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Innovation Evaluation Framework: Use Completeness

By Jeffrey Phillips

True innovation requires a more expansive evaluation than a traditional business case and needs to be considered with features and attributes that are more qualitative and driven more by emotion than logic. Seven components contribute to innovation success: choice/control, convenience, community, completeness, compatibility, coolness/communication and customer’s cost. These factors, used to evaluate an idea early in the process, can contribute to the success of a new product or service by improving adoption, reducing risk and building trust for the new product or service.

Many ideas and innovations fail because their solutions do not solve a problem that people experience, or do not give people more choice or control than they had previously. Too often, firms create new products and services based on an internally-driven expectation of market needs, or based on technical capabilities and internal competencies rather than on specific customer needs. When this happens an idea that looks great on a designer’s desk fails, because the idea does not solve the entire problem or challenge. Many innovations are technical capabilities looking for a problem to solve, rather than a complete solution. This problem is true whether the innovations are products, services or business models.

Innovations, however, can be successful by creating “whole products.” Geoffrey Moore, in his book Crossing the Chasm, uses a concept borrowed from economist Theodore Levitt called the “whole product.” Levitt suggested that while a manufacturer creates a product, a customer is interested in a solution. The base product or service represents a partial solution, and is augmented by other capabilities or attributes to create a whole product. An innovation must include more than just the base product to be successful – it must include training, manuals and information necessary to use the product, provide compatibility with existing solutions and a host of other requirements. Moore suggests that most technology products are not whole products until there are a number of other capabilities that enable or support the base product. Frequently, innovations are interesting new technologies or services but if they do not provide a complete solution, or whole product, they fail in the marketplace.

Example: Apple
While Apple is rightly recognized for its innovation success with the iPhone and the iPod, some of that success is based on early failures with products like the Newton, an early attempt at a personal digital assistant (PDA). While the Newton was a precursor to many of the PDAs and cell phones that are taken for granted today, the Newton suffered from a limited “whole product” solution. The Newton had poor handwriting recognition software, limited instructions and little connectivity to other electronic devices. While consumers wanted a PDA, they also wanted total integration to other databases, quick and easy connectivity to other devices, and fully documented help functions. The “gee whiz” of the technology alone was not enough for the vast majority of customers to take a risk on the Newton. When the first Palm was released, it contained a number of elements that were missing from Newton’s whole product and became much more successful.

Why A “Complete” Picture Is Needed
Innovation is about bringing new ideas to life as new products and services. If new products and services go to market without carefully considering all the factors that are necessary to provide the customer a “whole product” solution, then the innovations are doomed to failure. No matter how neat the technology is, no matter how outstanding the service offering, if an incomplete version of the customer’s expectation of a whole product solution is offered, the product or service will fail.

There are four reasons why innovations fail; they:

  1. Are too early in the adoption cycle and consumers are not ready for the new capability or technology,
  2. Enter a market late or as a “me too” offering and cannot differentiate themselves,
  3. Are new and different but the consumer does not understand the value proposition and/or
  4. Enter the market as an incomplete offering since the firm failed to consider the “whole product” issues surrounding the new product or service.

Most of these challenges have to do with market timing – having the right solution at the right time, and being able to demonstrate the usefulness and value of the solution to a wide swath of consumers. Completeness is probably the most important element that a firm can control, yet too often, especially with technical innovations, completeness and whole product thinking are left by the wayside.

The “Whole Product” – Not Just for Products
While Moore called the phenomenon whole product, he meant that any new offering – a physical product, a service or business model – must consider all the facets that a customer expects to exist in order to be considered complete. For physical products, that may include help manuals, a support phone number, a limited warranty, compatibility with other similar hardware and so forth. For a service, that may include seamless transitions among the individuals offering the service, 24-hour availability, support in the chosen language or differentiated services for different types of customers.

For example, a traveler tried to book a flight online through an airline’s website, but had difficulties and contacted the reservations number. The reservations assistant informed the customer that she could book the ticket, but at a significantly different cost than was offered online. When the customer expressed concern about the difference and requested the price quoted online, he was informed that the reservation team and call center were completely separate from the online reservation team, and could not offer the same pricing or assistance. A consumer does not care how an organization is structured internally – he merely wanted to book a flight at the best possible price. The whole product has not been carefully considered in this case – and is often lacking in service innovations. Geoffrey Moore originally wrote about physical products, but his ideas along with Levitt’s apply to any kind of innovation.

Beyond the Early Adopters
For most new and interesting technologies or services, there is a small market of early adopters who are interested in the latest solutions – companies should not be misled by early adopters. These individuals are willing to adopt new products and services that are not complete, since early adopters enjoy tinkering with the latest hardware, software or service. The early adopter market is enthusiastic but is small and does not represent the majority of the market, which is unwilling to adopt new technologies or services that are not whole products. Validation by the early adopter community does not mean that an innovation will be successful in the larger market – it must be a complete product or service before the vast majority of consumers will consider it.

Moving beyond the “aha!” to create a new product or service is just the first step. To create a lasting solution, an innovation must incorporate the whole product that the customer expects. Anything less will founder in the market, which will reflect negatively on a company’s innovation processes. When innovations fail, many times the culprit is not the base idea or technology, but the absence of a whole product solution.

How can a business apply “completeness” as an evaluation criterion for its ideas?

  1. Determine if the innovation is driven by internal capabilities and market needs.
  2. Define the customer requirements for a whole product solution and ensure those features and offerings are included in the final product or service. Identify the differences between the idea and the solution necessary for consideration by the majority of your likely customers.
  3. Understand the sales channels, marketing requirements and support offerings that are necessary for the success of the offering.

Many innovations fail because they were “too early” or “too late” to market, or even because they were not valuable or interesting to begin with. Most fail, however, because the innovators failed to understand the difference between a neat technology from a solution that a consumer can acquire and use the complete offering.

About the Author:
Jeffrey Phillips is a vice president with OVO and responsible for marketing and for leading innovation projects with OVO’s clients. Mr. Phillips has extensive experience working in the innovation space, with a wide range of Fortune 500 firms. He has published articles for Harvard Management Update, DigitAll Magazine, Pure Insight and blogs about innovation at Innovate on Purpose. Contact Jeffrey Phillips at jphillips (at)