Prepare to Innovate Faster

Published by Grahame Cox on

“Innovate or Die” used to be the mantra. Now its “Innovate Fast or Die”. If you are an in-company innovator, you’ll need to do some ‘groundwork’ to prepare your business to innovate at speed.

If you are an in-company innovator, whether you are about to start an innovation Sprint, or going into an ideation session, there are a few critical steps you can take to make sure that once you have your ideas, you can turn your ideas into reality at speed.

Step One: Get the Board on Board. If you don’t have the key decision-makers in your business on your side, engaged and committed to the time, effort and money required to deliver innovation then don’t pass ‘Go’. You’ll simply be wasting your time and the business’s money. So, before you even think about the next steps, work hard to find a way to get this commitment to your venture.

Step Two: Get into ‘Politics’. Once you have the Board on Board, you’ll need to identify the other key stakeholders in your innovation venture. Who are the supporters of innovation? Who can make things happen for you, and who can be a ‘blocker’? Some people are threatened by innovation (What happens to my job if you are successful? Why aren’t I running this project? If this project goes ahead it will make my job more difficult. These are just a few of the grumblings I’ve heard (either directly or indirectly) in the course of the many projects I’ve run) and can, either deliberately or without really being aware of it it, can become blockers. Understand where the road blocks are, and work with your supporters to avoid, or break them down. One of the joys of innovation is that it touches every part of the organisation. And that’s one of it’s frustration. The best in-company innovators are good ‘politicians and take time to engage all, or at least most, project stakeholders before moving to execution

Step Three: Build an Innovation Strategy. Agreeing whereyou are going to innovate, how you are going to compete and where you have the ‘right to win’ (i.e. where you have an identified advantage over your competitors) are just a few of the important aspects of an innovation strategy. What part does innovation play in your overall corporate strategy? What are the success criteria the organisation has set out for innovation projects? In my strategy work, we also look to identify ‘the big problems’ your organisation is uniquely capable of providing a solution to, and therefore which provide the most fertile ground for your innovation efforts.

You can, and I have, work all of this out in the first phase of the Sprint, or take some extra time in your ideation session to do this, but my personal belief is that its dangerous to fast track strategy development. The outputs of a strategy are so fundamental to your ultimate success that it deserves and needs time to develop the right level of thinking. The strategy is also a fundamental tool to be used to engage your stakeholders in the previous two steps. Once it’s ‘signed off’, it’ll make decisions at later stages in your project much easier to make at speed

Step Four: Build an Innovation Process. This one normally strikes fear into the heart of the ‘agile advocates’. They see ‘process’ as the enemy of speed. I beg to differ. I see process as an essential component of speed. The problem arises in thinking that an innovation process has to be full of documents to complete, gate meetings to attend and for some businesses, this is the case. Their decision-making processes demand a level of ‘rigour’ that would be considered bureaucratic by others. Neither approach is right or wrong. A good innovation process simply reflects ‘how we make decisions around here’. If more meetings or documents are needed, then as an innovator you need to be aware that that’s the case, be aware of what needs to happen, and when, to find the fastest way through the process. By all means challenge. When I work on innovation process with clients I always look to ‘lean’ the process. Which stages are essential, the ‘must haves’. How many of the ‘nice to haves’ can be eliminated. Whilst ‘asking for forgiveness, rather than permission’ may sound attractive, I’ve rarely found it to be a successful strategy. Remember, just as ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, so it eats innovation projects!

Step Five: Build Your Team and It’s Resources. It turns out that teamwork and collaboration is the #1 determinant of innovation success. Have a read of McKinsey’s article How to Make Sure Your Next Product or Service Launch Drives Growth. Having a diverse skillset in your team is likely to enhance innovation success, driving a wider variety of potential solutions to the ‘problems’ your strategy identified. Having a diverse set of life experiences, cultures and ages will do the same. Our natural inclination to like to work with people like us which means that when selecting your team you need to make sure it isn’t too ‘alike’.

What type of people do you need in your team? Where are they coming from? Are they available now? If not, can you wait or do you need to find alternatives? How much budget? Who holds the budget? Is your team 100% dedicated to the project? If not, how are you going to manage the perennial problem of team members being dragged back into ‘more important day-job’ when issues arise, delaying projects and the work of the rest of your team. Recruiting your team in advance means all of these decisions have already been made, helping you focus on execution from the moment you start the project.

Whilst you may be impatient to ‘just get going’, I’ve seen too many projects grind to a halt because the above issues haven’t been put to bed in advance of ideation. If you want to be agile, to innovate at speed, I strongly recommend you focus on the ‘groundwork’ of innovation – the payback on your efforts will be huge. And if you want some help, give me a call!!