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QDM stories: Innovation

QDM stories: Innovation

To get innovation right the first time, start with
three simple questions

Headshot of Dennis Shirokov.

As vice president of Retail and Consumer Marketing for FedEx, Dennis Shirokov is responsible for the company’s retail access network and consumer marketing programs. Previously, as director of Innovation and Design for FedEx Services, Shirokov led efforts to deliver breakthrough experiences, solutions and business models by embedding design thinking and innovation methods across FedEx.

Since joining the company in 2000, Shirokov has participated in the innovation process countless times. Through his experience, he has developed a point of view about how to approach innovation – and how not to approach it. 

Here, Shirokov shares insights about getting innovation right the first time, and how Quality Driven Management (QDM) — the unique FedEx approach to quality — and its Design ABLE methodology can help.

Dennis Shirokov: When I joined FedEx in 2000, the dot-com phenomenon was just becoming a viable proposition. I saw that FedEx was already innovating in the e-commerce space — using the web to enable online transactions, not just to publish brochures online like many other companies in those early days — and I was excited to become part of it.

Since that time, FedEx has remained at the forefront of innovation. Today, we’re focused on creating seamless, end-to-end customer experiences that deliver more value and differentiate FedEx in the marketplace.

We see the fruits of our efforts in the Roxo™ FedEx SameDay Bot, an autonomous delivery device that is currently in testing in the U.S. and is expected to play a new role for same-day and last-mile deliveries of smaller shipments to customers’ homes and businesses. Another innovation is FedEx Freight Direct, which addresses a need in the marketplace for residential and business delivery of large, bulky items into residences and businesses.

During my innovation journey with FedEx, I’ve learned about the factors that typically cause innovations to succeed or fail. We’ve incorporated our knowledge into Design ABLE, a methodology that fuses design thinking with Quality Driven Management (QDM).

Multiple people working around a desk.

I’m passionate about sharing this knowledge with others. Many of our customers are small businesses, and they typically don’t have people on their teams who get to focus on innovation best practices. At the same time, when it comes to launching an innovative new technology, process or approach to the marketplace, they’ve got to get it right.

Whether you’re part of a small business or a large enterprise, and whether you’re seeking to grow sales or improve internal processes, I’d like to share a few innovation success factors in the form of three questions. Ask these questions and consider the advice that follows to help you introduce innovations that will win. 

What is the driver for this innovation? Why am I pursuing it?

The answer to this question reveals a great deal about your concept’s potential to succeed. If your answer about the driver of your innovation falls into one of these categories, you’ll want seriously reconsider your premise:

  • “It’s a brilliant idea.”
  • “This is incredible technology. We need to find an application for it.”
  • “We’ve got to beat the competition at their own game.” 
  • “Leadership is saying we need to make this happen.”

These drivers are common but can lead you down the wrong paths, toward solutions that don’t really make a difference for customers.

In our view, at FedEx, innovations should originate from one place and one place only: deep customer empathy.

The Design ABLE process begins with A for “Assess,” and this first step is when we build in lots of room to learn about customer needs and motivations. The ABLE phases that follow are “B” for Build, “L” for Launch and “E” for Evaluate. More on that shortly.

In the Assess phase, it’s critical to start by identifying customer pain points or unmet needs that you could address. It’s a time to improvise, listen and get closer to understanding the human problems that exist in a process. In our view, every innovation that succeeds builds from this foundation. Keep in mind, your “customer” might be someone inside your own organization – for example, someone filing an expense report or booking travel.

What tools and processes will I use to develop and test my innovation?

Once you have a deep understanding of the customer experience and have identified the best opportunity or opportunities to make it better, you’re already moving down the right path.

The next phase of the ABLE process, the Build phase, is all about using tools to brainstorm and develop potential solutions that will create a better customer outcome or even change the game completely.

Our Design ABLE tools emerged from QDM, our quality methodology at FedEx. We’ve found that it’s critically important to incorporate design thinking into all business processes, and QDM gives us the perfect flexible framework to do so. 

Two men working on a computer.

The first Principle of QDM is Customers Define Quality — which is also the perfect starting point for innovation. Go here for a quick primer on QDM Principles.

The point of using specific tools and processes is to be sure that you bring rigor and discipline to brainstorming and developing prototype solutions — and then bring these concepts back to customers for validation. All too often, that customer feedback loop actually can get shortchanged in the midst of urgent work to launch an innovation.

Once you’ve walked through the steps that confirm your innovation meets customers’ needs, you’re finally ready to move ahead confidently with Launch, the third step in the Design ABLE process.

How will I know if my innovation is working and gather additional feedback
to make it better?

Design ABLE concludes with “Evaluate.” While it’s the last step in the process, the time to consider how you’ll measure outcomes is in the beginning — during the Assess and Build phases. Create a plan to quickly evaluate customer outcomes after launching your innovation, so you can be nimble in responding to any unforeseen challenges.

Keep in mind, too, that “evaluation” is a forever process. Once you’ve launched an innovation, you’ll continue to seek customer feedback and gather data, so you can identify opportunities for ongoing improvement.

At FedEx, we remind ourselves that nothing stands still: Customer preferences, advances in technology and the marketplace will be in a constant, dynamic state of change.

So embrace it. By getting into the mindset of customer-focused innovation and applying best practices, you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.