Innovation Consultant Joyce Oomen on The Right Time to Think About Innovation

Innovation Consultant Joyce Oomen on Innovation Management for Lean B2B Startups

Joyce Oomen is the founder of product and innovation management consultancy Pimcy. Her company helps businesses structure their innovation product development by combining innovation management with innovation portfolio management.

Joyce worked her whole career in product development, spending 10 years as a Senior Product Manager for a large bank. Her experiences in a corporate environment help fuel her strategic innovation work. She is part of accelerator DOON in the Netherlands and organizes A Day of Life in Startup workshops to help companies familiarize themselves with the principles of The Lean Startup.

I really enjoyed our discussion. In it, you’ll learn:

  • The right time to start thinking about innovation and why it’s sooner than you think.
  • How to build the preconditions to allow your company to innovate.
  • The dangers of projecting the ROI of innovation projects and how innovation portfolio management can help reduce that risk.
  • The importance of building credibility in B2B.
  • How to use proof of concepts to get inside large organizations.

In this exclusive interview, Joyce will also talk about her new venture to help organizations manage their Innovation Portfolios.

You can listen to the full interview below:

Etienne Garbugli (EG): What are some of the methodologies you use in your work?

Joyce Oomen (JO): Our basic approach is Lean Innovation and the Lean Startup but tailored in a way where it’s more the key principles that we use because The Lean Startup is very software-based and startup-based. We work for more established companies where we have to adjust to a different context. I really like from the portfolio management suite the Three Horizons framework. That’s really a guiding framework that I use. Your Lean B2B framework is also a nice framework if you’re in B2B.

What we try to do is combine a lot of practices and see what fits. We have to have some common-sense approach and see what works. It really takes small steps. We don’t believe in big bangs.

EG: What are some of your best practices when it comes to innovation?

JO: In terms of best practices as an innovator, you have to eat your own dog food. I’m applying the principles myself for a new venture I’m starting up. I’m doing solution interviews and we’ve been doing Lean Canvas(es) and drawing out experiment boards. So, not only coaching people using it but also doing it yourself and you say oh well it’s quite complicated sometimes.

EG: You mentioned you were starting a new venture around portfolio management, maybe you could go a bit into details of what you’re putting together?

JO: We’re working with a partner who has developed a new innovation portfolio management software. I’ve already been working with him for 2 years on a different MVP but we learned that, it (his solution) was more tailored to SME companies and it was not doing the trick for the larger corporate enterprises. There were a lot of things that were lacking so, he decided to start from square one to make it perfect. I’ve been feeding a lot of product development ideas into it and I’ve been involved from the start with setting up that new product.

We’re now 80% there. It’s not perfect but we’ve already gone into market and we already have a proof of concept with one of the major banks in the Netherlands. We’re learning a lot from that.

We have a four-month proof of concept and it looks good. Hopefully, it will be a longer-term contract. In our solution interviews, if we mentioned the proof of concept with one of the major banks, it opened doors because our target audience is in the larger corporate and/or very large SMEs where it’s difficult to get the right entry point and you need good references. That proof of concept is really important. We do everything we can to satisfy them. They get the concierge treatment.

EG: How important is innovation and innovation management to organizations today?

JO: It’s vital for organizations. If you see the rate at which technology is evolving (and it’s accelerating), there’s a major impact on a lot of companies and sometimes they don’t realize that it has an impact. I believe if you don’t think about what the impact might be and how it might affect you then at some stage you will be too late. There’s a lot of startups. It’s easier than ever to start up, and because technology is also decreasing, the barriers to entry are lower. If established companies are not investing in innovation right now then they’re really not doing it right.

The difficulty for us as innovation consultants is that our point of entry should be when everything is going well and there’s sufficient money to innovate. But companies typically say well, everything is going well, I don’t need you. That’s quite a challenge because what you want to do is to ensure that you can extend the lifecycle and have the next generation (of products) ready, but sometimes it’s more the short-term focus that companies have. When the shit hits the fan, then yes, we can do some innovation but they want to have quick wins. We need innovation and we need a return on investment but it’s better to be involved earlier in the cycle.

EG: How do you see the innovation space evolving over the next 5, 10, 15 years maybe?

JO: First of all, there will be more open innovations. The boundaries of the company will become less and companies will open up more to the world and to outside startups.

Which means they will be working more in cross-functional teams that probably get more autonomy themselves and their own budget. I think that the functional structures that we now have and the hierarchy, if you want to innovate it doesn’t work.

EG: What do you feel are the challenges of innovators working in a B2B environment?

JO: Lean Startup is really new for B2B markets. You always hear that it’s not possible in B2B; you can’t have a MVP because we’re in a very capital-intense market. I think a lot of things are possible by thinking more about your real customer and end user. You can test with mockups. It’s a totally different way of thinking and working and B2Bs are sometimes more technically-focused and not really consumer-focused or market-focused so that’s really a new sound. You need to convince a lot of people and that takes a lot of time. You also can’t prove (innovation) because you can’t say okay, if you do this with me then I promise that you will have this yield. It’s impossible as a consultant.

EG: So, it becomes dangerous to be projecting the results for things that are difficult to foresee in a lot of ways?

JO: There’s so many dependencies. What you do with innovation is you’re changing the culture, the process, you need management buy-in you and have all these stakeholders. So, how can you promise that we will have a 20% cost reduction or a 20% increase in revenue? I can’t. It all depends on how engaged people are and what change really comes across, and you can’t do that by yourself, you do this together.

EG: It feels like there’s a big change management piece especially in the innovation space interacting with these organizations so making sure that they understand the benefits at all these critical points and are able to implement the right approach to be able to get the results they seek.

JO: Yes, but that’s why I think our approach is different. We start from the angle of portfolio management. What you actually do is that you build a structure that allows innovation, that gives space for innovation. You’re building the preconditions so that the company can innovate. Often, it’s also easier to show where the results will be because the company will be killing more projects earlier, their New Product Development success rate will go up. There will be more ideas and so on but it’s difficult to put that into real dollars. I don’t have enough data yet to make those kinds of promises.

EG: What value did you get from reading Lean B2B?

JO: A lot of things are common sense, but there were a couple of models that really helped me and I’ve been using. I used the buyer persona canvas and also how you can position your message based on the various stakeholders within the decision unit (DMU). Crossing the Chasm, I bought that book again and oh yeah, that you always have to charge.

And also, that you have to build your credibility. I think that’s what I got from your book.

I really had to start working on that because I have experience but most of it was with one single employer. I have been starting to write blog posts and, now since last year almost exclusively about portfolio management and the Three Horizons. I keep writing about the topic and it helps because I now get in touch with people through LinkedIn and they find me via these posts.

EG: What innovation advice would you give to organizations operating in competitive industries today?

JO: To look at your existing innovation alternatives and start mapping them across the Three Horizons and see how much you’re doing in incremental innovation, in new technology or new products and what you’re doing in transformational innovations. If companies map it out, they’ll probably see okay there are mismatches.

If I can give a second one, what I’ve noticed is that a lot of companies don’t have a specific innovation strategy. You need to define an innovation strategy: where do you want to be? where do you want to go within the coming years? what sandbox will you be playing in?

EG: How early do you feel that that needs to come in a company’s existence? Should it be within the first few years or should it be when the company has reached a certain level of stability?

JO: If you’re a startup, you probably have other challenges and already a longer-term vision in your head. As you start to become established and have a lot of people working for you, it’s the business as usual feeling and that’s when the danger comes. What’s the next step? How long will this business model remain valid? What you see is that established companies focus on business as usual and start improving their operational excellence. When they run into difficult situations, they’re cutting costs when you’d rather invest in innovation and make sure that it grows.

EG: Thank you for your time.

JO: Thank you.

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