How to Manage An Innovation Program
Fueled by the success of disrupting technology and innovative startups, organizations of all sizes and from vastly different industries are jumping on the innovation bandwagon. Most commonly, organizations that haven’t viewed innovation as a strategic imperative seem to be at a loss as how to roll out “innovation.” Badly defined innovation programs are doomed to fail. For some organizations innovation is ideation or simply brainstorming. Even if new ideas are formulated, they have no idea how to move forward. Like everything that involves humans, innovation is a process that should be introduced and managed as a defined process.
Common issues with implementing new innovation function in already established organizations include failure to integrate innovation into the business’ existing strategy, and a culture mismatch between the function and the rest of the business. An innovation roll out should be within a framework that combines standard strategic planning with enough engagement of stakeholders including internal teams, and customer advisory groups.
There are many ways to frame an innovation program, but here is one example of a framework for a new innovation program:
Definition of goals
Working with the executive team, the innovation leader clearly articulates the objectives of the lab or program (strategy, revenue, adding capability, PR, etc.) and maps out how they will support the organization’s strategy. The innovation leader adjusts the objectives with executive partners regularly to ensure alignment with the rest of the organization. For each objective, there is a well defined set of metrics and goals to quantify the progress of the overall program.
Formalization of roles and responsibilities
The innovation leader puts together a governance team (e.g., steering committee, advisory committee) that provides guidance for the innovation program, ensuring collaboration of all stakeholders. Initially, the governance team meets as major milestones in the process are completed (e.g., prioritization of initiatives, proof-of-concept completion, change in objectives/priorities). As the innovation function process matures and a portfolio of initiatives are running in parallel, the governance team meets regularly.
Formation of a working group
Whether the program has its own dedicated staff, or borrows resources from existing teams, the organization assigns a working group that forms the core of the innovation program. The make up of the working group depends on the kind of company, but it should include key people throughout the organization to garner organizational respect.
Definition of problems, not symptoms
Killer ideas won’t develop until problems to “tackle” are defined. The innovation leader, along with the working group, holds interviews with individuals, have discussions with groups, and perform (or obtain) research to identify problems and pain-points that might be candidates for resolution through innovation. The team performs causal analysis of potential problems to tackle to ensure that the root of problems rather than just symptoms are identified. As in any problem-solving process, the team analyzes problems identified, in conjunction with performing SWOT and market analysis, and complete a draft prioritization.
The innovation lab shares prioritization with the governance team to gain agreement on moving to the next step. After the initial phase of the innovation program, the team continues to have “discovery” interviews, group discussions, and perform research to keep the list of problems up-to-date and reprioritized.
A well defined problem statement leads to many possible solutions. Once candidate problems are identified, the team holds working sessions or group discussions with internal and external stakeholders to define possible solutions to the identified problems.
There are many methods one can use to arrive at possible solutions. For example, I have seen the KJ-Method work many times. However, an organization should examine which approach makes the most sense for their team. These sessions will result in draft solutions that may only include rough drafts that the innovation team will develop further in later steps.
Drafting of plans
The working team examines solutions produced during ideation and develop a plan with the help of the appropriate partners in areas such as product, development, and other applicable areas (which could change based on the recommendation). The plan includes proof-of-concept (POC) and resource requirements, a timeline, business metrics, initiative roles and responsibilities, change control plans, and a guiding organization.
The innovation leader presents any plans for a new POC or prototype to the governance team. After gaining agreement, the innovation leader works with partners to assemble the team and oversee project management including technical design and development of prototype, testing, and gap analysis against estimates. At completion of the POC, the innovation leader shares results with the governance team and other stakeholders, if appropriate. The review includes a performance of the POC against metrics, and an updated business case. The governance team evaluates the outcome of the POC and decide whether to end, continue, or amend it.
Planing for a full development of solution
Upon reaching a decision to move forward to a full roll-out of the solution, the innovation leader works together with the appropriate executives and the project team to develop a plan to scale-up the prototype. The appropriate product development teams take a lead in the completion of the development.
A framework like the one described should be iterative and evolve with time, but the basic steps should remain.
Inspiration alone does not make up the process of innovation, and businesses should execute innovations as they would any other process within the organization. The popular myth is that innovation is about the “Eureka!” moment. Innovation doesn’t just happen. Thomas Edison tested 6,000 different kind of filaments on his way to invent the commercially viable home light bulb. His many innovations were the result of painstaking processes, and not just inspiration. Organizations should take that into consideration when setting up innovation labs, and not just name someone their innovation czar and hope that inspiration strikes. We are well served to remember that great innovations are the result of painstaking processes that started with inspiration.