Saturday, June 17, 2017

Take an Evolutionary Approach to Manage Innovation

From idea generation to innovation implementation, plan, do, check, act, and measure are not linear steps, but an iterative continuum.

At the static industrial age, most organizations are focusing on improving margins by reducing the bottom-line cost rather than the top-line growth. For those organizations, innovations are still serendipitous. However, with the increasing speed of changes and continuous digital disruptions, businesses today face fiery competitions and rapid digital shift either technologically or economically, innovation is no longer “nice to have,” but must have differentiated business capability. So, serendipity can be planned into innovation management. Forward-looking organizations take an evolutionary approach to manage innovation in a structural way.

Defined the problem: When you put the right question, you already did half job: Innovation is never for its own sake, it is either for problem-solving or customer delight. There is as much creative thinking that goes into problem identification as solution discovering. However, energy usually gets focused on problem-solving, and a realization becomes a rush where thoughtfulness about people and processes is a casualty of time. Having brainstorm helps problem identification to avoid “solving the wrong problem” symptom. For every innovation initiative, you work closely with customers to articulate their important needs; define the most compelling and unique approach to addressing their needs; asking thought-provoking questions, recognizing the interconnections of things belonging to a system, and solve the problem innovatively and holistically. Innovation management is about creating a framework within which the journey between the defined problem (framing questions) and the proposed solutions (discovering answers) is clearly articulated (logical steps, assumptions, facts vs. opinions, symptoms vs. root cause, etc.) Digital innovation management is a multi-stepped process that includes both problem resolution and solution implementation. All stages must be handled with attention and proficiency to ensure the business's long-term success.

Ensure ideas were heard - not slapped down. Keep ideas flow with a wave pattern of expanding and consolidating ideas: Innovation management starts with idea management.  You need to make sure, that your company has a steady flow of fresh ideas floating in your innovation pipeline, and, therefore, you need a methodological collaboration platform that allows you to do that. In highly creative organizations, people are encouraged and given the time resources to work on new things that excite them, all are required to produce new ideas, or discover the alternative ways to do things. The incentive will increase the willingness of employees to contribute the ideas or improve the innovation management system. It doesn't mean though that it will increase the volume of ideas that are available to be collected. The process to support the creation of sustainable, systematic innovation can be structured, but innovation per se, is like composing a symphony, a lot of planning, but the music will come from the musicians, not the conductor.

Tight time pressure, stretch up, but not stress out, create a sense of urgency: Although not all changes are innovation, innovation is the change. Hence, innovation managers should create a sense of urgency to stretch up, motivate the team to achieve higher goals. It is not as easy to provide a combination approach (both creating a sense of urgency and taking the time to ride the innovation curve). The more complex the problem is, the more complex the innovation solution could be. There is a delicate balance of breaking down the overly rigid structure to experiment and tuning efficient processes for managing innovation. In fact, the balance of efficiency and innovation is the most challenging continuity regardless of the emphasis. An ambidextrous organization can improve efficiency as well as practice innovation effectively, they separate the exploitation of the existing methods and technologies from the exploration of the new radical or potentially disruptive innovation. A good innovation management approach stretches up, but not stresses out, it is underpinned by key elements of business such as processes, technologies, people, etc., for achieving the long-term business prosperity.

Build an innovation system with living and Iterative processes: Digital innovation has expanded spectrum, with hard innovations such as products/services/solutions/business models innovations, and soft innovations such as leadership/management/culture/communication innovations. There are breakthrough innovation, evolutionary innovation, and incremental innovation as well. Try making improvements in their workflow, within a system can achieve innovation based on continuous improvement. Innovation like most aspects of learning is best started with small frequent improvements within any organization. Innovation needs to become a “living process," with frequent evaluations, listening, and revision. This requires an effective 'innovation system' that is capable of supporting both widespread incremental innovation and ways of working as well as the rarer 'step-change' innovation in products/services, working methodology, business model, and market positioning.

KPIs to measure result: Innovation is a management discipline. And you can only manage what you measure. But you have to select the right metrics and measure them in the right way. Making business measurement and well define the right set of KPIs to measure change is both art and science, measuring innovation is even more challenging. Unfortunately, most innovation indicators are flawed and present limitations. Also, the innovation indicators vary depending on who is doing the measuring, and how they are measuring. It is important to aligning innovation (ultimately the business innovation) with desired corporate strategic outcomes, by implementing excellent people, performance, demand, and asset management processes, in order to maximize ROI (Return on Innovation). Businesses have to build a cohesive strategy, to consume resource efficiently; calculate financial & performance indicator wisely.

 Like many other important business initiatives, innovation has to be managed via a well-aligning talent people, robust, but not rigid processes, and the latest technology tools. This multi-step method - needs, approach, benefit per costs, helps organizations manage innovation in a more systematic way to improve the innovation success rate. From idea generation to innovation implementation, plan, do, check, act, and measure are not linear steps, but an iterative continuum in the digital era.


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