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Book Report: The Innovation Playbook

By Ray Engelberg, CBAP, Business Systems Analyst, UPS
The Internet.  GPS.  Smartphones.  Innovations all, right?
Before you answer, check out The Innovation Playbook by Nicholas J. Webb.
Webb starts out by describing two companies he regards as innovative:  In-N-Out Burger and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. 
In-N-Out Burger is a successful West Coast hamburger eatery.  It owes that success, not only to the quality of its food, but to the extra features by which it relates to its customers. First, it has specially designed exhaust fans which waft the fragrance of its food in multiple directions. Second, its drive-up windows have manhole cover-sized speakers as opposed to those tiny microphones which garble communication between staff and customer. Third, there’s a huge plate glass window through which customers can see the cleanliness of the kitchen as the staff produces hand cut French fries  – nothing pre-frozen. Customers come away with a sense of awe as well as satisfaction above that generated by the quality of the product. 
Next, there’s the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, California.  The factors that make Sierra an innovative company are its commitment to being a good global and local citizen; the compensation package, which includes a massage and a "beer buck" that can be exchanged for a case of beer; sponsorship of the Sierra Nevada Tap Room, a restaurant serving tasty food, as well as Sierra beer. 
Webb states that true innovation connects with the customer, both externally and viscerally. It is distinct from “invention.” His key theme is that too often, we associate innovation with newness and originality. This, Webb argues, is “invention:” 
Many people, without thinking, use the words, [invention and innovation] interchangeably and, I would argue, inappropriately. When one thinks of an invention, one thinks of a shiny whiz-bang new product based on some sexy technology to do something new or do something better. A handheld GPS device is an invention. An innovation is a higher level, more conceptual success that may be developed around an invention, but is something that really serves a customer need and delivers customer value in excess of what it costs, that is, net customer value. A GPS device that uses a well-designed global GPS system to deliver the right information customers need when they need it at a reasonable price is an innovation. 
So how do we, as BAs foster and support innovation? By promoting an environment where innovation can flourish. Some examples:
Balance Process with Customer Expectation - It goes without saying that we want our Requirements Packages to be complete and thorough, but there's a downside.  Do we allow ourselves to become so bogged down in complexity that we lose customer focus? 
Webb cites Southwest Airlines as an example of a company that got it right. Air travelers want to get where they’re going safely; they don't want to navigate a convoluted and cumbersome reservation process. Southwest accommodates this basic need by delivering simple and intuitive websites and sign-on procedures. The organization then takes things a step further. Their personnel joke with their customers and make the seat belt and oxygen mask orientations light and entertaining.  This constitutes a multisensory customer experience that is satisfying — and innovative.
Embrace Craftsmanship – Webb defines craftsmanship as the creation of value eliciting an emotional customer response beyond a product’s mere function. Webb uses Facebook as an example, pointing out that Facebook fulfills its most basic requirement — to provide a means of keeping in touch with people despite distances in space and time.  
Very likely, someone assuming the BA role identified non-functional requirements for expediency, timeliness, and ease of use. It was through adherence to these non-functional requirements that Facebook went from merely efficient to truly innovative.
Assess Risk – Webb argues that fear of risk can be paralyzing, particularly in the current fast-paced business environment: 
… if you're required to do too many checklists and too many what-ifs and too many financial projections while your competitors are delivering insanely cool stuff to your customers, you lose….To invent means to fail, to innovate means to fail.
The BA role in Risk Assessment is to understand the likelihood as well as the ramifications of uncertain events.  With this two-pronged understanding documented and communicated, a business may pursue new directions with confidence, while identifying, anticipating, and addressing potential pitfalls.
If there’s a definite take-away from The Innovation Playbook, it’s this: 
[Innovation is] all about creating net customer value. Net customer value refers to the benefit provided to a customer at a given cost and compared to the benefit of existing products. 
Innovation is not a Knowledge Area, an Underlying Competency, or a Technique. It is the ultimate BA raison d'etre through which we exceed our customers' expectations, and advance our profession.
Editor’s Note:  Have you read a book in the IIBA Online Library that has helped you in your BA role? Write a book report to share with the BA community in an upcoming newsletter. Send your book report to (The Innovation Playbook is no longer available in the Online Library.)