Innovation's Last Five Yards

by Paul Hobcraft

It seems so simple doesn’t it – “bringing final ideas to market”. So easy to say, yet it does seem so very hard to achieve.

Everything we should be aiming towards boils down to the judgement of a ‘successful execution’ or not. It is this last, hard five yards of all the work that went into something, which can make or break so much of the efforts that have gone into this emerging ‘commercial life’ of our new innovation activities.

We should regard the back-end of innovation as the rugged part

I love the association of the “fuzzy front end” with ideas, brainstorming and all those creative energies bringing ideas to life, but sadly unless that final ‘rugged terrain’ at the back-end is not travelled, we never see the innovation come to life in the market place.

To travel the final ‘rugged terrain’ of innovation execution I believe requires fortitude, stamina, belief, a healthy dose of courage and as much commitment from the whole organization engaged in the innovation process as any ‘front end’ or driving it through the pipeline, yet we often fail to recognize that.

Yet resources seem to be peeled away when we get to the final Execution

Resources get pulled away, repositioned back at the front or in the middle to push others through the pipeline, leaving a dwindling, sometimes scarce resource to push that last five yards. The R&D group feel their role is complete, the new development team finalize the official ‘hand over’ and the leadership for development and growth begins to get distracted away to push more through the pipeline, taking experienced resources with them. Suddenly it is down to a small team to tackle this execution stage and all it means.

Dealing with many conflicting internal wants and needs is complex

When you get into the final stages you really have to take into account all the individual demands such as “why my country is special”, or “we can’t agree the final selling price due to a different market (evolution)” or “our major client cycle for approval is not for another six months” or the final design disappoints when you are well passed the discussion stage, all can drive you ‘up the wall’ but need carefully handling. Effective execution gets very complicated and the skill of the project coordinator comes really to the fore.

You can suddenly you become ‘stretched’ in catering to those often conflicting needs if you have not constantly engaged or consulted. If you leave these essential conversations late in the development process as you look around for additional help there seems a lack of clear leadership on who determines final execution, it seems to have gone ‘missing in action’.

It becomes tough and complicated to execute well, you sense a feeling of growing exposure and increasing frustrations. The great idea within the product might remain but the execution pains undermine much of the pleasure or sense of satisfaction.

Engage early but be crystal clear on what can be accommodated and what can’t. Get all stakeholders involved but seek the clarity of the ‘red lines’ from the senior person responsible and be prepared to escalate issues up the decision chain for the earliest resolution as you can

So what is needed at the execution end?

There are a number of thoughts here but three big ones stand out for me:

1). An overriding bias for action, irrespective of the challenge, problem or issue to be resolved – don’t let it fester. Take them head on. Keep the execution pedal flat to the floor, so others understand the sense of commitment and personal passion. Let it become infectious, in a positive way.

2) Really tap into all the knowledge out there in the market place, face the client, sell the product, explain the story, hone that value proposition and keep ‘pivoting’ until you get it right. You unblock the roadblocks, you unlock the mind, and you change the dynamics.

3) No pathway of execution is smooth; it is a rough and rugged road. Recognizing and valuing any breakthrough solutions to move them forward is critical. Forward momentum in any execution plan is essential; as issues come in (and sure they will) you will meet them with a commitment and passion to get them resolved. You offer the ‘waves of support’ to others.

Standing in the deployment zone focused simply on ‘executing away’

Offer true leadership that is leading from the front. Be ready to set and live the expectations; you define the critical deliverables, establish accountability and resolve the conflicts quickly. You influence and install the metrics that are execution specific.

You actively seek commitments from the wider team of stakeholders, vested in a good result. You never forget to share all the news, both the good and the bad parts, of the progress back into the organization.

You set out clearly to communicate accurately and frequently, keeping on top of issues, breaking down problems, reaching back into the organization for help when help is needed. You offer true execution leadership, from the front.

Those known to be good execution people are a valuable resource, they bring the results in and that is highly prized as so few have the resolve or ability to do this.

Remember new innovations replace something of the existing, build on it.

Innovation does not stop when it goes out of the organizations doors, it actually only just begins, and it has to prove itself, it needs to justify all the hard work that went into it. It got to here because it was seen as worthwhile, expected to make a contribution.

To make innovation work, it is only when it is in the market place – judged by customers sufficiently enough to stump up their cash – that we have a successful innovation.

Organizations are constantly lamenting their lack of implementation capabilities.

To get to this point, is often travelling over some rough, tough terrain and the more you are exposed, the more you learn, really learn, and that is invaluable. When you execute you need to deploy a significant skill set and dedicated resource to bring home the results.

Go blaze the path as you are actually making and leading the changes. It is how you set about the execution of innovation that will separate you from the pack. Good execution skills are highly valued and separate you from the majority if these are ‘honed’ and developed well. The real winner pushes the hardest over that last five yards.

This blog post was originally written on behalf of Hype and with their permission I have republished here.

image credit: John Martinez Pavliga

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Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities. Find him @paul4innovating

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