12 Step Checklist for Amazing Human Centered Innovation Learning Loops

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The outcome from human centered innovation is increased learning about the customers you serve and how you can solve the problems they are facing.

In the 21st century, knowledge is the new frontier.  Wars are no longer fought over land but instead the spoils go to those with the most insights and data.  Cybersecurity is a frontline issue, keeping information safe and secure top of mind for most business people.  The University of North Carolina’s research on top executives perspectives on risk revealed Cyber threats and information security as #4 and #7 on the list of concerns for 825 global CXOs. 

The Human Centered Innovation Learning Loop is an exploration into discovering customer problems and potential solutions, with knowledge as the desired outcome.  The goal for the human centered innovation learning loop is gaining institutional knowledge about the tasks your customers are pursuing and what gets in the way of their success.

I started my career as a software engineer in the ’90’s when waterfall was our go-to project method.  We established an end goal for a project, typically 18+ months in the future, and set milestones along the way that served as the “falls” for tested code.  No one questioned the end game – it was set before we got started.  The testing we performed at the milestones looked for technical bugs, not validation that we were delivering real customer value.

I remember the first time I questioned the end game.  “You can’t keep changing the strategy,” my manager responded.  Since we didn’t have any interim checkpoints; the only way to see if our strategy worked was to see it all the way to the end.  That meant we could waste an enormous amount of time and money if we were wrong.  It was incredibly costly and inefficient.

An Agile Business Strategy

The speed of business has only accelerated since then, demanding flexibility in how we pursue strategy and innovation.  McKinsey’s research in digital strategy discovered that, “speed in strategy links with financial outperformance” in the companies they studied.  Agility and the ability to iterate, test and refine strategic direction is the key to success.

Agile was software’s antidote to the inflexible waterfall system.  The teams that do Agile right will frequently release a component of their solution, limited in features but usable, solving a piece of the customer problem.  Each iteration gathers customer feedback and provides validation that the solution is evolving in the right direction.  If its not, its easy to make adjustments that cost the team minimal time and money.

Eric Reis writes about this cycle in the Lean Startup, how pivots create solutions that deliver greater customer value.  His is an iterative model that includes a step for testing with customers.  It works well for software, for creating solutions to well defined problems.  But what about those, wicked complex problems that need a more design thinking approach?

Iterative Learning Through Human Centered Innovation

The Human Centered Innovation Learning Loop is ideal when your team needs to tackle bigger human problems.  The learning loop explores desirability to discover which problems customers needs help with most and why.  The next stage dives into feasibility, engaging customers to co-design solutions and delving into operational capabilities or strengths that can be expanded to deliver a solution no one else can match.  Once desirability and feasibility have been tested, the viability stage explores strategic choices, different approaches to delivering the customer experience.

Here is a checklist for the Human Centered Innovation Learning Loop:

Design thinking
Customer Desirability
  • Develop empathy, an understanding of the customer's point of view
  • Capture the customer's job-to-be-done
  • Brainstorm solutions
  • Co-design with customers, prioritizing features for minimum viable product
Operational Feasibility
  • Explore data from sales, service or product use
  • Identify operational strengths in brand, technology and process
  • Prototype minimum viable product
design thinking
Business Viability
  • Define total customer experience
  • Explore strategic choice points and select strategy
  • Create or refine business model to sustainably deliver experience

And at the end of this learning loop the team creates an investment proposal for next learning loop,

Each step of the human centered innovation learning loop creates artifacts that build your institutional knowledge about the problems your customers face, the barriers to their success, and the solutions you are uniquely positioned to deliver.  They allow you to incrementally invest in a strategy that evolves as you explore and learn. These artifacts are the outputs from the learning loop, the measure of the return on investment in successful human centered innovation.