Bloomberg COO says companies should add a word to ‘minimum viable product’ if they want innovation efforts to succeed

Bloomberg Sell Side Trading COO Jessica Hatch
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It was not the feedback the team of innovators at Bloomberg may have wanted to hear, but according to Jessica Hatch, it was what they needed to hear.

As the COO of Bloomberg’s Sell Side Trading division told the TakeOver innovation conference in Toronto on Monday, the team was presenting a few offering — something even more sophisticated than the slew of features and updates the financial information giant rolls out to customers literally every day.

“We said, ‘But it works.’ Our sales guys looked at it said, ‘Sure, it may work, but nobody’s going to buy that,’” Hatch recalled. “I had to go hack and look at where the communication broke down.”

To Hatch, this was an error that should have been caught at the “blueprint stage” of innovation, which she described as a sort of operating agreement between innovation teams and users to allocate responsibilities and work on tasks simultaneously but in harmony. One aspect of that blueprint, she said, should go beyond what startups call a minimum viable product and instead conceive of a minimum commercially viable product — something that will sell.

“A blueprint is not a set of directions — it’s a direction, the way you want to go,” she said.  “(If you have that) your team will generally execute in creative ways you never thought of.”

Creating such a blueprint — and executing it successfully — continues to be a bigger challenge within large enterprises, suggested Roger Chabra, CIO at TribalScale, which produced the TakeOver conference. He discussed at length the two camps of “Team Startup” and “Team Enterprise,” noting the latter often paid more to produce lesser results than smaller, more agile firms.

“Can the next Uber be built at GM?” he asked in a panel discussion.

According to Peggy Van De Plassche, general manager at venture capitalist firm Roar Ventures, the answer is likely no. Part of the issue lies in the short-term thinking within larger organizations due to stock market pressures. This makes it difficult for innovation teams to get the “ring fencing” Hatch suggested organizations put in place to ensure they aren’t measured by the same things as more regular parts of the company.

“You really need to follow the financial need,” Van de Plassche said. “When you’re a publicly-traded company, how much money can you put on a new venture before your shareholders show up and say, ‘It sounds like a side project to me.’”

Laura Vidal Borrell, global head of marketing for immersive computing at HP, called those who want to work on innovation “beautiful masochists” for the pain they tend to endure.

“I think the incentive to sponsor (innovation) in many companies comes from the fact that they are awesome PR projects,” she said. “In the background, though, you have to be really creating a business, learning and evolving . . . You have a two-year period to really prove the business.”

Those assigned to innovation projects can’t necessarily expect everyone to share their excitement, either, said Anshul Srivastav, chief information officer and digital officer at Union Insurance. Employees in large organizations are well aware that sometimes new ideas mean more work on their end.

“The baggage we carry is, ‘If I innovate, if we change, what will happen to me?’” he said. “This is insecurity. You just have to break through that.”

In her keynote, Hatch said the best way to get started might be doing a bit more work on establishing the right structure within the organization. When she joined Bloomberg, for instance, she said she was working with a very strong team, but they were all acting as generalists.

“Moving into that next level of maturity to support a sustained level of innovation meant being less ‘all hands on deck,’” she said. “For example, those who sold you the (Bloomberg) system implemented it, and managed the account. You can imagine how that introduced inefficiencies.”

Be reallocating those responsibilities across three separate roles, Hatch said Bloomberg saw double digit revenue growth from existing clients, while allowing the team to work on a new product that generated “several millions” in its first year.

As innovation projects get underway at Bloomberg now, Hatch said she ensures there is both a project manager and a change manager.

“These should not be separate jobs. They should not be part-time jobs. And they should not be you,” she warned. “Do not cut your budget here.”

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.