sxsw 2014: How Adobe Decides What to Do Next

The first session I attended at SXSW2014 was “What do we build next” by Adobe. It really spoke to their innovation process. To some extent I wonder how much I am just set on going to sessions whose kool-aid I already drink.

Adobe has a team called “pipeline” that seems to be their innovation/prototyping department. He did say however that ideas can come from anywhere in the org, which I believe. 

A typical team was composed of:
Product Manager: Is the problem worth solving?  – Focus on the business perspective
Developer: Can the problem be solved? – Focus on the cost to build solution; is it feasible
Designer: Is the solution usable?
Researcher: What experiments should we run? 

The team uses a technique called Brainwriting to help generate ideas. Basically they first identify a problem statement, and then they generate a lot of ideas, and then they vote on them anonymously. I really liked this idea, because as the speaker (Devin) said it helped to generate a lot more ideas than generally happen with brainstorming, when stronger personalities can dominate the conversation. 

He showed a lot of prototypes that looked really great; if I were still a front-end developer, I’d really feel like Adobe had a lot to offer and was focusing a lot on my space. 

One thing that was very refreshing was that Devin showed us a few prototypes that seemed very interesting, yet he said were ‘failures’. They had tested them and they hadnt tested well, but he said that they had learned from them. There were definite specific insights re: customers that they gained even through the ‘failures’. 

One question I had was who was involved in the brainwriting, he said it was primarily the Pipeline team, generally between 5-10 people. That’s ok, yet I do wonder how it aligns with the notion that a good idea can come from anywhere. Perhaps it’s that a PROBLEM can come from anywhere, and then the Pipeline team works on how to address it. 
For some metrics: in one brainwriting session with 8 participants, they generated 122 solutions within a half hour. 

I obviously love the idea of focusing on the customer problem to solve; it ties well into the “Who do you want your customer to become” eBook I started reading yesterday. 
I mentioned earlier “if I were a front-end developer” – this really ties into the idea that they focus on a specific customer and ideate on how to help them. They had one example where they initially designed a large project with multiple stakeholders (Project Parfait) and then realized it was really the front-end developers that exhibited the most pain and had to do the most work-arounds. This really helped them focus their efforts. I really liked this concept. How can you really move the needle?

I dont really use Adobe products anymore as I’ve moved from design and development, but I was impressed with the prototypes they showed us. It’d be enough to want to encourage me to dabble again! And I suppose again if I think back to the eBook I’m reading: Adobe would want to encourage wanna-bes to enter the industry, and so making it more enjoyable for people is a great way to grow the addressable market. That’s likely also the approach they’re looking at with their monthly subscriptions rather than the big single price tag for Photoshop. Removing the barriers to entry to grow by volume (and get recurring revenue) rather than margin. 

Presenters were @eastbaysics and@wishapedia