Four-step Innovation Process And Why It Matters For Business Innovation

The four-step innovation process is a simple tool that businesses can use to drive consistent innovation. The four-step innovation process was created by David Weiss and Claude Legrand as a means of encouraging sustainable innovation within an organization. The process helps businesses solve complex problems with creative ideas instead of relying on low-impact, quick-fix solutions.

DefinitionThe Four-Step Innovation Process is a structured approach to fostering innovation within organizations. It provides a systematic framework for generating, developing, and implementing innovative ideas. The process typically involves four key stages: Idea Generation, Idea Selection, Development, and Implementation. By following these steps, organizations can streamline their innovation efforts, enhance creativity, and increase the likelihood of successful innovation outcomes. This process is widely employed in various industries and sectors to drive continuous improvement and remain competitive in a rapidly evolving business landscape.
Key ConceptsIdea Generation: This stage encourages the generation of a wide range of ideas, often through brainstorming or idea contests. – Idea Selection: Once ideas are generated, they are evaluated and prioritized based on factors like feasibility, alignment with strategic goals, and potential impact. – Development: Selected ideas are further refined and developed into actionable projects or prototypes. – Implementation: The final step involves putting the developed solutions or innovations into practice, often through pilot programs or full-scale deployment.
CharacteristicsStructured Approach: The process provides a structured framework for innovation, making it more manageable and repeatable. – Iterative: It allows for iterative refinement, as ideas progress through various stages. – Cross-Functional Collaboration: Innovation often requires collaboration between different departments or teams within an organization. – Risk Management: By systematically assessing ideas and their potential impact, organizations can manage innovation-related risks more effectively. – Results-Oriented: The ultimate goal is to bring innovative ideas to fruition and achieve tangible results.
ImplicationsStrategic Alignment: Innovation efforts should align with an organization’s strategic goals and objectives. – Resource Allocation: Proper allocation of resources is critical, especially during the development and implementation stages. – Cultural Shift: Organizations may need to foster a culture that encourages creativity and risk-taking. – Market Responsiveness: The process enables organizations to respond more effectively to changing market conditions and customer needs. – Competitive Advantage: Successful innovation can lead to a competitive edge in the marketplace.
AdvantagesSystematic Innovation: The process provides a systematic approach, reducing the randomness often associated with innovation. – Improved Decision-Making: Idea selection is based on well-defined criteria, leading to better decisions about which ideas to pursue. – Resource Efficiency: Resources are allocated more efficiently to ideas with the highest potential. – Enhanced Creativity: By encouraging idea generation, it fosters a creative environment within the organization. – Increased Innovation Success: Organizations are more likely to see their innovative ideas come to fruition.
DrawbacksRigidity: A rigid adherence to the process can stifle truly disruptive or unconventional ideas. – Resource Intensity: Managing the process can require a significant allocation of time and resources. – Resistance to Change: Existing organizational culture or structures may resist the structured approach to innovation. – No Guarantee of Success: While the process enhances the chances of success, it doesn’t guarantee that all innovations will succeed. – Innovation Fatigue: Organizations that constantly follow the process may experience innovation fatigue among employees.
ApplicationsTechnology Sector: Technology companies frequently use this process to develop new products and services. – Manufacturing: Manufacturing firms apply it to streamline production processes and enhance product design. – Healthcare: Healthcare organizations employ the process to improve patient care, develop medical devices, and streamline operations. – Financial Services: Financial institutions use it to enhance their digital offerings and customer experiences. – Consumer Goods: Consumer goods companies apply it to create new products and packaging innovations.
Use CasesApple: Apple’s innovation process is evident in the development of iconic products like the iPhone, which went through rigorous idea generation, selection, development, and implementation phases. – Toyota: Toyota’s production system incorporates the Four-Step Innovation Process to continually improve manufacturing and reduce waste. – Google: Google’s innovation efforts extend to various products and services, including its search engine, which has undergone continuous improvement. – Amazon: Amazon’s approach to innovation is reflected in its expansion into new markets and services, such as cloud computing through Amazon Web Services (AWS). – Tesla: Tesla’s electric vehicles and advancements in autonomous driving technology exemplify the systematic innovation process in the automotive industry.



Understanding the four-step innovation process

The four-step innovation process was created by David Weiss and Claude Legrand as a means of encouraging sustainable innovation within an organization.

More specifically, the process helps businesses solve complex problems with creative ideas instead of relying on low-impact, quick-fix solutions.

To that end, the four-step innovation process ensures that creative ideas have actual value in a business setting by delivering an appreciable return on investment.

The primary advantage of the process is that needs are defined early on. This allows businesses the freedom to be creative while also working toward their goals in a focused manner.

The four steps of the innovation process

To allow creativity and focused goal-setting to coexist, a business should follow these steps:

1 – Framework development/problem identification

The initial step encourages employees to determine how they might solve the problem of innovation by considering its history.

In other words, has anyone tried to innovate before? If so, were they successful? Why or why not?

Then, consider the context of the problem. How does it relate to a broader project or strategy? Are there projects with similar contexts?

Innovation is more cost-effective when something new can be sold to a market that a business already operates in.

When defining the problem, phrase it as a question. For example, “How will the business reduce customer wait times by 45 minutes?”

The benefits of this method are two-fold. Questions help define an objective in addition to a benchmark for success.

Once the problem has been defined, it’s time to identify boundaries.

These include budgetary and time-related constraints and the approval of a decision-maker who will ultimately decide the fate of a project going forward.

2 – Develop a concept/solution

Here, ideas generated in step one are subject to an intensive analysis using:

Consumer research

In the form of a buyer persona or a specific target audience.

What are their needs and how many needs are unfulfilled?

Compare notes with information collated during the problem definition phase.

Market research

What is the total addressable market (TAM)?

A total addressable market or TAM is the available market for a product or service. That is a metric usually leveraged by startups to understand the business potential of an industry. Typically, a large addressable market is appealing to venture capitalists willing to back startups with extensive growth potential.

Analysis of the competition

It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.

Including the potential for entering a market through differentiation.

Risk and feasibility studies

The value/risk matrix is a tool used to assess the complexity of a category of goods or services based on value and risk. The value/risk matrix is a relatively simple 2×2 matrix, with risk on the x-axis and value on the y-axis. Each of the four quadrants should be partitioned according to the designated scoring system. If each factor is ranked out of 100 for value and risk, then a low-risk initiative will score between 0 and 50 and a high-risk initiative between 50 and 100. Businesses that need more flexibility or precision may choose to use a 3×3 matrix with low, medium, and high designations.

Are there any barriers or risks to innovation such as laws, regulations, or patents?

In the idea generation process, avoid discounting ideas entirely – no matter how unrealistic they may sound.

3 – Testing and refinement

While testing and refining the idea, it’s important to gather iterative feedback from customers if possible.

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Prototype feedback from test users in particular is sacrosanct and should never be neglected.

Once a business is satisfied that an innovation is ready for market, strategies for its implementation, distribution, and marketing should be devised.

4 – Market release

Releasing an innovative product to market requires that strategies identified in the previous step are activated.

A go-to-market strategy represents how companies market their new products to reach target customers in a scalable and repeatable way. It starts with how new products/services get developed to how these organizations target potential customers (via sales and marketing models) to enable their value proposition to be delivered to create a competitive advantage.

This ensures that the product is physically available in sufficient quantities or locations. Sales staff should also be suitably versed the consumer benefits of the product.

As the product becomes established, the innovation process continues through regular evaluation of customer feedback and quantitative market analysis.

A business should never rest on its laurels and assume that product innovation ends at a fixed point in time.

To increase profit margins or maintain market share, businesses should also use the 4 Ps of marketing.

The notion of a marketing mix was first mentioned by E. Jerome McCarthy in his 1960 book Basic Marketing, A Managerial Approach. McCarthy’s marketing mix was limited to product, price, place, and promotion – otherwise known as the 4 Ps of marketing. The 7 Ps of marketing is a model incorporating seven elements into the ideal marketing mix. Indeed, researchers Mary Jo Bitner and Bernard H. Booms added a further three elements to the original model: people, processes, and physical evidence. 

Key takeaways

  • The four-step innovation process gives businesses a framework with which to navigate the uncertainty, risk, and complexity of innovation.
  • By identifying the problems associated with innovation early, the four-step innovation process allows businesses the freedom to work creatively and intentionally toward their goals.
  • Unsurprisingly, the four-step innovation process consists of four steps. The first step involves defining the problem in a broader market context. In the following steps, concepts are formulated and tested through market research and iterative feedback before market release.

Key Highlights

  • Definition and Purpose: The four-step innovation process, developed by David Weiss and Claude Legrand, aims to encourage sustainable innovation within organizations. It emphasizes solving complex problems with creative ideas, avoiding quick-fix solutions, and ensuring a return on investment.
  • Problem Identification and Framework Development: The process starts by identifying the problem, considering its history, and contextualizing it within broader projects or strategies. The problem should be phrased as a question, which helps define objectives and benchmarks for success. Boundaries, including budget and decision-making approval, are established.
  • Concept and Solution Development: In this phase, ideas generated in the first step undergo detailed analysis, including consumer research to understand target audiences’ needs. Market research identifies the total addressable market and competition analysis. Risk and feasibility studies examine potential barriers and risks, such as legal or patent issues. All ideas, even seemingly unrealistic ones, should be considered.
  • Testing, Refinement, and Market Release: The third step involves iterative testing and refinement, gathering feedback from customers, and developing strategies for implementation, distribution, and marketing. The final step is the market release, activating strategies identified earlier to ensure the product is available in sufficient quantities. Continuous evaluation of customer feedback and market analysis is crucial, along with maintaining the innovation process.
  • Market Evaluation and Continuous Improvement: After the market release, the innovation process doesn’t end. Regular evaluation of customer feedback and quantitative market analysis is necessary. To enhance profit margins and maintain market share, businesses should utilize the principles of the marketing mix, including the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion).
  • Key Takeaways: The four-step innovation process offers a structured framework for navigating the complexities of innovation. It enables businesses to creatively address problems while remaining focused on goals. The process comprises defining the problem, developing concepts, testing and refining, and finally, releasing the product to the market.

What are the 4 steps of innovation?

Connected Business Model Innovation Frameworks

FourWeekMBA Business Model Framework

business model is a framework for finding a systematic way to unlock long-term value for an organization while delivering value to customers and capturing value through monetization strategies. A business model is a holistic framework to understand, design, and test your business assumptions in the marketplace.

VTDF Tech Business Model Framework

A tech business model is made of four main components: value model (value propositions, missionvision), technological model (R&D management), distribution model (sales and marketing organizational structure), and financial model (revenue modeling, cost structure, profitability and cash generation/management). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build a solid tech business model.

Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is a framework proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in Busines Model Generation enabling the design of business models through nine building blocks comprising: key partners, key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, critical resources, channels, cost structure, and revenue streams.

Lean Startup Canvas

The lean startup canvas is an adaptation by Ash Maurya of the business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder, which adds a layer that focuses on problems, solutions, key metrics, unfair advantage based, and a unique value proposition. Thus, starting from mastering the problem rather than the solution.

Blitzscaling Canvas

The Blitzscaling business model canvas is a model based on the concept of Blitzscaling, which is a particular process of massive growth under uncertainty, and that prioritizes speed over efficiency and focuses on market domination to create a first-scaler advantage in a scenario of uncertainty.

Business Model Wheel

business model wheel provides a structured approach to defining a business model. Each model wheel is broken down into three core components: offering, monetization, and sustainability. Each component in turn contributes to a total of eight areas that make up an ideal business model.

Business Model Innovation Framework

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

3C Business Model Analysis

The 3C Analysis Business Model was developed by Japanese business strategist Kenichi Ohmae. A 3C Model is a marketing tool that focuses on customers, competitors, and the company. At the intersection of these three variables lies an effective marketing strategy to gain a potential competitive advantage and build a lasting company.

Read Next: Business Model Innovation, Business Models.

Related Innovation Frameworks

Business Engineering


Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Types of Innovation

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Technological Modeling

Technological modeling is a discipline to provide the basis for companies to sustain innovation, thus developing incremental products. While also looking at breakthrough innovative products that can pave the way for long-term success. In a sort of Barbell Strategy, technological modeling suggests having a two-sided approach, on the one hand, to keep sustaining continuous innovation as a core part of the business model. On the other hand, it places bets on future developments that have the potential to break through and take a leap forward.

Diffusion of Innovation

Sociologist E.M Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovation Theory in 1962 with the premise that with enough time, tech products are adopted by wider society as a whole. People adopting those technologies are divided according to their psychologic profiles in five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Frugal Innovation

In the TED talk entitled “creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits” Navi Radjou defined frugal innovation as “the ability to create more economic and social value using fewer resources. Frugal innovation is not about making do; it’s about making things better.” Indian people call it Jugaad, a Hindi word that means finding inexpensive solutions based on existing scarce resources to solve problems smartly.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Idea Generation


Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

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