What's the Best Innovation Process to Organize Innovation Management Activities?
Since innovation became a corporate buzzword in recent times, interpretations of the term have drifted increasingly far from the truth. As a result, business academics have been battling to communicate the true meaning of innovation, that is, the realization of ideas.
But ideas don't materialize of their own accord, they require well-defined processes through which they can be channelled. And that process doesn't stop at ideation, in fact, that's just the beginning.
Running ideas through a process is necessary for bringing them to life as quickly as possible. But should you use the same process for all types of ideas? In this article, we'll explore innovation processes in more detail and how to choose the best process for different ideas.
What is an innovation process?
Before we decide the best process for different types of ideas, let's first define what we're talking about. All corporate functions—whether that be sales, marketing or recruitment—employ processes to obtain results as quickly and efficiently as possible.
An innovation process can be defined as:
“A systematic approach for capturing, validating, incubating and implementing new ideas.”
Most processes have an identifiable input and desired output. A process resembles the series of tasks and actions that are performed to derive value from the inputted source as effectively as possible. Let's look at recruitment as an example.
When a position needs to be filled, a process must be performed to find and onboard a candidate. To begin, some form of input is needed, in this case, that might be a list of resumes and referenced candidates who are interested in the position.
To reliably make sense of these candidates and ultimately land on the best fit, a series of tasks must be performed such as screening and shortlisting, interviews, assessments and tests, evaluations and finally employment. Once the candidates have passed all of these touchpoints, an offer can be made. In this scenario, a successful candidate represents our output.
Innovation processes work in much the same way. This is why it's important to treat innovation as an independent organizational function so that dedicated processes can be assigned to different ideas: you also use different steps and criteria for hiring people for distinct organizational functions. And just like traditional departments, innovation processes require regular improvement and streamlining to ensure that you extract maximum efficiency from your endeavors.
These processes exist to maximize your return on innovation and ensure game-changing ideas aren't lost or forgotten, which is exactly what happens when innovation is considered a low priority. Sure, most organizations do a great job of capturing ideas, that's the easy part, but dedicated processes are needed to take these ideas further.
What kinds of tasks are involved in innovation processes?
As previously discussed, processes are comprised of a series of tasks and actions. When an input source—in the case of innovation, an idea—enters a process, it moves through a series of touchpoints before being outputted as a fully-implemented idea. Some of the typical tasks that you'll find in an innovation process include:
The Discover phase entails finding insights and inspiration that support but also influence your innovation strategy. This task is all about uncovering weak signals that are affecting your growth or profitability. Think about the core issues your organization is currently facing and assign a level of urgency to them.
Making this activity open to everyone is a great way for management to uncover pain points they may otherwise have overlooked. With so many moving parts, it stands to reason that managers often fail to sympathise with issues employees are facing, for example. As you tap into both internal and external sources, you'll likely uncover problems taking place across your network. This could be recurring employee disagreements, customer experience issues or rising threats from competitors.
Not many companies overlook idea generation as part of the innovation process, but assigning it as a dedicated task enables you to gather stronger ideas faster.
The most effective way of capturing ideas is by opening idea-generation tasks to as many people as possible, allowing you to tap into extended knowledge sources and enabling people to build on the ideas of others. By including different cultures, backgrounds and ages in your idea generation tasks, you can access more diverse thinking methods and find promising solutions more quickly.
Assessing and selecting which ideas should move forward is no easy task. When dealing with something new, we can never know for sure which solutions are most likely to succeed. To accurately validate an idea, you'll need to implement a suitable framework that enables you to profile and evaluate ideas with confidence.
By adapting your selection process for different types of ideas, you can start prioritizing your investments based on their potential rather than their popularity. Opening this activity to multiple sources, especially those directly affected by the challenge in question, helps you to answer these questions more accurately.
Being able to test ideas quickly and cheaply is the key to building a positive return on innovation. Naturally, there's no way of predicting the success of an idea for certain, but you can provide your teams with the appropriate tools, process and structure to help them experiment and capture learnings at startup speed and with less expense.
At this point, you want to improve your chances of success by obtaining qualifiable and quantifiable answers. To do this, you'll need to start asking serious questions. What happens if you're wrong? Is there any evidence that this idea will work? What are the risks? Answering these questions as accurately as possible goes a long way toward ascertaining an idea's viability.
After deeming an idea plausible, it's time to take it to the finish line. There's no guarantee that all ideas will turn out to be a success. The more difficult the challenge is, the less likely you are to succeed the first time. But therein lies the importance of applying a repeatable process to innovation, for you'll find yourself going back to the drawing board on more than one occasion.
Learn to adjust funding based on progress and potential value (metered funding), and kill failing projects to free up resources for ideas that keep showing promise.
How many innovation processes do you need?
We'd all love to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to our innovation processes. But using a single innovation process to manage all your company's ideas will probably do more harm than good unless all your ideas have the same goal. Imagine using the same people, criteria and steps used for developing a new product offering to address an idea to cut down the time of a process by 10%.
These are two distinct challenges that require distinct processes with unique tasks and actions. Therefore, it's necessary to implement a variety of innovation processes to manage the different innovation types included in your strategy.
How to choose the best processes for different types of ideas
If you put all of your ideas through the same process they'll start to pull in different directions, effectively crippling your innovation strategy. This is because not all ideas are cut from the same cloth, they require tailormade processes so that they can move through all touchpoints without inhibiting one another. Things like resource allocation, budgets and market demand will dictate which process you choose to manage that idea.
So what considerations must you make when choosing appropriate processes for different types of ideas?
The level of uncertainty dictates your approach going forward
The process you choose to manage an idea is influenced by its feasibility. Imagine you're working with an idea for a new product or service that could double your turnover. You might ask questions like what's its potential success rate? What's the level of uncertainty? How easy is it to bring this idea to life?
The impact this idea could have, the timeframe within which it can be realized and its likelihood to succeed greatly impacts the process through which it must be run. Ideas like this one—where success is less certain—must adopt an iterative and incremental approach. There are many variations of methodologies available for innovations such as this including Customer Validation, Business Model Generation, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Discovery-driven planning, Jobs to be Done, Customer Development and Value Proposition Design. But the generic approach is as follows:
Validate: To validate ideas reliably, a discovery team must be allocated that is responsible for exploring ideas and assessing them for feasibility. These teams require a shared workspace wherein they can manage their idea development work. Here, the team can gather the most promising ideas and address any underlying assumptions.
Experiment: Experiments can be MVPs, prototypes, customer interviews, etc, that help you find out if the idea is worth realising. At the end of each experiment, the team will discuss what was learned, what was surprising, and propose a way forward to the innovation manager. There's no risk-free approach to innovation. But by conducting experiments your teams can keep an eye on what can go wrong and devise a plan to address the risks.
Learn: Once an idea reaches implementation, the opportunity arises to monitor its progress and assess whether or not it was a success. As you realize more ideas, you'll learn which experiments work best for predicting the success of an innovation.
Now imagine an idea that plans to make a small improvement to an existing product that would yield negligible results. Your approach to this idea is going to be very different. For ideas where there is a basis for continuity and where only minor improvements are being made, it's possible to adopt a more conventional approach such as a linear stage-gate process. Despite receiving criticism, stage-gate processes are useful for ideas aimed at generating small improvements whenever the level of uncertainty is low.
Manage all your ideas in one place
Many project management tools are restrictive, forcing us to extract as much functionality from them as possible until they clog up and deliver catastrophic results.
InnovationCast is the only innovation management software that enables you to allocate tailor-made processes to a range of ideas. If you'd like to learn more about how InnovationCast can help you achieve your innovation goals, schedule a demo today.