Incremental innovation is the practice of upgrading existing services or products through a series of smaller improvements. Incremental innovation is the opposite of disruptive innovation which introduces entirely new products or services.
When the first iPhone was released in 2007 with the multi-touch screen, this was a radical step forward. However, Apple’s subsequent releases used incremental innovation to add different screen sizes, waterproofing, and upgraded cameras. The latest Windows operating systems also benefit from incremental innovation with regular upgrades and security updates.
There are plenty of good reasons why organizations choose incremental innovation. For example:
Incremental innovation requires less money and time than developing entirely new products or services. If the upgrade fails, or it turns out customers don’t appreciate the upgrade, then the sunk costs are easier to swallow.
Apple has brilliantly incrementally innovated its iPhones over the past decade in slightly different directions to create more options for customers. The nuanced differences in screen size, camera quality, and power let customers choose an iPhone according to their priorities.
As Apple has shown, if you give people more product options, more people will opt for your product.
By introducing minor changes, feedback is isolated to that transformation, allowing organizations to better understand the reaction to innovation.
Most customers are not early adopters. Companies can leverage the customer loyalty of the majority without requiring a leap of faith to adopt a radical new product, concept, or idea.
At the same time, regular updates keep your product visible to the customer.
Organizations are always under pressure to improve. The competition is also upgrading, either innovatively or preparing to disrupt the market. Organizations, products, and services that don’t evolve are destined for extinction.
There are ways to maximize the benefits of incremental innovation.
Customer feedback: Between every innovation, gather and analyze what your customers are saying. Make sure you’re giving them what they want and prioritizing the improvements they care most about.
Grab the quick wins: Consider the ratio of effort to impact. Use techniques like MoSCoW prioritization to understand which innovations to concentrate on.
Learn from mistakes: If innovation is not well-received, understand why. If necessary, roll back. Pivot away from incremental innovation tracks that don’t meet your target market’s needs or expectations.
Don’t rely solely on incremental innovation: New techniques and technologies are constantly being developed and discovered. Don’t miss the opportunities that radical innovation can bring by only relying on incremental innovation.