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.
Understanding the four-step innovation process
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
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)?
- Analysis of the competition – including the potential for entering a market through differentiation.
- Risk and feasibility studies – 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. Prototype feedback from test users in particular is sacrosanct and should never be neglected.
4 – Market release
Releasing an innovative product to market requires that strategies identified in the previous step are activated.
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 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.