Collaborative Product Innovation in a Physically Distant World
What does the product development world look like as we remain, at least partially, distanced?
By: Emily Lindsey, featuring Bill Fienup
The way we work and live is changing every day. This means that traditional ways of working through concept, design, and product development that we are used to have to change as well. Collaboration is at the center of all innovation, so how do effectively do that while still staying safe? At mHUB, Bill Fienup, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation Services, has been leading teams of entrepreneurs throughout this transition to a hybrid model of physical and virtual collaboration and product development. We sat down with him to learn from that transition.
Integrating virtual tools for communicating and brainstorming are crucial to success when staying apart
Brainstorms are central to the innovation process. They must be engaging and conducted effectively to bring out the best ideas. Tools like Miro & Zoom, when used together, are valuable tools for collaborative innovation. Miro is an infinite white board with multiple different frameworks that is perfect for workshops, brainstorming, R&D, agile workflow, and more. These frameworks can be used to build out journey maps, business models, customer personas, and more. “When you pair Miro with Zoom’s audio and video you feel like you are all in conference room together,” said Fienup. These virtual collaborations and brainstorms have made companies realize the value in new tools.
You’ll still need to be present to use specialized equipment, even in a socially distant world
Prototyping and testing products requires equipment and production that can't be done virtually. “You can’t get around not having access to some specialized tools,” noted Fienup. The specialized tools he’s talking about include 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines, and more. These machines are expensive and take expertise to use, you can’t find substitutes for those. Fienup compared prototyping labs, like mHUB’s to a gym. You may have some smaller pieces of equipment at home, like dumbells, but only the gym has the machines that work out specific muscles. You’ll find those muscle-specific machines at mHUB, making it a great resource for innovators.
Being quick and adaptable is the key to success
At the heart of innovation is agile, iterative thinking that challenges the status quo and tackles big problems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of exactly that. Fienup noted at the beginning of the pandemic, he quickly noticed that the normal way of doing things wasn’t working anymore. “We realized that our current system was no longer functional,” he said. Fienup, the mHUB prototyping team, and many other members were quick to pivot their ideas and solutions towards what was happening in the current moment by using clear and precise communication as well as openness to new ideas. Companies that are “younger and nimbler” can make that move faster. “The way we work will continue to evolve, as will the needs of customers. So we'll need to continue to deploy this type of thinking to refine how we develop products in the future,” said Fienup.
Virtual tools enable a wider pool of thoughts and ideas
Everyone wins when there are teams of diverse skills and methods of thoughts. By transitioning to a digital model that is engaging and effective, we're able to pull from a larger talent pool and set of backgrounds. Fienup says we can look forward to more innovation across larger spaces and across geographic distances. “We have been forced to use these video communication tools, so we won’t be shy to use them in the future.” During this pandemic, the barrier of distance has been broken, so now we will be comfortable pulling thought leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs from all over the world into the conversation.
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