With the growing popularity of innovation initiatives, ever more companies are launching their own actions. However, many are going forward in a piecemeal fashion, running a brainstorming event here, trying out an ideas campaign there and promoting innovation in vague ways in marketing communications. Such an approach works, somewhat, but it is not ideal.
The best approach is to have a comprehensive innovation process management (IPM) structure that treats innovation as a series of cycles that run within a grand, enterprise innovation process cycle.
The Innovation Process Cycle
An innovation process cycle combines creative problem solving (CPS) with scientific peer review evaluation and some typical business tools.
The cycle starts with a problem or goal which needs to be formulated into an innovation challenge. Once this is done, the challenge is presented to the problem solving group. This may be done in the form of a brainstorming event, ideas campaign or other activity. The group problem solving group may be a team, all employees in the firm, the public or any other group of people.
In order to maximize the creative potential of the problem solving group, the idea generation activity should be collaborative in nature. This can be accomplished in many ways. Idea management and innovation process management software often provides on-line collaboration tools, while facilitators of brainstorming and other ideation events should promote collaborative idea development.
Because an innovation process cycle starts with a challenge, ideas tend to be interrelated and many are complementary. Hence, before going further, it is best to combine such complementary ideas into larger, more sophisticated ideas so that they can be handled as a single package. This makes the next steps in the cycle more efficient.
Scientific Peer Review Evaluation
Here is where a lot of innovation initiatives break down: choosing the best ideas. Many poorly thought out approaches use voting, which is a good way to identify the most popular idea, but an appallingly ineffective method for identifying the most potentially innovative idea. I have also seen organizations put a great deal of effort into idea generation, leaving the final decision to a manager who basically picks out her favorite idea. Assuming the manager has suitable business expertise, such an approach is better than voting – as it is based on expertise rather than popularity – but it is typically far from perfect.
The scientific approach of peer review by expert, on the other hand, is ideally suited for identifying the most promising ideas in a cycle. Instead of basing selection on popularity (can you imagine Einstein sending his special theory of relativity to the public for a vote in order to determine its validity?) or the whim of a manager, you apply a set of business criteria to the idea and rank how well the idea meets each criterion. If an idea achieves a sufficiently high ranking, either as is or through additional modification, it should be developed further.
Testing and Development
Ideas identified as being potential innovations are now ready to be tested and developed. Here is where typical business tools come in useful. A business case is a useful means of hypothetically implementing an innovative idea and projecting the potential results. Of course it is not perfect, but it indicates possible issues in the implementation of the idea, as well as benefits that may not have been obvious to the original idea developers.
Prototypes are an excellent means for testing ideas. Not only do they allow you, your colleagues, customers and others to see how an idea would actually look in implementation, but building and playing with a prototype is a good method of further improving upon the core idea. Prototypes are, of course, ideally suited towards material ideas such as new products. But more abstract ideas, such as new services, process improvements and other concepts can often be prototyped through role-play, building structural models and making diagrams.
Ideas that make it through testing and development are ready to be implemented. Unless the idea is a radical change from your usual activities, you don’t need me to tell you how to do this!
Once ideas have been implemented, they need to be reviewed, probably against an ongoing series of milestones. If an implementation does not achieve a milestone, it needs to modified or killed. Moreover, even the most spectacularly effective and profitable breakthrough innovations need to be improved on a regular basis.
New Needs and Inspiration
Hence, reviewing the implementation of new ideas should indicate new needs which can be transformed into challenges which, in turn, start a new innovation process cycle. Likewise, implementations can inspire new corporate goals. Again, these can be turned into new challenges and new cycles.
Integrated Innovation Process Management
An innovative company, however, should not have a single innovation process cycle in operation. Rather it should have many of them! Large cycles are suitable for enterprise-wide innovation. Meanwhile, business units can run somewhat smaller innovation process cycles in order to manage their own ideas (although it should be noted, collaborative groups need not be limited to employees of that business unit). Teams, departments and any other group can also run their own innovation process cycles.
However, these innovation process cycles should not be in isolation. Rather they should inspire and feed other cycles elsewhere in the organization. For instance, the implementation of a new product idea should inspire innovation cycles in the marketing, sales and customer service divisions as well as at the enterprise level.
Managers should watch their colleagues’ innovation process cycles and ruthlessly copy ideas as inspirations for their own cycles.
The Result: a Highly Innovative Organization
By applying innovation process management across your entire organization, you can transform it into one which is innovation driven. And that is a sure way to keep well ahead of the competition, survive this financial crisis and make your firm a great place to work. Is there anything more you could possibly want from work?
There are many innovation process management web applications you can use to manage your innovation process. Ours helps you set up and run ideas campaigns that might include your entire workforce, the general public or specific teams. It provides evaluation tools that help you determine with scientific accuracy which ideas hold the greatest potential value and facilitates the move from idea to implementation.
If you are responsible for innovation in a medium to large firm, you should definitely have an innovation process management system! You’ll find it makes your work much easier!
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of jpb.com, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.jpb.com/