Building a better mousetrap on a barebones budget

Christopher Lockheardt
Christopher Lockheardt
Senior Content Manager
01 Jul 2021

“Innovate or die.” Those three words are the alpha and omega of the marketplace. Keep making the same thing in the same way for the same price, and you risk your competitors figuring out how to make it better and cheaper.

But the unceasing drive for innovation carries its own risk. Every dime and developer you devote to building a better mousetrap is one less dime and developer you can devote to making the tried but true mousetrap on which you built a successful business.

The Fleet Club is a network of digital leaders who regularly connect to talk about business, technology, and innovation. It’s a place for dialog and sharing where members learn from each other and discover new opportunities.

The answer, then, is to invest in innovation, but frugally and wisely. In the latest Fleet Club session, Dan Kildahl, the principal program manager at Oracle, drew on his experiences as a champion of innovation at Oracle, Apple, and Cisco to offer his insights on innovating on a limited budget.

When scoping out an internal proposal for an innovation project, Kildahl says to ask yourself an escalating series of questions.

“Can I do this on my own?”

Perhaps your innovation project is small enough in scope that you can get it rolling with the resources on hand. You might just happen to have team members with the needed expertise momentarily idle between projects. And maybe there’s some spare change left over from last quarter’s budget.

If so, perfect! It generally only takes a small investment to get an innovation project up and running enough to prove that it’s worth a big investment. Eric Moser, director of digital experience at Netgear, shared that he’s had success using prototypes to demonstrate the potential ROI of innovation projects. “You want to be able to trigger that ‘Aha!’ moment in people that will get your project consideration in the next budget.”

“Can I partner with other internal leaders?”

Sometimes you have the money to launch an innovation project, but you don’t have the necessary expertise on your staff. That doesn’t mean the expertise doesn’t exist within your organization, however. It’s time to send out the call along your internal network to round up and rally the right people for the job.

When Rosanne Lufrano, the current director of digital programs at Johnson & Johnson, was the VP of digital at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, she had an idea for a headless presentation project. Although she didn’t have the needed expertise on hand, the company had a program in which employees could set aside a portion of their workweek to pursue unbudgeted projects. Lufrano found developers willing to devote some of their allotted time to her project. The result? One of the company’s most successful “publish once/distribute everywhere” products.

“Can I partner with other internal organizations?”

What if you have the expertise you need, but not the tools or funding? Again, it’s time to tap your internal network. Other teams are often in the same boat as you are, lacking a vital ingredient to bring a project to fruition. They might have leftover money from a canceled budget item. Or a product they developed and had to shelve for lack of a champion. By combining unused resources, each team can help the other take their ideas from the drawing board to the assembly line.

In trying to forge these internal partnerships, Kildahl says to take advantage of the “Shiny Object Syndrome.” Organizational leaders always have an eye out for promising projects they can add to their portfolios. They know it only takes investing in one inexpensive prototype that ends up hitting the ROI jackpot to guarantee a healthy departmental budget for quarters to come.

Constant innovation is essential to the health of an organization. However, being essential doesn’t mean it’s in the budget. By mining your organizational savvy and your passion for progress, you can still get that better mousetrap built.

If you want to join our upcoming conversations, you can find out more at https://fleet.club.