Starbucks is one of the Founding Members of IFMA's Center of Innovation Excellence (CIE) and a world-recognized leader in innovation. If you have ever wanted the chance to pick a Starbucks' executive's brain on how they excel in innovation, now's your chance. In this exclusive interview, Mary Wagner, SVP Global Research, Development & Quality at Starbucks Coffee Company, tells all to IFMA.
IFMA: Why is innovation important to Starbucks?
MW: At Starbucks, we do not purposefully set out to be
'innovative'. Rather, we aspire to be a company of people that share a common passion to create the ultimate coffee
experience. Our customers are the best judge of what that experience should be and so we are continually responding to their desires and ideas. This naturally compels us to improve our products, services and technologies. It also drives us to think on entirely new levels - 'new-to-company' and even 'new-to-world' products, services and technologies. The most genuine way to keep our current and future customers happy is by innovating - that is why innovation is so important to Starbucks.
IFMA: What is your most important strength when it
comes to innovation?
MW: This is an easy one - our partners are our most important strength (at Starbucks, we call our employees 'partners'). We are very fortunate to attract and keep good talent at Starbucks. Over the years, we can cite specific examples of partners that have led successful new product and technology innovations, even 'breakthroughs'! In addition to strong leadership, we are good collaborators - across functions and businesses - we foster a real team approach to innovation.
IFMA: What is Starbucks' biggest innovation challenge?
MW: We have two big innovation opportunities and
both initiatives are underway right now.
IFMA: Let's start with the first opportunity.
MW: We set out on a journey to closely examine the 'pockets of innovation excellence' occurring throughout Starbucks in order to learn and understand why we were enjoying success in specific areas. We sought answers to questions like 'What leadership characteristics do our most successful innovators have? Why are they so successful?' and, 'What do their teams do differently?' We conducted some internal benchmarking with help from the folks at Stage-Gate International. Together, we identified several internal best practices that made good sense to implement with all of our business leaders and innovation teams globally. My goal is to help Starbucks transform its innovation capability to move beyond 'pockets of success' occurring periodically, to a global organization delivering consistent, predictable innovation success….
IFMA: What about the second opportunity?
MW: I can't help but chuckle when I explain that our second initiative is the reward we get for becoming really good at thinking innovatively! But it's true! We have no shortage of really, really good ideas. We receive thousands of ideas for new products, services and technologies from our customers, partners and our suppliers. It's exciting and energizing! However, our ability to generate so many good ideas has created a need for us to be even better at something else - prioritization! So, the second initiative is establishing a way to prioritize and select projects that will contribute most to our business strategies. Making tough go/kill decisions is very difficult to do and so we looked to the folks at Stage-Gate International for advice on key external benchmarks and practices.
And, given the importance of preserving Starbucks' entrepreneurial culture, we worked together to customize gate scorecards, prioritization criteria and portfolio charts so they worked well for our needs.
IFMA: What has Starbucks gained by participating in IFMA's
Foodservice New Product Development Process Benchmarking Initiative?
MW: At Starbucks we have an insatiable appetite for new knowledge, especially when it comes to improving our ability to innovate new products. If there is a way we can improve our results, we want to know about it. As a leader of product innovation, being on top of industry benchmarks helps me to stay ahead of the innovation performance curve.
IFMA: What is your favorite new product?
MW: A tough question, as I like so many! I would have to say my favorite is probably always the most recent one to launch…in this case Refreshers™! This new beverage offers a unique innovation for a cold beverage made from green coffee extract! Very refreshing and crave-able. I must drink at least two
Grande refreshers a day from our internal Starbucks store! Awesome!
The CIE Phase 2 report focuses on how Performance Metrics, Process and Stages Used, Governance and Gatekeeping Approaches and Collaboration play in product success. The study is available to members and non-members and is applicable to any level of innovation sophistication. Order TODAY!