Innovation is the key to growth for every organization. But nothing happens without an idea management process in place. Just look at this list of the most innovative companies in the world from Forbes. Each one has a clear innovation strategy that informs what they will invest in for the future.
Whether it’s something small, like a process improvement, or launching a new product to the market, innovation is intentional. Otherwise, there are a bunch of great ideas and nothing happens.
Ever hear this at your company?
“We need to innovate.”
“We have smart people – why can’t we come up with good ideas?”
“Why are we I doing this? How is this helping the organization?”
“What’s the big picture? How are we involved?”
It identifies a potentially serious business problem – but not one that isn’t solvable. These comments are indicators that your organization is having trouble with ideation. But don’t lose heart. It’s also an opportunity to grow, and since people are asking these questions, you likely have a culture that is ready to make that change. You just need a method to seize the inspiration.
Advice from innovative organizations
In addition to a clear strategy, a successful innovation process requires following a few basic steps. We gathered input from some of the largest and most well-respected organizations like the US Army, AT&T, EMC and Merck, here is a list of recommended steps to follow to effectively transform your company from spectator to innovator.
- Cast a wide net:
Good ideas can come from anywhere in your organization at any time. Your customers, employees, and partners each have a unique perspective to tap into. When you can leverage all these “eyes and ears,” you’re no longer relegated to only soliciting ideas from those in your immediate circle, who likely share similar views and perspectives. Provide the ability for ANYONE in the company to suggest an idea and make the submission process as accessible, easy and quick as possible.
- Triage ideas quickly:
People like feedback. They want to know what you thought of their idea. Was it a good one? Do you need them to elaborate? Do you understand the value and benefit? Frequent reviews and rapid confirmation of the submission sends a clear message that your employees’ ideas are important and vital.This does not mean you have to incorporate all of them! It just means the process isn’t just another “suggestion box” where ideas disappear into a black hole. When word gets around, people will realize that their input is valued and this realization will spark more and better ideas.To make this process more seamless and manageable, break ideas into distinct categories and have different individuals or teams responsible for review.
- Don’t let the wolf guard the hen house:
Once the ideas have been triaged and the “cream has risen to the top,” you need a mechanism to compare each idea in a consistent way against each other. The best approach here is to create an objective evaluation system that takes all the important factors into account and outputs a weighted score for comparison. Is this something we’ve done before? Can we reuse it? Does it have executive buy-in? How long will it take? How well is this aligned with our strategies? Don’t let the evaluators determine the score (e.g. “I think this is an 80 and that is a 60”) and certainly don’t let the submitter or their colleague score their idea.
- Reprioritize often…but not too often:
Once your best ideas are chosen, you need to see how they compare to your active projects. In most organizations without tools to automate a real-time assessment, the exercise becomes very time consuming and highly inaccurate. This is why many companies wait for year-end to evaluate current versus future project plans. Instead, use software to look at provides this information in real-time — automatically. You can run a search for something like, “Show me my active project by net present value, budget and total resource hours and overlay that with my top ideas.” Once you can have this information at the tip of your fingers, it’s truly empowering! But be warned: people are human, with their own goals and objectives. They become committed to an effort and build momentum. While it’s easy to put a project on hold or cancel it outright, it’s important to consider the human element to it. It’s best to establish and communicate your idea evaluation cycle to properly set expectations.
- Don’t be afraid to take action:
Sometimes we lose sight of what a team is working on. They’re just trudging along and reporting progress and things look like they’re moving forward. But keep focused on the big picture. If a project has gone “rogue,” (e.g., massively off track, over budget or under scoped) it’s time to take action. If warranted, don’t be afraid to “drop the hammer,” but be sensitive to the team. They’ve invested time and effort and likely want to see an outcome, even though it’s changed so much since they began. Instead of canceling the project outright, put it “on hold” and involve the team in their reassignment to existing (and higher priority) or new and more strategic (and more likely to succeed) projects.
- Create a transparent environment:
Let people know how their contribution directly helps the organization. The best way to do this is to start with a set of well-defined strategic objectives or goals. These goals should be set at the top levels of the organization. Then make it your job to let everyone know what they are.Once you’ve done this, review every project and portfolio and try to figure out how each one aligns with at least one corporate goal. Does it really, or is it a stretch? (If it’s a stretch, go back to # 5). Let the team know how their project is helping move the company forward. And try to track the metrics generated by that project and its direct impact on that goal. Are customers happier as a result of that new service? Does it take less time to process an order? Have we introduced a new product that’s having a big impact on sales? Let the team know.
The effects of these guidelines will be widespread: more engaged teams, more enthusiasm across the groups involved and customers who know that you’re listening to them.
And those are all very good things.
Take advantage of innovation
A structured project and portfolio-oriented approach will give you the support you need to effectively plan, manage and optimize new product launch with the ability to prioritize the most profitable projects, accelerate time-to-market, improve budgetary control and most importantly: deliver a successful product launch.
This 30-minute webinar, PowerSteering for New Product Development, is geared to organizations looking to accelerate delivery and improve quality of their product launch initiatives. Watch on demand to learn how to:
- Align your product portfolio with strategic priorities and budgets
- Improve resource allocation
- Leverage product development best practices
- Expand product launch capacity and make speed your competitive advantage
- Create a sustainable pace of innovation