to perform some of the lower added-value work themselves (an IKEA approach if you like). Thus it is key to understand the elements of value contained within your service and how clients perceive their relative importance.
  • Providing a new pricing model
    Clients are increasingly seeking budget certainty and thus defined price arrangements from firms – for example fixed fees or yearly fees – are increasingly relevant. ‘Performance-based’ pricing is always interesting to discuss, but more difficult to implement (often requiring complex metrics) and will only really succeed if there is the basis of an open and trusting relationship between client and supplier.

Quality

  • Improving the quality of the work delivered by services
    This ensures that clients do not waste time and cost correcting or accommodating errors resulting from the supplied service. Quality means the performance against defined performance metrics (in services these are typically captured in Service Level Agreements (SLAs). It’s key that quality measures reflect what is truly important to clients, as there is a cost to measure, meet and report on these measures. Ongoing process management and innovation is key to good quality – and this is an area many professional service firms are weak in, so the cost of meeting quality targets can be high (i.e. measurement, rework, re-training and reporting).

Time

  • Improving the speed and responsiveness of services
    This provides clients with service deliverables faster and is important for time-sensitive work (e.g. Due Diligence work). Service mapping and Lean approaches can be used to identify opportunities for reducing the elapsed time on activities and reducing any inherent delays. The use of self-service approaches using internet portals can also be effective in enabling clients to work at their own speed (and also reduces the potential for wasted time by fee earners).

Experience

  • Improving the service experience for clients
    This makes the service easier and less stressful for client users. Improvements in experience need to be focused on key service touch points with clients and addressing any issues at these touch points. The overall service goal should be to delight not simply satisfy clients – as merely satisfied clients are always at risk of defection to rivals.

Really understanding client needs

To enable ongoing successful value-based innovation, a firm needs to gain deep insight into its clients’ businesses, to understand how they work, what their customers want and their key challenges. Once the landscape of a client’s business is truly understood, then the firm is well placed to identify opportunities for innovation. Engaging clients in this journey in a collaborative approach is an effective way of identifying and testing new innovations and building a valued and trusted relationship in the process.

In the next article I will show how firms can start or accelerate their innovation programme.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my new book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 4

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 4. Innovating to reduce process and service costs

Introduction

This is the fourth of a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms. This article discusses the opportunities for applying innovation to reduce the cost of operating internal support processes and external processes (i.e. services). To read the first article in the series go here.

The importance of process innovation

Processes and services are the most common opportunity areas for innovation in professional services firms (see reference study here). Business processes are the way work gets done in an organization and services deliver value to clients using internal and external processes. Therefore there are major opportunities for innovation in these areas. Of course process innovation has a long history from the industrial world, emanating in work study and Taylorism in the early 20th century and being re-energised by the emergence of Lean thinking (based on the Toyota Production System) in the mid-1980s and Business Process Re-engineering in the early 1990s. Some would call such process innovation ‘business improvement’ rather than innovation. I find it more effective to consider this as part of an innovation programme – as it meets the criteria of innovation, i.e. converting ideas to value (e.g. improved efficiency). By including process innovation as part of the firm’s innovation programme, common resources and management methods can be applied.

In my experience in working with professional service firms, there is major opportunity for significant cost reduction through process innovation, because process thinking and management are typically absent in these firms – unlike industrial organisations. The application of process innovation methods such as Lean and Re-engineering can yield significant reductions in the direct costs of operating a process. This is achieved through a combination of the following approaches:

  • Making services and processes visible, using process mapping
  • Eliminating waste steps (such as checking and rework)
  • Defining standard process elements based on best practices to reduce the costs of unnecessary variation from the optimum
  • Improving adherence to defined processes using procedures and training
  • Automating process stages or workflow
  • Perform process stages using lower cost personnel

In my work with professional service firms (particularly law firms) over the last decade on such process innovation, clients have achieved reductions in the direct costs of performing services of between 25-50% (and as high as 75% on one occasion). This level of cost reduction enables a firm to significantly improve its competitiveness. However, there is a challenge. If existing services are charged on an hourly-rate basis, then all the efficiency benefits will be given to clients, either as less hours required per matter and/or lower hourly charges. To avoid this and enable a firm to determine how much to keep (as increased margins) and how much to give away (as price reductions), it needs to introduce fixed fees for the service. This is typically welcomed by clients as improving price certainty at a time of increased budget pressures. But firms then need to apply new disciplines for delivery management to ensure that fee earners can work to the required cost targets to ensure profitability targets for services are met.

In addition to direct cost reduction, there is the opportunity to reduce indirect costs (i.e. overheads) that are applied to fee earner time. There are three major opportunity areas for indirect cost reduction for professional service firms:

  • Office costs – through reduction in footage costs (lower cost location) or less footage needed (‘hot-desking’ and mobile working).
  • Purchasing of external services and materials – through good procurement practices and effective commodity management, which have often been weak in professional services in comparison to industry.
  • Support costs (e.g. IT) – through internal efficiency improvements (using process analysis) or outsourcing.

Overall, professional service firms need to reduce the share of their overheads taken by office costs and increase the share taken by IT. The latter is increasingly core to the effective and efficient delivery of professional services, the former is not.

In the next article I will show how firms can utilize innovation to increase the value provided to clients through enhanced or new services.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my new book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 3

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 3. Establishing an effective system of innovation

Introduction

This is the third of a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms.  This article outlines a systematic approach to enable, direct and manage innovation within a professional services firm. To read the first article in the series go here.

Innovation is not easy to do – especially in professional services

The focus of business organizations is to deliver the current value proposition using today’s resources & thinking. Innovation is about developing tomorrow’s business, be it new value propositions, different ways of working, new market positioning or a new business model. This requires new thinking and for people to step out of their current paradigms of working and to be capable of challenging what and how things are done. Doing this needs people and time and thus is a particular challenge in professional service firms where the people who best understand the business are fee earners – and thus not so readily available for (what is non-chargeable) work on innovation. Typical challenges in attempting innovation in professional service firms are illustrated by the quotes below (from past Codexx studies):

“We have ideas but we’re not good at making them happen.” Managing Partner, Law Firm

“Our culture and measures don’t really support innovation.” Manager, Business Services

“People don’t want to take risky ideas to the boss.” Partner, Management Consulting

“Not a coordinated approach to innovation.” Head of Knowledge Management, Law Firm

A system for innovation

Experience and academic research has shown that a systematic approach to innovation improves an organization’s likelihood of delivering successful and sustained innovation.  Such an innovation system is built on key practices across 7 areas (see Figure 1) which need to be put in place across the firm:

  • Leadership – Active support and encouragement from the top is key to establishing a supportive environment for innovation and also to focus the firm’s innovation efforts.
  • Strategy – A clear strategy is needed to provide context and priorities for innovation. The strategy will define where the firm will focus its innovation efforts with targets and supporting metrics.
  • Process – A structured and objective ideas management process is required to explore, select and implement the best ideas. This helps ensure that the firm focuses its limited resources on the best ideas, rather than ‘pet projects’.
  • Climate – A supportive culture and values are needed to establish an environment that promotes innovative behaviours. Key metrics in professional service firms, such as chargeable-time utilization, need to be complemented with other metrics that support innovation. Such metrics encourage employees and partners to make time for innovation and take the risk of proposing and championing new ideas.
  • Resources – People time, methods and money are needed to fuel innovation. In a professional services firm, making time available for fee earners to develop promising ideas is critical – as is recognizing and rewarding those who deliver innovation.
  • External Linkages – Effective links to the outside world, especially clients, for ideas and resources, is important for ensuring that the firm is focusing on market-relevant ideas. Engaging clients in innovation co-development also increases the likelihood of success and strengthens client relationships.
  • Learning – Capturing and sharing learning from innovation across the firm is key to increasing return from innovation activities – looking to where else a similar innovation can be applied and encouraging the ‘re-use’ of ideas. Process-based learning and improvement is also a competency that is fundamental to enabling continuous improvement, but is typically lacking in professional service firms (for more information on applying Knowledge Management to process improvement, see here).

 

Innovation system diagramFigure 1: The Innovation System Model (Source: Codexx)

Assessing your firm against the innovation system model

To help firms in establishing and developing their innovation system, Codexx uses an assessment approach called ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i for short) that reviews 60 key practices that make up the 7 areas of the innovation system. Codexx has used F4i with law firms, insurance companies, business consultancies as well as industrial organisations. But as an initial start you can simply consider how effectively your firm supports innovation across the 7 areas defined above and what improvements are needed.

The overall innovation system will only be as strong as its weakest link. I have worked with professional service firms who established innovation processes, defined an innovation strategy and dedicated some personnel time for innovation, but the lack of a supportive innovation climate (non-chargeable time was not valued or rewarded) and indifferent leadership (other than a couple of partner champions, the board was lukewarm in support) meant that few ideas were generated to go into the innovation process and even fewer were progressed along it. A firm’s management needs to be committed to innovation if it is to establish a supportive system that enables effective and sustained innovation – rather than an occasional ‘get lucky’ approach.

In the next article I will show how firms can utilize innovation to reduce the costs of their business processes.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my new book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Business as unusual – innovating professional services – 2

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Professional Service innovation blackboard

by Alastair Ross, Director, Codexx Associates Ltd

Part 2. Identifying innovation opportunities

Introduction

This is the second of a series of seven articles on professional service innovation. The objective of the series is to provide a basic introduction to innovation management for managers, partners and change agents working in professional service firms. This article helps answer the question ‘Where should we innovate?’ To read the first article in the series go here.

The need for focus

A key question for a firm’s management team is where to focus its innovation efforts. Far too many firms take an unfocused, unstructured, ‘laissez faire’ approach, resulting in time and money being wasted in projects that have poor value, failing to invest in projects that have much higher potential value and spreading investment and resources too thinly across the firm on too many projects. As a business development director of a major UK law firm put it “In practice we can have a lot of ‘crappy’ projects going on.” To avoid such a wasteful situation, a firm needs to have a systematic approach to framing and then developing innovation opportunities followed by an objective way of evaluating and selecting the resulting proposals. I will tackle the first requirement in this article and the latter in the next article on establishing an innovation system.

Your innovation dimensions

A useful model to help with this focus, based on academic research, is the ‘Dimensions of Innovation’ model. This models all the potential areas that an organisation can innovate in as four major ‘dimensions’ (see Figure 1). The centre of the circle represents the ‘Do Nothing’ state (i.e. no innovation). An organisation can then innovate in any number of the dimensions – the further out the circle is pushed, the higher the degree of innovation. Thus a small radius represents Do Better incremental innovation; the largest radius represents Do Different radical innovation.

I have used model this with legal, insurance, engineering and consulting clients over the past decade and I have found it to be a very useful tool, as it provides a single page view of innovation possibilities within a business. This helps facilitate discussion around existing innovation activities and highlights future opportunity areas that have not been well explored. As such, this provides a useful structure against which existing and proposed innovation activity can be mapped and reviewed.

 

Dimensions model of innovation

Figure 1: Dimensions of Innovation (Source: Frances and Bessant, adapted by Codexx)

 

Let me build on the four dimensions and give some examples of innovation in each dimension:

1. Product innovation

This type of innovation lies in providing a new or enhanced value proposition to clients through the improvement of existing service products or the development of new services. In professional services, this can come from efficiency improvement through process innovation – resulting in ‘Do Better’ innovation of an existing service – improving the client service experience or providing a lower priced offering. It can also come through client-focused innovation, which can result in a new or ‘Do Different’ service – for example a web-based offering or a new pricing model (e.g. fixed fee or risk-sharing). For many professional service sectors, clients increasingly want price certainty and fixed price offerings provide this but also enable firms to keep the benefits of cost reduced services as improved margin.

Example: Mills & Reeve, a major UK law firm, facing significant pricing pressures in its inquest service from budget-constrained public sector clients, developed a web-enabled tailored inquest service for NHS clients offering a menu of pricing options including fixed fees. This new service utilized significant efficiency improvements and was adopted by a number of UK hospital trusts.

2. Process innovation

Process innovation covers the application of new ways of performing work – this can be new methods, new skills, new technology (e.g. IT) or organizational changes. This innovation can be applied to internal administrative processes (such as Bid Management, Billing or Client Inception) or chargeable services (such as Due Diligence, Project Delivery, Accounting Audit or Claims Management). It uses analysis of existing ways of working and the application of improvement techniques, such as Lean, to redesign processes to reduce cost and rework, speed up the service and improve quality. Key improvement opportunities include the application of standard procedures and documents for repetitive work elements, IT applications such as workflow management and internal and external collaboration solutions and the ‘right-skilling’ of work tasks.

This is a major opportunity area in most professional service firms, as processes typically are not well defined, standardized and have simply evolved over time. Employees typically have sufficient know-how to deliver a service but not know-why as to why it is performed in the way it is. This lack of insight is well captured by a manager in a major insurance company discussing current working methods: “A lot of what people are doing they don’t understand why, because it was done in the past.” So true insight is required to develop ‘Do Different’ process innovation – the innovation team need to ‘peel back’ existing services to their fundamentals and identify and challenge requirements and assumptions. There are a number of tools that can be used to help do this, (Codexx utilise a number of them in its Catalyst and Ideation workshops), one of the simplest is the ‘Five Whys?’ method developed in Toyota. 

In professional services, the line between product and process innovation is blurred, as the redesign of services typically will require process innovation. However some process innovation, such as in cost reduction, may be opaque to clients as there will be no change in the resulting service value or experience.

Example: Allianz Insurance plc in the UK established weekly/bi-weekly team-based problem-solving to reduce cost and improve efficiency across their business and help to establish a more innovative working culture.

3. Market Position innovation

This is where innovation occurs in the positioning of the firm in the market. This can be achieved by the firm entering an existing market in which the firm had not previously competed; establishing a new market, or by changing the nature of its competitive position in an existing market (for example by significant change in its price/value proposition).

Example: The major international law firm DLA Piper, took advantage of UK deregulation of the legal market to launch a new legal vehicle LawVest. One of its first offerings was RiverView Law, a new business providing fixed price legal services, targeting small businesses and based on a lower cost legal organisation and defined processes. This enabled the firm to take advantage of market changes in a way that did not conflict with its existing ‘large client’ high-value brand.

4. Business Model innovation

A firm’s business model defines how it creates and delivers value to its clients – in essence how it makes money. The business model consists of three fundamental parts:

1. The value proposition
2. How the firm develops and delivers the value proposition
3. The firm’s mechanisms for selecting and serving its clients.

Business model innovation can be in any of these three areas. This is big, often ‘bet the firm’ innovation and is thus the rarest and most challenging type of business innovation. New entrants into existing markets often bring a new business model with them: RocketLawyer provides fixed fee legal ‘products’ via the web to small and mid-sized businesses; Crunch.co.uk provides web-based accounting services, also focusing on small and medium sized businesses; Freelancer.com provides an online market place to link over 16 million freelancers in IT and design services with customers.

Example: In 1991 IBM made a strategic decision to become ‘a world-class services company’ moving away from its hardware focus. At that time less than 10% of its revenue was from non-maintenance services. By 2001, services accounted for 41% of revenue and this was more than 60% by 2011. This transformation in its business model required a 10 year journey involving changes in strategy, culture, resources, organization, processes and offerings.

 

In the next article I will show how firms can establish a system for innovation that provides the key practices to support and direct innovation activities.

References and further reading

This article and the others in the series are based on the approaches, references and case studies detailed in my new book ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ published by Gower in May 2015. This provides in-depth coverage and case studies of the topics featured in this series. For more information go to: https://www.codexx.com/2015/innovating-professional-services-new-book/

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Product development – ten best practices

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Product development is a critical function for product-based businesses. The ability to develop new products with features and functionality that are valued by users, to bring them to market quickly, cost effectively and at acceptable quality and then to support and enhance them during their lifetime has always been a complex undertaking.

Today’s additional requirements to serve a global market, to exploit new technologies – including the opportunities provided by the internet – to meet ever higher customer expectations and to compete against new low cost, but increasingly high value, rivals from China and other emerging economies simply adds to the challenge.

How do companies ensure that their product development practices are good enough?

Over the past decade Codexx has worked with a number of clients on assessing and improving product development practices, most recently we performed a global R&D benchmarking assessment covering Europe, US and China. In 2010-12 Codexx carried out two major research studies on what we call ‘the innovation journey’ for technology-based product businesses, from new ideas to value (e.g. [products) in the marketplace. This covered 43 technology businesses in the UK and Denmark.*

New Directions 18 - Figure 1

Figure 1: An end-to-end product innovation process

From our experience, we have put together a ‘top ten’ list of practices that we consider have a key impact on the success of product development. In no particular order:

  •  Become a user. Get the ‘voice of the user’ into R&D and keep it there. This can be done in a number of ways: by ensuring that development engineers and product managers spend time with relevant users, or by nominating a ‘user advocate’ in the development team, or by regularly and systematically bringing field feedback into R&D. A measure of the importance of this practice is that our innovation journey study found that end-user involvement in new product development was the practice with the fourth highest correlation with innovation performance.
  • Effectively explore new ideas. This means using a rich approach to exploration that involves personnel from development, marketing and production as well as potential users and partners, to determine the potential user and business opportunities and also the risks of new concepts and to identify potential improvements. The use of rough-prototyping is very effective here to help evaluate the concept. This level of exploration ‘shakes up’ the concept to determine whether it has sufficient merits to consider taking it forward. In our innovation journey study of 2012-13, the effective use of rough prototyping for idea exploration was the practice with the second highest correlation with overall innovation performance.
  • Enhance existing products. It can be easy for R&D to over-focus on new products, at the expense of enhancing existing products – from an engineering perspective it can be seen as less challenging and less exciting. But enhancing an existing product instead of investing in a new one has many advantages – less technical risk, less investment, easier for sales personnel to sell (minimal training required). Enhancements can be through updated technology elements in an existing platform, through accessories (which can be provided by 3rd parties) or through software and services. This does not mean we are ‘anti-new products’, but simply that the development investment portfolio should give sufficient weight to existing product enhancement as well as new products.
  • Establish an ‘end-to-end’ product innovation process. Whilst most product businesses will have a formal New Product Development (NPD) process, this only covers part of the journey from new ideas to products in the market. The NPD process needs to be complemented by a front-end process for idea generation and exploration (covering the key ‘fuzzy front end’ of product development), a back-end support & enhancement process and a parallel process for capturing learning from the field (as shown in Figure 1). Front-end exploration projects will often “fail” in the sense that the results are disappointing – which is an acceptable outcome as not all new ideas should (or can) proceed. Engineers must be judged on whether they do good, disciplined investigations in this stage, not on whether the ideas work out. Some element of waste is inevitable at the front end. Without such an end-to-end approach, the NPD process will waste resources on weak concepts and deliver sub-optimum products to the market. Product innovation must be guided by a clear stage gate process with an objective Go/No go at all the stage gates, especially, of course in the ‘Fuzzy Front’ end. Few companies are good at biting the bullet and stopping unpromising projects early on. But these processes have tendency to become more onerous with time as extra checks are inserted every time a problem occurs. This can become a bureaucratic nightmare. Beware of making the process any more formal than is absolutely necessary.
  • Reduce development time and team size. A major proportion of development cost is engineering hours – and this is a function of team size and project duration. So short development times and small teams have many benefits. Small teams are easier to coordinate, require less project management time and thus are able to make faster decisions. Shorter development cycles are less likely to require specification ‘resets’ due to competitive product announcements, new technologies, regulatory changes or delays from resource shortages. Frankly long development cycles and large teams generate waste in lost time, rework and non-value-adding coordination. Philosophies such as ‘Lean Startup’ (see the book by Eric Reis of the same name) support fast development time as this enables products to get to market faster and then user-based learning can start. So the mantra ‘keep it short and keep it small’ should be the guide for product development.

New Directions 18 - Figure 2

Figure 2: A system for innovation within an organisation

  • Employ platform thinking. This approach supports fast development time by introducing modular thinking into product design, to create a platform-based architecture. Thus new products become a mix of existing, evolved and new modules – for example a new mobile phone may have the same casing and screen, but updated processor, camera and new version of the operating system. This approach reduces development cost and risk and enables innovation to be focused on the new platform modules (rather than unnecessary re-invention). Platform thinking is well established in sectors such as automotive with cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 sharing much of the floorpan and chassis. Our innovation journey study showed that the separation of technology and product development (which is a key aspect of platform thinking) and the re-use of design or technology elements in new products were both top ten practices for correlation with overall innovation performance.
  • Ensure development proven practices are deployed. There are some proven practices for the design of new products such as documented user requirements – to provide a firm base for specification, QFD (Quality Function Deployment) – to build a functional specification that is aligned with user requirements, FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis) – to identify potential design weaknesses, Design Peer Reviews – to provide an independent ‘fresh view’ on a design before it is frozen and Post Project reviews – to capture lessons learned and required improvements to working methods. These good practices are well known, so it can be surprising how poorly these are in place in product development teams. We have been in firms where these practices have simply ‘faded away’ or only have ‘lip service’ paid to them. It is the responsibility of development management to ensure that these proven development practices are in place and used effectively.
  • Establish an innovative culture. We have worked in product development teams where employees have said ‘We don’t have time for innovation, we’re too busy developing products’. Of course incremental product development is indeed one type of innovation. But the point is well made – employees need to have time, management support and encouragement to identify new ideas and concepts. This requires a supportive culture for innovation – a key element of the ‘climate’ for innovation within a firm. This is one of the seven key practice areas required for an effective innovation system (see Figure 2). A key aspect of an innovative culture is a clear and overt tolerance for failure when new ideas don’t work out. Of course, this is not the same as a tolerance for bad work…
  • Don’t overload! Management ambitions can lead to the commitment of new projects and a development roadmap that simply exceeds development capacity. The result is a climate of project slippage and postponement – which further wastes development resources in re-planning and stop-start activities. Development capacity should not be loaded more than 80% of capacity to avoid short-term overloads of some resources and also to allow personnel time to get involved in new concept exploration work, platform development or other improvements. Overloading inevitably leads to queueing, and extra inefficiency comes if engineers need to swap from project to project.
  • Have an effective Go/No Go to market. Stage-gate management in product development is a proven and effective way of managing cost and risk exposure. Just as cost and risk exposure significantly increase once a new product concept is accepted for development, so does cost and risk exposure increase significantly once a product is released to be taken to market as large investments in manufacturing and sales are required. This is why the decision to go/no go to market needs to involve all the key functions affected (such as marketing, sales, manufacturing and development) – it is not a decision for development management alone. Indeed marketing involvement in signoff of product release to market was the practice that had the highest correlation with high innovation performance in our innovation journey study.

Thanks to Rick Mitchell, Visiting Professor of Innovation Management at the University of Cambridge for his contribution to this article.

*‘The Innovation Journey for technology-rich product businesses – Phase 2 – Final study report’, October 2013, Codexx Associates Ltd, The University of Exeter Business School, The University of Aalborg Business School. More information.

For further information on our innovation and product development solutions, contact us at www.codexx.com.

Codexx innovation solution selected for new benchmarking product

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

F4i logo

Codexx Associates Ltd and PROBE Network LLP agree to develop new innovation benchmarking product

Monday 22nd April 2013

Codexx Associates Ltd and Probe Network LLP today announced their agreement for the development of a new best practice benchmarking solution for business innovation. PROBE for Innovation Excellence will be based on the ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution developed by Codexx and used in a number of business sectors including manufacturing, insurance and professional services.

The development of PROBE for Innovation Excellence is being supported by IEL Santa Catarina, Brazil (Euvaldo Lodi Institute of Santa Catarina).The first version will be available during the summer of 2013. Codexx and PROBE have had a long standing relationship since 2002 as Codexx has been a user of PROBE’s benchmarking tools in its consulting work.

Announcing the agreement, Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, said “I am delighted to be working with PROBE on this exciting new product. PROBE’s expertise and global market reach in benchmarking will maximise the value of our investment in F4i.” Jeff Taylor, Senior Partner of PROBE Network LLP  said “Innovation is a key driver of business success, so we are delighted to be working with Codexx on the development of a new PROBE tool that will spur innovation and act as a catalyst for overall business excellence.”

For further information contact Codexx at www.codexx.com.

Innovation challenges for professional service firms – study report

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

What are the key challenges that lawyers, accountants, consultants and other professional service firms face when they seek to innovate? As part of our work on helping professional service firms improve their innovation capabilities, we ran a recent study to find this out. The attached report summarises our findings: Innovating Professional Services – Study of key challenges 2013

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Energizing Change

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