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Strategic Focus Field - Part 1 > Problem statement and concept generation

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

Intrapreneurship program are a great approach to source innovative concepts that could later transform into new business projects.

A period of 6 weeks has shown to be sufficient for company employees to generate innovative concepts while not disturbing their usual business activities. A strong advantage of intrapreneurship is to identify at the same time a project and a person to lead it. Preliminary to the 6 weeks residency for intrapreneurs, another 6 weeks are dedicated by the facilitators for the program preparation. In particular, exploring the topic, aligning stakeholders and preparing quality material for technology landscape and market research is a significant upfront time investment.

Of course you’ll need senior management to dedicate budget, free-up employee, provide dedicated resources and logistic. You also need to attract talented intrapreneurs.

In a previous blog article, Strategic Focus Fields have been introduced as an approach for sourcing innovative projects. Usually, this starts by defining an overall challenge topic with few dedicated focus areas. Those focus areas are defined and selected by a group of key internal stakeholders of the company to ensure a strategic fit with the top priorities. Such a preliminary alignment is also key to ensure future buy-in of the innovative projects.

Without initial focus, innovation campaigns would bring a too large range of ideas. This is OK if you a funnel approach with high attrition. Here instead, aim is to identify high value projects that will serve as nucleus in a portfolio. Each of those nucleus projects could thus be extended into clusters of secondary projects. The value of those clusters is to maximise resources, sharing core technologies or joining force in building market access with an extended offering. This is the core of a deeptech platform logic.

Every year dozen of megatrends are analysed regarding their inner attractiveness compared to the company right to play. The starting point is often an analysis of a Strategic Focus Field connected to the company core business units and in particular the company principal growth engines. It requires to have an understanding how global megatrends interesect with key enabling technologies. As an example, the global megatrend on demographic change, the enabling technology on self-driving cars and internal growth engine of cars manufacturer around electrical vehicles, could combined in establishing an Strategic Focus Field around “MegaCity Smart-Transportation”.

Illustration: Innovation fuzzy front end

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Preliminary activities

In the context of Deeptech Strategic Focus Fields, Intrapreneurs analyze complexes science and technology topics. As part as the initial preparation, it is necessary for the program facilitators to build knowledge and network of external advisors around the topics. The preparatory weeks would include attending experts’ roundtables and small conferences, reading research papers and books. This is followed by preparing the residency activities for the intrapreneurship program participants, first with selecting conferences to attend, second with identification of key advisors, often external consultants from the industry and key opinion leaders from academia. This is usually conducted under the guidance of Strategic Focus Field specialist form the company. In addition, it is recommended to involve a dedicated business intelligence office who is connected to different resources center such as market research studies, patent landscapes, users interviews panel ... An additional preliminary task conducted by the program facilitators, is to build a network of internal advisors and extended team members who will support the intrapreneurs team along their journey, help reflect, provide constructive feedback, bring novel opinions during the intermediate review meetings.

Framing the topic for problem statement

One of the main difficulties for intrapreneurs is to un-learn what they know and be open to re-learn new knowledge. They need to adapt their way of thinking to filter the large amount of information, this is a skill that Innovation facilitator can help with.

In the first weeks dedicated to define the problem statement, intrapreneurs will access the pre-established network created by the program facilitators. This includes for instance R&D functions from the company business units, as well as product and marketing managers. The program always start with mapping the internal actors and schedule interviews with many of them. One of the first outcome is to learn what the company is doing and break the silos between units, linking similar activities streams.

During the introduction symposium mentioned before, interactive workshops give attendees the chance to contribute actively. For each subtopic, usually a group of 20 participants help the 4 intrapreneurs to map the following subjects:

  • Ecosystem : What are the company partners/suppliers/competitors ?

  • Value chain and internal assets : What are the capabilities /products/ know-how ?

  • Stakeholders: Who are the people involved, sponsors, experts, users, buyers ?

  • User journey: What are the key activities and how they interlink ?

Observing phase

The staring topic is usually very wide, no tangible boundaries and no clear direction to start with. Therefore, it requires to accept to the initial ambiguity, navigate inside the flow of information and to consolidate knowledge on the go. It follows a standard divergence followed by convergence approach used in Design Thinking with a specific emphasis on industry/science focus. First to accumulate a maximum of information and second to organize it into few focus areas. The program mix a customer-centric demand pull and technology push. It is based on a mix of desk-based research for “benchmarking” and field-based observations for “need-finding”. In this context, you often identify enabling technologies based on breakthrough science, capable to change a value chain and therefore revealing unmet needs for dedicated user groups.

  • Benchmaring: knowing you operate in a highly scientific and technological domain, looking at value chain help to map all the actors, partners such as academic institutes, start-ups and also competitors, including all industry recent developments of that domain. Attending scientific conferences allows to meet experts during the lectures and discuss innovative product with business developers located at the industry exhibition booths. It is often the best place to ask technical questions on how science works, what are the technology components, what are the requirements from users. You can collect marketing data, market attributes, segments and demographics. This is often completed with an extensive gathering of scientific research, papers and patents as well as new product offering, often from emerging start-ups.

  • Needfinding: to be user-centric you can try to understand underlying needs behind their daily practices. What is already known? What information is missing? This requires preparation with interview techniques and writing specific questionnaires. In industry, collecting insight from interviews is particular difficult. A mix of roundtables discussions and individual interviews are orgnized on a panel of users. Moderation, ideally by a business intelligence specialists, helps reducing group think bias and ensure compliance.

An important aspects of the customer-centric approach is to understand the user journey with an emphasis on the “Job to Be Done. This framework, from Clayton Christensen, aims for a better understanding of user behaviors and reflect on why, how and what they do things. The observing phase propose to look at additional dimensions of the user job such as the functional, social, and emotional attributes. It is key to understand what impact new products have on user daily life, what is the perception by others, how this contributes to products success. Here is a 3 steps statement:

  1. When “Situation happen”, because of “motivation”,

  2. I want to “Action/Job” so I can “Desired outcome/Solution”

  3. Making me feel “Emotional outcome” and other see I am “Social outcome ”

Interviews and well-defined questionnaires would help to understand user groups daily job practices, roadblocks, obstacles. Important is to identify some underneath needs or willingness to change, to adopt new practices and what stop them from here. After some time, we also see that the intrapreneur don't learn anymore. It is a sign of initial mastery of the domain and time to refine questionnaire to learn new things. To be successful, intrapreneur need to observe and empathize and move away from “confirmation bias”. Intrapreneur should always learn new things and if not, start to challenge themselves. Here is an example of insight collected from an interview:

  1. A “User profile” who has done some “Actions/Facts”

  2. because of “Aim/Need/Outcome” but “Constraint/Obstacle/Friction”

It usually takes 3 weeks for intrapreneur to grow their knowledge. They start to see the problem in its complexity, understand the roots of the bottlenecks and move away from the ideas an concepts that already exists. It helps moving from the obvious bias also known as "Dunning-Kruger effect". Instead, following the Pareto principle this 20% initial effort is enough for intrapreneurs to cover 80% of the topic knowledge.


Compiling insights, define problem statement and opportunity areas

After diverging during the observing phase, the converging phase starts. During that one week exercise, intrapreneurs start compiling insights collected from 'benchmarking' and 'need finding' activities. They start pulling together all learning in order to build some point of views and extract opportunity areas. It is usually a exercise of clustering where visual helps a lot. This is often what you see as example of coworking areas with hundreds of post-it on the wall, or nowadays using Miro/Mural online collaboration platforms with infinite number of notes and messages. The idea is to map all statements collected from desk based and interviews and create high level categories. Those categories will then require a definition and few clear statements. In a 3 weeks exercise you can often identify dozen of those clusters.

Next steps is to rank the clusters by importance. A priority 2x2 matrix is used with one dimension on the intrinsic attractive value of the insight and on the other dimension on the company relevance (or right to play). This helps to make emerging 4 to 6 clusters while recycling some other relevant mapped knowledge. The focus on those 4-6 clusters starts then by describing the users, their actions, their unmet needs and the obstacle they are facing, sometime a 'Persona' can help in building/telling the story. Here is a statement example of “Persona”:

  • Jack is 35 years old based in Belfast, with master of engineering background

  • he spends 30% travel activities to supplier China factory for quality management

  • while he has a team of two people in Ireland based at the headquarter

Attached to it, you formulate a "Problem statement" that has a sense or urgency and it should lead to the generation of solution. Here is an example:

  • Our “user group” who want to do “job to be Done”

  • is facing “Problem/What” for a “Reason/Why” with impact on “Pain/Gain”

  • while “Competing Solution” don’t offer their expected “Benefits/Value”

Those clusters are called opportunity areas. For each of them, intrapreneurs will consolidate and detail the 'Persona' and 'Problem statement' with all previously accumulated information.

Reviewing and selecting opportunity areas

After 3 weeks diverging to gather some knowledge and one week converging to compile it, intrapreneurs are ready to present their analysis to a review board. A total of 4-6 opportunity areas include each a clear user and problem statement as well as a technology and business context information. This can easily be presented during a 2hours meeting with 20minutes per opportunity areas including review board Q&A and keeping some time at the end to rank the most attractive ones. Each opportunity area can be presented in a canvas that highlight :

  • The definition, user group and problem statement with an urgency focus

  • The science and technology benchmark, landscape of player/products/patents

  • The potential external partners, the internal supporting stakeholders

  • Some verbatim/statements/Data and tangible proof points

  • Some uncertainties and remaining assumptions

The review board will reflect with intrapreneurs on the relevance of each 4-6 opportunities areas, revise again the alignement with the company strategy and help decide the 2-3 priority focus areas where senior management would like to identify or generate new concepts. At this stage, one or two more days are necessary to consolidate the analysis of the selected areas.


Source or generate new concepts

This is an additional two weeks of the intrapreneur residency with aim to propose original solutions to the problem statement identified during the first month. Intrapreneurs work on the 2-3 opportunities areas previously selected and follow again a Design Thinking approach. A first week is dedicated in diverging with identifying hundreds of ideas and and second week for converging around the 6-8 most promising concepts.

The diverging week starts with two-days sessions that you repeat 2-3 times for each of the opportunity areas. The first day consist in generating around 20 ideas and the second day propose to narrow it to 4-5 most promising concepts. Intrapreneurs alternate guided brainstorming and clustering sessions. Usually repeating the process for 3 opportunity areas drains all your creativity and energy: better no to spend more than a week on sourcing, generating new ideas. In particular knowing that people are not equal when it comes to creativity, and can feel left aside of the whole exercise.

On the first day, the morning session is dedicated to breakdown the problem statement of each of the opportunity areas. For that you use a Design Thinking approach called "How Might We?". If problem is around mobility in MegaCity and problem is about user stuck in traffic, you would suggest "How Might We make the journey more comfortable?", "How Might We ensure regularity of the traffic?", ... In average 5-10 “How Might We” questions are generated.

On the first day afternoon, idea brainstorming starts and for each “How Might We” questions, each intrapreneur propose 3 short ideas, 10-12 in total for the group, that everyone will present in a few words turn by turn. Example: on "How Might We ensure regularity of the traffic?" - idea 1 'car communicating to traffic lights' - idea 2 'GPS suggesting shortest journey' - idea 3 'bus lane opened for traffic at peak hours'. Maybe you don't realize but for 5-10 “How Might We” questions and 10-12 ideas generated by the group, you create more than 30-50 ideas for each round. At the end of the day, you take your long list of ideas and start to cluster, complete, merge in order to end up with 15 concepts.

On the second day, Intrapreneurs revisit the 15 concepts by conducting one or two crazy/inspiring brainstorming sessions aimed to play with creativity. Here you challenge hypothesis like 'What if car could fly' or 'What Elon Musk would propose' to solve the problem. Here, the relaxed and fun atmosphere without being judged would help to touch a few very creative but concrete aspects. A good way to capture those new aspects is to run a Blue Ocean Strategy approach and compare the usual way to the new radical thinking discussed in the group. Here, Intrapreneurs take the chance to enrich and extend the 15 concepts with the newly generated thoughts.

On the second day afternoon, Intrapreneurs start to prioritize the long list of concepts and rank those that seem to be the most promising. Some can be merged or combined in a more sophisticated one. Ideally, Intrapreneurs end up with 8-10 concepts that are detailed in a "concept canvas" consisting in a description of the user, its problem, the solution and a mini story board of 3 images explaining how it works. Now, the concept start to turn into a tangible proposal that can be presented to gather feedback. At the end of the day, the intrapreneurs group need to select the top 3-5 concepts according to:

  • desirability

  • feasibility

  • viability

  • strategic fit with the company

The role of the facilitator here is key to push everyone outside of the comfort zone, to allow mistakes, avoid judgment and bad behaviors, in particular shame or hubris. It is well know that people are not equal when it comes to creativity and not always comfortable to share thoughts in public. Sometime one creative innovator will get his ideas enriched with a share of ownership from other team members. To get there, the level of trust achieved during the first month is key.

Testing concepts and collecting feedback

After repeating for each opportunity areas, team end up with a total of 10-15 "concept canvas" after a week. It remains just a few days to enrich the concepts and present them at a marketplace. Ideally splitting the work among the intrapreneurs, everyone picks 3-4 concepts and prepares a poster/e-poster presenting again the user, the problem, the solution and the advantages on the 4 dimensions that are desirability, feasibility and viability and overall strategic fit. In addition, for each concept, Intrapreneurs build a basic prototype ... usually with paper, cartoon or lego. Intrapreneur will provide a physical demo often followed by the "concept canvas" story telling. By expereince, intrapreneurs really enjoy the prototype building time. It stimulates their creativity while recharching after the exhausting creativity sessions.

Organizing the market place requires facilitator to anticipate upfront, invite many visitors, usually the internal stakeholders intrapreneurs met during the first month of the problem statement and symposiums. Organizers can easily expect above 100 participants, free to come and on a slot around lunch break from 11 am to 2pm with refreshments and sandwich provided. Each intrapreneur has a booth of 3-4 concepts with poster and prototypes. The visitors can then circulate from booth to booth showcase and provide some feedback. For people walking around, touching and manipulating the prototypes gives an additional way to collect insight. Interestingly, intrapreneurs usually integrate the feedback on the go from one presentation to the next. By presenting again and again the concepts, they will start insisting on the important part of the problem, explaining the solution with more clarity. At 2pm, when market place is over, not only they accumulated a lot of insight but they also get their story much stronger.

After a proper break, the rest of the day usually consists in sharing in a group the main revisited concept stories. Finally, its time to establish a rank from the 10-15 concepts list. We introduced in another blog article a 2x2 matrix that compares the revenue potential and the maturity. At the end of the second week, 4-6 concepts are selected and submitted to the review board who will eventually select a few for further concepts maturation. The few last days are dedicated to wrap-up the full program, intrapreneur will consolidate the selected concepts in a report, together with all related accumulated knowledge, information and stakeholders input.


Closing the program

This usually ends the 6 weeks residency program. Intrapreneurs celebrate their effort and outcome on the evening of the marketplace. They have the feeling it went really fast, it was intense and are amazed how much you can do in such a short time.

On the final day, in the morning, a graduation usually take place with certificate acknowledging the development of new skills, followed by a lunch with the review board, experts and facilitators. In the afternoon, you start to see intrapreneurs leaving one by one, catching their flight and getting ready to return to their business units departments. For facilitators, already another residency program is in preparation...


The conclusion

Here, we described an approach among other to explore Strategic Focus Fields, the few concepts will usually get matured further in a structured value proposition and business proposal in order to secure first funding for further maturation and derisking. Also we mentioned that for Strategic Focus Fields, all effort upfront can be easily recycled into learning, we therefore suggest to think in term of reversing your pipeline, using the first concepts identified with such a program to ground the future ones, as nucleus in a portfolio where more will aggregate around.

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