Kick Starting Innovation Within a Manufacturer

Product owners see ideas for helping customers come to life through agile software development.

A leading manufacturer knew they needed to foster innovation within their company if they were going to maintain their competitive edge. Instead of looking outward, they decided to tap what so many companies have realized to be the greatest source of new ideas: their employees.

“This initiative truly spawned from the thinking that good ideas can come from anyone,” said the WWT business development manager involved with the project. “The real challenge was going to be capturing those good ideas and turning them into products.”

Creating a platform for new ideas

First, the manufacturer needed a way to get employees excited about submitting new ideas. They decided to play off the popularity of Kickstarter and built an internal site to collect ideas for business applications. The site quickly caught hold with employees.

The first iteration of the program drew 50 application ideas, which were then narrowed down by the organization’s IT department to three winning entries. All three entries centered on customers, but ranged in use cases.

  • A mobile sales tool to help sales associates clearly illustrate the benefits of complex contracts to potential customers
  • A social media platform to encourage collaboration amongst customers
  • A diagnosis tool incorporating integrated satellite imagery, regional weather data and image recognition

Although executive leadership saw the potential of each idea to produce tremendous business value, the company lacked the resources to move the ideas into prototyping. The innovation borne out of the initiative was at a standstill.

Bringing innovation to life

WWT assembled three teams of developers and UX designers to help get each idea off and running.

“What was great in this situation was that the projects were already vetted as driving tremendous value to the business,” said the WWT BD manager who was also the lead on the engagement. “You could definitely feel that the product owners were eager to get going and make an impact within the organization.”

Teams spent three months designing and building the prototypes, so they could later be tested and presented to business units within the organization for additional funding.

Although mobile and backend expertise helped bring the ideas to life, WWT introduced another component that assisted: an agile methodology.

“The main principal with agile software development is that you don’t try to create the entire game plan from the beginning, but you create something that works and you learn as you go” says Nate McKie.

During the three-month development process, product owners and resources from WWT worked in one-week cycles to deliver value throughout the course of development.

“We wanted to focus the application development on what would bring the most value to the end users, and an agile approach allowed us to do this."

For example, when building the sales contracting tool to help sales associates illustrate the benefits of contracts, the team was able to change priorities and react to customer feedback throughout the course of development, rather than locking into a rigid design upfront.

Always learning

With the prototypes complete, the business applications will be used in fielded pilots, which will yield more user information as they move on a path toward full-fledged applications.

In tandem, with the success of the first Kickstarter program, the Manufacturer has introduced another to solicit more innovative ideas from employees.

For version two, we’re consulting with the company on redesigning their internal Kickstarter site and making the entire process even stronger.

One thing WWT team members observed during the engagement was that when it came time to move from prototyping to application testing funded by the business, teams suffered from a degree of technical debt due to the nature of prototype development.

Prototypes are typically written to prove out technical capabilities and concepts as quickly as possible. In order to accommodate this, shortcuts may be taken in the name of speed, which may slow cycles for future production because of the need to address design decisions and bugs from prototype work.

To combat this issue moving forward, our teams are working with the manufacturer to build better business cases upfront and get business sponsors involved earlier in the process. This will ensure that prototypes are only created for those ideas that have support from the business and can be built working in conjunction with the product owners and business sponsors.

Early alignment with the business will provide further clarity on goals for the prototype and reduce the amount of technical debt from prototype reworks. This will result in a faster time to market for these innovative ideas.

“Because the company is investing in their employees and their innovations, we have the privilege of working with really inspired and passionate people,” said the WWT lead. “There’s just a spirit of taking chances and experimenting with everyone moving in the same direction and helping each other out. These are the types of engagements that benefit the most from our agile approach to develop ideas into outcomes.”

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