For all products, whether new or existing, there’s a seemingly endless push (and usually strong financial incentive) to innovate.

Innovation can mean improving the customer experience or adding new features or functions to address customer needs.

Innovation is more than just an epiphany moment from a solo genius. It’s usually the result of much effort and more failure from many people.

While no magic method can consistently deliver innovation, a few principles can help.

Here are four principles (along with some links) to help spur innovation and improve the customer experience.

1.    Observe, Discover, and Uncover

One of the best ways to understand challenges and pain points of customers is to observe people trying to solve everyday problems. Get out of the office or lab and into the field to observe customers in their environments. Observing the actions and struggles of current or prospective customers in the right context is a cornerstone of idea generation.

Here are seven additional ways to help discover and uncover unmet needs.

2.    Mix Methods

Rarely can you count on one method to address all your research needs. Every research method has its shortcomings and biases. Instead of looking for a magic method to spur innovation and improvements, mix your methods to play off the strengths of the method. This applies to both evaluative and generative research.

Consider methods that use both qualitative and quantitative methods iteratively to generate ideas, test concepts, and then verify frequencies to assess the potential for an idea. Plan to use a mix of methods that rely on both observation and self-reporting to provide complementary lenses of what people say and what they do.

Here are 10 methods to help.

3.    Measure and Compare

To make improvements, you need to know where things are now. This applies to products or services that:

  • Improve productivity
  • Reduce waste
  • Solve new problems
  • Make people happier

To understand how well an innovation improves things (if at all), you need to have a quantitative understanding of where things were before its introduction. Innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t always a good thing. Feature bloat and complicated interfaces can actually make things worse. Having a solid set of metrics that describe the experiences and outcomes allows you to compare before and after changes and to common industry benchmarks.

Here is a mix of 32 metrics (attitudinal and behavioral) to help measure the experience.

4.    Prioritize

You can only do so much with the time, people, and money you have. Prioritization is essential. Instead of relying (only) on the loudest customer or highest paid opinion, use a system for prioritizing what you observe and the data you have. While many decisions may still ultimately be made based on company politics, have a plan and record of prioritization to follow when you can’t make all the improvements you want.

Here are 7 techniques to help with prioritizing