Modern Innovation Challenges
Bringing innovative products to market faster than competitors is difficult. Doing it again and again, year after year, is very challenging indeed. And many organizations struggle—especially when combining ideas into a steady stream of profitable innovations that generate real customer value.
So how can organizations deliver a repeatable stream of business innovation while not missing critical stages of activity and avoiding common “drop points”? Gartner found the answer is to define a process that contains three core stages: generating ideas, evaluating ideas and realizing the value of innovation.
Successful Innovation Process
Before taking direct action it is important for companies to remember that innovation is a process to achieve an important outcome — it is not an end unto itself. Successful innovation requires a clear and valued purpose against which to innovate. To begin the journey toward effective innovation, company leaders need to work with business partners to define the business goals for innovation and to establish what success looks like.
Common areas where organizations should aim to improve their innovation abilities include:
Organizations may want to increase the level of ambition of their innovation. They may be successful at small-scale, incremental innovation, but want to establish ways to generate and pursue bold ideas and manage the accompanying risks.
Most organizations have some level of innovation success, but it may be occasional and ad hoc. To improve the predictability, frequency and quantity of successful innovation, organizations may aim to become more deliberate in generating a pipeline of ongoing innovation through a repeatable innovation process.
A common pitfall of innovation projects is that they lose momentum after the first flush of enthusiastic prototyping. Projects become delayed due to funding, approval, handover, scaling or other issues associated with force-fitting innovation into traditional processes with long cycle times. A common objective is to speed up the pace of innovation, particularly in terms of increasing the speed of decision making about whether to invest further or not.
Somewhat orthogonal to the three other areas, many organizations decide that they want to be more inclusive in their approach to innovation (rather than, or in addition to, having full-time innovation specialists). This includes internal innovation initiatives to improve the “culture of innovation” as well as the desire to open up to external partnerships.
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Strategic Innovation Goals
Another consideration is that business and innovation goals need to be specific enough that success can be measured. Many innovation initiatives are launched with vague goals, such as “our CEO wants us to innovate more” or “we want a culture of innovation.” While these may be worthy goals, they are not specific enough to guide innovation planning. Innovation leaders need to determine which aspects of the business are targets for innovation and what successful business outcomes look like.
Is the goal to create new, industry-changing business models, to launch a customer-centric innovation competency, or to improve a specific business process? Would cost savings of $300,000 be a great outcome, or are you looking for the next billion-dollar revenue opportunity? For the innovation goals, is it okay to lock three smart people in a room until they come up with a big idea, or is the goal to involve more employees in innovation activities? Will you achieve your business goals through internal innovation activities, or do you need to develop an ecosystem of external contributors? Specific goals support the creation of relevant metrics that allow progress and results to be measured.
The 6 Steps to Driving Business Innovation
In order to drive innovation and strategic business change, companies should take these six steps:
- Create or adopt an innovation process that embodies just enough formality to meet business and innovation goals. Local, incremental innovation may need just a lightweight process to make sure ideas move forward, whereas new products and business models require a process with defined governance and significant levels of evaluation.
- Align your process with your approach to innovation: trigger-centric (driven by technologies, trends or other external inspiration), problem-centric (targeting a specific business issue or opportunity) or solution-centric (solutions driven by passionate individuals or intrapreneurs). For multiple approaches, you may need more than one process, or multiple paths within a single overarching process.
- Ensure that critical stages of activity along the path to successful innovation are not being neglected. For example, without the capacity to run experiments and evaluation projects, innovation will inevitably be limited to ultra-safe ideas that are very likely to work but unlikely to generate significant impact.
- Identify common “drop points” along the process. Common points of failure that can impede the flow of innovation include collecting ideas that can’t find a home, and demonstrating a proof of concept that everybody likes but that doesn’t win a place over competing priorities.
- Examine the effectiveness of each stage to make sure it is supporting the goals of the innovation program. For example, promising ideas may be thrown out because the evaluation criteria are not well-aligned with the overall goals.
- Explore alternative approaches to fulfill each stage. If an innovation portal isn’t generating the right kind of ideas, a company without an understanding of the innovation process might feel that “innovation isn’t working” rather than recognizing that a different approach such as a hackathon or “shark tank” might surface the types of idea it needs.
In some cases, it may make sense to include multiple approaches within a single process flow, particularly if the results converge at some point. On the other hand, it may be more effective to create different processes for different outcomes (such as for incremental vs. transformational innovation).
Ultimately companies will realize successful business innovation if they prime organizational units for the innovation process, set clear and measurable goals for evaluating results and follow the six steps we’ve highlighted above.