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Innovation Management, Vision and Trends

5 Things 2020 Taught Us About Innovation

Published By Doug Williams
5 things 2020 taught us about innovation | Planview

The end of any year – but especially the end of the most bizarre 12 months of our present human experience – brings a period of reflection and learning. And if there was a teachable moment for businesses in 2020, the overarching lesson (if not the most obvious one) is that unprecedented change requires an unprecedented response of agility and innovation.

In this article, we’ll unpack the ways in which companies responded to such a turbulent year. You’ll learn five takeaways that you can use to shape your innovation programs and company strategy for 2021 and beyond.

1. Build resilience through crowdsourcing 

As the economies across the globe began to reopen after COVID-19 lockdowns, it was abundantly clear that innovation has never been more important than it was in 2020 — and crowdsourcing has never been a more valuable tool for making the right work happen.

At Planview, we actively supported many customers as they turned to crowdsourcing to navigate the leap to working virtually as stay-at-home orders rolled out.  

The themes for their crowdsourcing challenges revolved around urgent issues like shifts in the work environment and changes in the supply chain, but also touched on the human factor, such as how to support people and organizations in their communities.  

Through crowdsourcing, companies were able to respond with agility and leverage the collective intelligence of their crowd to adapt to the new reality.  

They sourced, selected, and implemented ideas to: 

  • Ensure business continuity in an uncertain environment;  
  • Create new best practices for working in a 100% virtualized workplace; 
  • Adapt to new safety requirements to protect workers in the plants, the field, or throughout the supply chain; and 
  • Identify ways to help others in need due to changes in health or employment. 

In doing so, these businesses allowed their employees to have a voice in innovating how best to work today – some of which will carry over into the future workplace.  

2. Respond to change with the right work 

As we analyzed how our customers and the world-at-large responded to the pandemic, we saw – as many have seen – patterns emerging from the chaos that have defined resiliency in this tumultuous era of business. 

And from those patterns, we have seen people prove that a remote workforce can be a productive workforce, despite the challenges presented by working virtually in a global pandemic. 

But getting work done is only part of the solution. To be a company that thrives in response to change, people must be working on the right work. 

While the definition of “right work” varies from company to company, the concept is the same across industries: Successful companies consistently connect strategy with execution so employees are working on what matters most to the business and their customers. 

3. Identify evolving customer needs 

Customer attitudes and behaviors often shift relatively slowly. Through market research and analytics, companies typically look for slight changes that can create either new opportunities to explore, or potential pitfalls to side-step.  

But the global pandemic created massive attitudinal and behavioral shifts in a matter of weeks, if not days, due to shelter-in-place orders and a strong concern over transacting the virus via interpersonal contact. These shifts created a change in our commercial environments as well: how goods are marketed, how purchases are made, how products and services are delivered, and more.  

When companies are faced with such seismic change, they need to understand what the “new normal” means from their customer’s point of view.  

An effective way for companies to uncover the unmet needs of their customers is to run crowdsourcing challenges aligned to understanding their customers. Here are a few examples from the past year: 

Crowd Question 
Employees What new consumer attitudes, behaviors, or expectations have appeared to which we must adapt in our post-pandemic world? 
Partners How might we change our interactions with our supply chain partners to improve safety and/or minimize the risk of spreading the virus? 
Customers How do you expect companies you do business with to adapt to the changes in our world brought on by the COVID-19 virus? 

4. Adapt products, services, and solutions to meet customer needs  

When companies gain a sense of how their customer needs are evolving, they can start to plan what they need to do next. They can ask themselves: 

  • Were any major failings identified that we need to address so we can adapt to the new world?  
  • Have our digital transformation efforts actually allowed us to evolve into a digital-first world effectively and efficiently, or do we need to rededicate ourselves to making this transition?  
  • Is “business as usual” ever going to be a reality for our company or our customers again?  
  • Have customer needs shifted in such a way that their expectations have permanently changed?  

A company’s answers to those questions might lead to a sizeable pipeline of potential crowdsourcing challenges, such as: 

Crowd Question 
Employees How might we change the way we interact with our customer to eliminate in-person contact and improve the customer experience?  
Partners How might we leverage emerging technologies within our existing partnership agreement to create differentiated customer experiences?  
Customers How might we improve your experience? 

5. Rethink existing strategies, portfolios, and resource allocation 

Traditional companies would have compiled their strategic objectives and goals in the months leading into 2020, with a plan to achieve them over a 1-, 2-, or even 5-year period. What would you say the chances are that those strategic plans still are relevant today?  

Agile companies are being rewarded right now because they have the capability to react and quickly adjust to the changing world in which we all work.  

Agile leaders within those companies would have long ago started the process of thinking through what needs to be reprioritized, deprioritized, abandoned, or added. But that does not mean that all companies cannot adapt to the new world by changing gears, changing direction, or even building an entirely new vehicle if the situation called for it. 

Here’s how a crowdsourcing platform can quickly and easily help companies through this journey: 

Crowd Activity 
PMO (Portfolio Management Office) leaders Run a Pairwise-only challenge during an afternoon workshop to quickly and efficiently reprioritize existing projects both in-process and in the backlog. Given the new normal, how might we change the way we interact with our customer to eliminate in-person contact and improve the customer experience? 
Corporate leaders Run an Executive Alignment session with a live crowdsourcing challenge to understand what new problems (if they were to be solved) or opportunities (if they were to be pursued) would yield the best outcomes for the company. 
Innovation and/or work delivery teams Build concepts, prototypes, POCs (Proof of Concept), and commercialized applications/products/services from the actionable ideas sourced from the crowds in the innovation challenges referenced above. 

With change comes opportunity 

With a collective exhale, the world will soon say farewell to 2020. While the emblematic flip of the calendar does not erase the last year, the new year offers a chance for re-imagination. We can choose not only how we respond to change but also how we can listen to and reach our employees, partners, and customers better. 

It’s time to turn our attention to innovation that can help spring our organizations forward by understanding where the new opportunities lie, finding new ways of delivering value in this new world, and making room for that new work by reprioritizing projects and aligning resources with what matters today. 

For more information on running a successful crowdsourcing challenge, download the worksheet “Why Crowdsourcing Challenges Succeed: 7 Best Practices Every Company Should Know.”

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Doug Williams Written by Doug Williams Innovation Architect

Doug Williams is an Innovation Consultant at Planview who provides strategic guidance and implementation services to innovation leaders at some of Planview Spigit’s most respected Fortune 500 customers. He designs programs to raise innovation competency throughout the company while delivering measurable business outcomes and increasing employee engagement. Prior to joining Spigit 4.5 years ago, Doug was an analyst at Forrester Research where he launched and led Forrester’s coverage of open innovation and co-creation, with a focus on how technology enables collaboration among diverse groups. He also served as Chief Research Officer at Innovation Excellence .