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Innovation Process Management Guidelines

 

Some businesses get started on innovation in response to specific threatening scenarios; others embrace innovation as their core strategy and process. The latter have gone beyond the stage of having to mobilize their workforce on a formal innovation-boosting exercise, basically since their management is continually in search of more efficient ways to manage innovation.
Their leaders are day-to-day innovation professionals and behave like ‘innovation activists. ’ They don’t have to place innovation on top of the corporate agenda – it is there permanently! In these companies, innovation is everyone’s No. 1 priority.

Innovation has become, by importance, a core process in a group of industries – those that could not be as fast paced but nonetheless experience considerable technology waves. Semiconductors, medical imaging and high-tech materials are examples of this category.
Participants in these industries deal with the permanent challenge of uncovering and investing in the next technology waves early enough to construct the required capabilities and be seen as first movers in the new marketplace.

Senior executives could play their leadership role fully when they provide their staff with a crystal clear:
• Sense of purpose – why do we require to do certain things?
• Sense of direction – which way should we choose? And
• Sense of focus – what should and will be our focal points?

These three elements are essential for innovation leaders expecting to start a top-down innovation drive.
Presenting innovation as a competitive requirement – irrespective of whether it is prompted by threats or opportunities – and listing all good motives to engage in a new (or revived) innovation drive, is the means for many innovation leaders to give their staff a sense of purpose. When it is directly attached to market battles – a connection that is relatively simple to achieve – innovation ceases to be a obscure goal and turns into a condition for survival on which everyone can be mobilized.

Delivering both a sense of direction and focus for innovation is a much more elaborate task for innovation leaders, due to the fact it means formulating a engaging innovation vision and strategy. Very few management teams appear to have taken that step convincingly.

Those who have, like A. G. Lafley at P&G, Steve Jobs at Apple, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, have been aplauded like exceptional visionaries. A clear sense of direction and focus is essential for top-down innovation, for sure. However it is also useful for bottom-up innovation because it channels the organization’s creative energy toward preferred areas, eliminating the risks of ‘random, ’ and hence irrelevant or low priority, innovation.

Innovation, like all corporate processes, have to be managed formally, and this implies respecting five broad imperatives, summarized below:

1: Unbundle and Map the Process
The challenge with innovation – as with many other complex, cross-functional processes – is that few managers are capable to see and understand the entire process snapshot, which weakens their capacity to prepare and contribute in a broad context. Generally, most managers only see their part of the process. Managing innovation demands helping everyone in the organization take a high level view of the process to understand:
• The total process architecture;
• The various process steps or phases;
• The input and output of each step; and
• The way the various steps are interconnected.
This calls for the adoption of a common company-wide process model, template and terminology, while accepting specific implementation variants reflecting differences across business units. The universal model is simple and comprehensive as it extends beyond the traditional new product development (NPD) process, both upstream and downstream. It illustrates innovation as a set of ongoing, interlocking and dynamic sub-processes.

2: Allocate Clear Process Management Responsibilities
Businesses that have adopted a process management viewpoint realize that processes, such as functions, need to be clearly managed.
This can be applied of course to the innovation process and its sub-elements. Senior management requires to ask three types of questions:
• Who have to be in charge of each sub-process within the overall innovation framework? Have we appointed appropriate ‘process owners’?
• Who have to empower, supervise and advise the process owners, once appointed? Have we identified committed process coaches or sponsors?
• Who have to orchestrate it all and integrate all the sub- processes? How and to whom should we entrust the overall management of innovation?

Process owners will generally be distinct and dedicated individuals, in charge for developing the process (if it does not already exist), documenting it, mobilizing the line organization behind its implementation, supporting it and improving it continuously.

Process coaches are anticipated to empower process owners, i. e. give them the necessary authority to intervene in areas beyond their own organizational boundaries. They have to audit the process, supervise and support improvement initiatives. Process coaching tasks may be allocated either to individuals or cross-functional ‘bodies, ’ which usually then become collectively accountable for the process. For example, the chief technology officer (CTO) will frequently coach most, if not all, of the technology-related process owners. By comparison, it may be difficult to entrust supervision of the idea management process to a single individual. A cross-functional ‘Innovation Council’ may be a better alternative.

3: Evaluate and Improve Each Sub-Process
As soon as the innovation process has been identified in terms of content and boundaries and management responsibilities have been allocated, senior executives should ask process owners and coaches to launch an audit of their process. It is certainly helpful to start a process improvement drive with a realistic understanding of the maturity stage of each process.
There are several ways to judge the level of development or maturity of a process. A practical scale can be created by adapting to the innovation process the famous Capability Maturity Model (CMM) developed by the Software Engineering Institute. Mainly, each process management team should be ready to answer the following questions: Is the particular innovation sub-process for which I am responsible:
• Missing altogether?
• Existing but chaotic?
• Defined and described?
• Controlled and measured?
• Managed?
• Optimized?

Concretely, the evaluation of each innovation sub-process should cover:
• The adequacy of the input to the process: Do we possess the right resources to conduct the process effectively, in terms of people involved, information sources and budget?
• The efficacy of the process itself: How good are we handling the process in terms of sequencing of the various tasks, the value and timeliness of our activities and of our internal communications?
• The quality of the deliverables of the process: How good does our process deliver what is expected from it, in terms of output quality, timeliness and cost efficiency?
As soon as an assessment has been made and validated by their coach, process owners will have to prepare an improvement plan for their process. They could mobilize teams of line managers to invent – if it does not already exist – redesign or even rethink their process. It is, of course, a beneficial habit to start the improvement drive with an external benchmarking exercise to identify best practices.

4: Use Cross-Functional Teams Throughout
If there is one essential imperative in innovation, it is the reality that the process and all its elements must be managed by cross-functional teams.

This principle is now well recognised for program and project management, however it is appropriate for some of the front-end processes as well, which, on paper, may be perceived as belonging to either Marketing or R&D.
• The business intelligence process, for instance, should not be the only preserve of marketing. This is correct even though marketing research specialists play a key role in providing tools, training staff from other functions in interviewing techniques, organizing well run focus groups and assisting to analyze findings. Business intelligence is a process that should involve everyone in the organization.
• Technology intelligence will obviously be dominated by scientists and engineers from R&D who will act as ‘technology gatekeepers’ in their discipline areas. Although it should also involve manufacturing-engineering for process technologies as well as information systems specialists for information technologies.
• The technology resource development process, likewise, should not be left entirely in the hands of technology specialists.
Whether or not to invest in particular technologies, outsource a given technology or to develop in-house are choices of considerable strategic importance and business managers should stay involved.
• Idea management is additionally a cross-functional process, as it is now well proven that a diversity of perspectives enriches the quality of ideas generated and the rigor with which they are evaluated and ultimately retained. Since R&D tends to be more advanced than marketing in creativity techniques, often the idea management process owner comes from R&D.
• Finally, product and technology strategy and planning are, by their very characteristics, cross functional processes since the two aspects are interdependent, whether technology is perceived as driving the product strategy or vice versa.

5: Set up and Track Indicators of Process Performance
When innovation is organized top down, management will want to assess progress on a regular basis. Process-oriented organizations know the importance of choosing a few meaningful indicators – not too many – picked out of the four categories of indicators:
• Lagging indicators, which often measure the results of past actions. They are generally the most commonly used, often because they are the easiest to measure.
• Leading indicators, which often track activities that are assumed to have an impact on future results. They are less frequently used.
• In-process indicators, which usually characterize compliance with process performance targets. They are frequently measured by process-oriented companies.
• Learning indicators, which in turn reflect the speed with which progress is accomplished in a number of critical areas. Few companies use them systematically.

 

Innovation leaders realize that the classic management mechanisms of their company – think of the various committees and task forces that proliferate in most organizations – have not been designed to steer and manage innovation. Innovation is, a complex, multi-faceted and cross-functional process combining remarkably creative elements and disciplined activities.

 

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