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Innovation processes in a nutshell: Q & A with Scope’s head of digital strategy Si Muddell

28 March 2019

It might not always feel like you’re being innovative, but the more you look at your activities, plans, behaviours, strategies and goals with different filters, the easier it becomes to implement change.

Here we talk to Si Muddell, head of digital strategy at Scope, who discusses both his (and others) innovation processes.

Tell us about yourself

I have 13 years’ experience as a digital marketing and product development professional spanning across multiple industry verticals, split 50:50 across agency and client side, and working in both the commercial (70%) and not for profit space (30%).

I’ve developed and implemented successful digital acquisition, optimisation, retention, brand, technology, and digital product strategies for brands such as Audi, Setanta Sports, APAC, Shelter UK, M&C Saatchi Sydney, Nestle, Optus, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Heineken, Melanoma Institute Australia and Weber. I’ve also been a co-owner of a digital marketing agency based in London and Leeds.

I am passionate about digital and innovation. The accountability it gives, the challenges and opportunities it can create, the endless wrestle between creativity, data and common sense to reap the best outcome; the ability to test, measure, and optimise; and it’s ever constant and forever rapidly evolving nature.

Tell us about your work at Scope

To scene set — before Scope, I co-owned a digital marketing agency in Leeds and London. When working at my agency, Scope commissioned me to undertake a deep dive into digital marketing throughout the organisation that focused on expertise and competency, processes and structure, insights, and overall performance successes. The purpose was to identify key challenges and opportunities with a view to how Scope could best leverage the full capabilities of digital marketing.

Throughout this process, I was so impressed with Scope’s single-minded purpose and ambition to drive everyday equality for disabled people that I decided to take up the exciting challenge of setting up and leading a new centralised digital strategy team.

Where do you start with learning about innovation methodologies?

Nesta landscape of innovation approaches map

There are so many innovation methodologies out there; all you have to do is type ‘innovation methods’ into Google to see the varied (and often contradicting) advice. Do this, don’t do that, start here, finish there, don’t ever work from assumptions, trust your gut and so on.

It’s weird as innovation in its very essence is meant to be agile and about thinking differently and encouraging a pragmatic and creative view on things, yet some methods suggest that you must follow a particular methodology to the book. This has always seemed like a contradiction to me. The famous Henry Ford quote about ‘a faster horse’, or Steve Jobs’ product launch of the iPod which positioned Apple within the music industry, are amazing (and somewhat cliché) examples of an idea truly disrupting the norm. They weren’t based on what the audience wanted; certainly not in a linear product evolution way anyway.

Some people say all ideas must be laced in audience insight, yet there are many examples where an original idea did not originate from audience insight. The industry tries too hard to follow a rigid approach to an ever-flexing subject. Note: Audience insight is an essential part of innovative working but for the purpose of making my point, it doesn’t always need to be the starting point.

For this reason, I prefer to continually test, learn and improve on my personal and team’s approach to innovation. We use known methodologies but we also adapt and improve these to suit the nature of what we are working on. The common thread to all of our innovation work is principles.

So at Scope, we have innovation principles and an innovation process called DICE (read on below), which uses a collection of innovation techniques.

Our innovation principles are:

Different types of innovation

Inclusive — Scope stands for everyday equality for disabled people. We believe that all audiences should be part of the innovation and NPD process, and as such inclusivity is at the heart of our innovation principles. Disabled people are often sidelined when companies initiate product development yet their feedback would no doubt make the products themselves far more user friendly and appealing to a much wider audience base. It makes both moral and commercial sense.


Definition:

NPD –

New Product Development covers the complete process of bringing a new product to market.


Insight led — Everything we do must come from insight, be that audience, or marketplace. It could be that we have initial assumptions and hypothesis that are not backed up by insight. This is fine, as long as we leverage insight to prove or disprove this within the process.

Bold — Trying new things comes with a risk, the very real risk of failure. Failure is not a bad thing, it enables us to learn and improve. Organisations that succeed in innovation are bold in investing time, money and resource but not concerned about yielding an immediate return from these efforts. Good innovation takes time to get right (see the note about Dyson further down).

Collaborative — We need to work together by speaking to our audiences and encouraging positive debates and outsider knowledge. We don’t know everything as the famous quote reminds us: “Knowledge is proud that it knows so much, wisdom is humble that it knows no more.” The more collaborative we are the better the end result and the quality of the insights and feedback.

DICE — Innovation Process

Over the past four months, we have created an in-house innovation process called DICE; think of it like a funnel where we start at ‘Define’ and work through the process to reap continued user feedback. The last two phases consist of a continuous feedback loop between creating a prototyped solution to a live experiment that gains user insight and then the create phase where a solution is adjusted and/or rethought based on the user insight gained. This isn’t a new way of thinking about innovation, more our internal interpretation of a roadmap to follow. Dyson famously created 5,127 prototypes over 15 years while perfecting his bagless cyclone technology focused vacuum. We will never get it right first time but hopefully it won’t take 15 years!

Bullseye

Define — Setting the scene. What is the problem, the need (the why), the opportunity, success criteria, and any initial hypothesis that we may have. For example, it may be that we are working on a specific project so not starting from scratch such as a mass participation event or an accessible version of Mindful Monsters.

Magnifying glassInvestigate — Finding insights to help us ideate. Achieved from in depth qual and quant research – focusing on marketplace, audience, defining key stakeholders, challenges, opportunities, risks, relation to cause and scalability. Einstein reportedly said if he had an hour to solve a problem he would spend “55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining five minutes solving it routinely”. We must understand the problem to be able to ideate a solution.

If it’s good enough for Einstein: “55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining five minutes solving it routinely”.

A pencil

Create — Co-creating creative solutions. This includes product ideas, propositions, revenue models, prototypes and minimal viable products. All of these elements are then continually updated once an experiment is tested and insights gained.

A pencil

Experiment and evaluate — Testing your ideas in the real world with real audiences. Review, refine, repeat.

Here are some other innovative methodologies that we use:

Thought bubble

1. Design thinking: Three criteria — desirability, viability and feasibility — specifically run through the ‘Create’ and ‘Experiment’ phases of our DICE process. This ensures we create something that is desirable, then uses experiments to ensure it’s feasible and viable too. Each prototype should answer different questions about the product, and it’s a lens to help identify what the important questions are.

The innovation sweet spot

Thought bubble2. Agile Methodology: Let me just say that I think ‘agile’ is one of the most overused and least understood buzzwords out there, both in the commercial and charity sectors. I did my agile professional diploma some time ago now, and ran a digital agency based on its methodology.

I very much believe in its principles and the theory behind it yet in practice I am constantly amazed at how it continually gets misused and misinterpreted. When used properly — such as working in concentrated sprints, maintaining a simplified Kanban (a type of scheduling system) view of your tasks, undertaking acceptance criteria for these tasks, having regular huddles and scrums, working on functionality iteratively, and using prioritisation methodologies such as MoSCoW to focus on creating a minimum viable product — then it’s great.


Definitions:

Huddles –

Cloud based collaboration.

Scrum –

An agile framework for managing knowledge work.


These are the elements that we use most:

Users

3. User Stories: We have probably all seen or used these before. I can’t shout loudly enough about how useful these are. For those that don’t know, they are essentially single-minded ‘stories’ that make up a user need.

Let’s just say we are looking at a website redevelopment. You would firstly look at your core top level customers, not by segment at this stage – more top level. For example New Customer, Existing Customer, Sales and Marketing Staff. You then create stories based on the following format:

‘As a (insert audience type), I want to (insert action), so that I can (insert benefit).’

Go wide with these and get as many as you can think of and don’t worry about repetition. Once you have all the stories, you can theme them, dedupe and test them with a wider audience, with a view to prioritising them based on user need and/or impact and resource required.

Circular approaches

4. SOSTAC: We love acronyms in marketing don’t we! Having worked in planning and strategy roles a lot of my career, I’ve seen many of these models. SOSTAC jumped out at me right at the beginning of my working life and it’s a simple methodology.

I constantly use it within presentations, strategy development, or just my verbal approach to things. I use this specifically when writing a business case or putting together a marketing plan for a product:

  • Situation — What do we know? What don’t we know? What’s going on in the marketplace? Who are the audience? What are the potential challenges and opportunities? This is very much like the ‘Investigate’ phase of DICE.
  • Objectives — Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve both in words and in metrics/KPIs?
  • Strategy — The what. This is normally broken down into individual strategy areas, for example proposition, acquisition, retention, processes and fulfilment, brand and optimisation.
  • Tactics The how. This is the channel plan and the messaging.
  • Actions The roadmap and milestone timelines.
  • Control The analytics and measurement to ensure we maintain focus on the objectives.

An ear

5. Listening:

Practice listening more — innovation is often not about what you want, it’s about what your audience thinks they want, or not.


Example:

When I was head of digital and marketing for a major sports broadcaster across Australia and Asia, we ran a major acquisition campaign for Euro 2012 which helped us grow our 32-million customer base by 80,000-plus people.

The company needed a strategy to retain the new customers we had just acquired. A big problem we needed to solve was the fact that we had many sport rights but only one channel that could play one game at a time, despite having the rights to show eight games at the same time. This was a big issue for retention as people subscribed for different sports and for different teams.

With the launch of the BBC iPlayer in 2007, the BBC had set a (very good) standard for app and web based players. So we embarked on creating iOS, android, Smart TV and browser specific players. The agency we used at the time wanted to use an ‘agile’ methodology; however, the agency misunderstood the process involved leading to zero documentation, missed deadlines, poor functionality, and unhappy and bounced customers. Our reputation probably took a bit of a pounding too. In the end, we ended up redeveloping the players and apps with another company.

It wasn’t the fault of the methodology, but the interpretation of agile. Be careful, challenge when you feel things could be improved, and get yourselves skilled up. I for sure learnt some lessons from this experience, hence getting a diploma to practitioner level shortly after!


Check out Si’s work at www.scope.org.uk

This case study is part of CharityComms’ Innovation guide.

Si Muddell

digital engagement strategy director, Scope

Alexander Scott

brand and content consultant, freelance

Alex Scott is a strategic communications and content specialist with 18 years hands on experience with charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Breast Cancer Care, Samaritans, NSPCC and Anthony Nolan.