Innovation in a "Not-so-Big" Company with Jeff George - Former SVP of R&D, Hain Celestial (Part 1)
Jeff George is an innovation visionary in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) space, having served as a senior R&D executive at Hain Celestial, Campbell Soup Co., Hillshire Brands (now a part of Tyson Foods), and PepsiCo. For over 35 years, Jeff built a sterling reputation for accelerating growth from new products, simultaneously delivering high product quality, new consumer benefits and great value.
Jeff recently announced his retirement, and we were fortunate to spend some time with him last week, prompting him to reflect on his career learnings about leading practices in innovation and product development. We focused specifically on his experiences in leading what we call the "not-so-big" company - in other words, medium-sized and slightly smaller firms, or in some cases divisions in larger companies. These are companies large enough to have multiple products and projects in their portfolios, but not yet large enough to have systematized many of their innovation and product management processes.
With so many innovation and product management frameworks that were either built for massive, sophisticated global enterprises, or for very-small entrepreneurial startups, Jeff speaks to the multitude of companies that are in-between. In doing so, he helps us refocus on the basics - those minimum viable principles that can help "not-so-big" companies create their own engines of growth through innovation.
There was so much insight shared that we'll address the take-aways in a series of three posts, with a separate video clip per post. Go watch that first clip above! The entire interview can also be viewed here.
Three criteria should drive every innovation decision in the "not-so-big" company.
This first post in the series focuses on Jeff's view regarding the three must-have criteria that "not-so-big" companies should use to drive every new product investment decision they make. These criteria are:
Does the product solve a real consumer problem? In other words, is it something people want and for which they are willing to pay? And is it a uniquely advantaged solution?
Is the product technically feasible? Can it be made, either by our company or by a company with whom we partner?
Will the product be profitable? Will the product ultimately make money for the company? "It doesn't necessarily have to be profitable out of the gate, but is there a reason to believe that this can be profitable over time?"
Jeff's perspective is refreshing. In contrast to other academic or complex innovation frameworks, he encourages people to simply focus on these three real-world essentials. He says, "...honestly, that's probably it. If you (1) develop something consumers really want and solve a problem for them, (2) you find a way to make it, and (3) if you can make money at it, that's all that really matters."
His view is that these three questions should drive investment decisions at each gate, and furthermore they should also drive the execution activities of cross-functional innovation teams themselves. These questions should encourage teams to focus their work on the criteria in which there is the greatest uncertainty or risk. "Sometimes, you have a lot of confidence in what consumers want, but you're not sure you can make it...OK, then focus on that. Other times, you think you can make it, but you're not sure how you can make money...then focus on that. Focus on the [criteria] that matters the most among those big core things."
How "not-so-big" companies can consistently leverage these criteria
This focus on essential decision-making criteria is precisely what BrightFire enables for "not-so-big" companies seeking to quickly improve their innovation results. Our BrightFire App for Innovation and Product Management is simple, fast-to-deploy, and provides the right level of support to address these essential criteria, uniquely designed for medium-sized and slightly smaller firms, or even less-mature divisions in larger companies.
The example below illustrates one way the BrightFire App enables cross-functional alignment, via a simple form that is completed by the team as a part of its early-stage development process. The questions below align directly with Jeff's recommended three "must-have" criteria. Furthermore, as you can see from the commentary within each criteria, those few simple sentences are powerful - these answers communicate just enough to help others understand risks, opportunities, and potential challenges that must be overcome, as early in the process as possible. Furthermore, these answers will evolve over time - they are assumptions at first, further validated as the project progresses.
Figure 1: Example Scorecard Available in the BrightFire App
One important result of this process is that the team has a meaningful score for each criteria, which can be used both in gate and portfolio decisions. But arguably, the more important outcome is the cross-functional dialogue that is enabled--across marketing, sales, R&D, operations, supply chain, and others--and the insights that are the result.
The example above demonstrates that achieving early-stage, cross-functional alignment on these essential criteria need not be onerous. A simple framework, and a simple tool to enable the adoption of this standard approach is all that is required. To learn more about how this approach might be applied in your "not-so-big" company, contact BrightFire via the information below.