Innovating is about uncertainty, and so the ability to review and change your decisions over time is crucial. To make an innovation-decision and then commit all of your resources to it without having the option of changing plans midway is risky. The longer the project goes on, the more resources are put at the risk if it fails.
Smart organizations know that turning an idea into reality is a learning process. As you move through the project you discover new things about the technology, about the market you thought existed, about your competitors. So it makes sense to view the journey in stages and to increase resources allocated at each stage, from outline concept through to the eventual launch of the project.
Using Stage-Gate Reviews
A widely approach, originally developed by Robert Cooper, a Canadian professor, is to introduce strategic decision points at various stages in the process. Instead of making a one-time decision at the start, this “stage-gate” approach sets up a series of decision points, each tougher than the last. Key questions are asked at each stage, and only if the answers are met does the gate open as hat resources flow to support the next stage of development.
A Sample Stage-Gate Model
- Initial Trigger – An idea for a new product appears. Should it be explored making Innovation Happen further?
- Concept Definition – Information sought on technology, and markets. Does it make business sense?
- Feasibility Studies – Market surveys are conducted. Should it enter full-scale development?
- Design Development – Prototype developed. Should it enter full-scale development?
- Deciding to Launch – Final go-ahead for mainstream manufacturing and marketing.
Read more about the Stage-Gate Model here.
Making Innovation Happen
Innovation is more than a great idea – innovation succeeds only when you put that idea into action the innovative manager needs the ability to find and select good ideas, put them into operation, and persuade users to adopt them.
Moving Toward Innovation
You can look at innovation as a journey: from the spark of a new idea to see that idea realized in the form of a new product, service, or workflow. You could get lucky with it once, but if you are going to repeat it, you need to put in place a systematic process to make it happen consistently.
Finding and Selecting Ideas
The journey starts with a trigger signal – a bright idea, a customer need, catching up with a competitor. Whatever the stimulus, the challenge in managing your innovation process at this stage is to make sure you have in place ways of searching for and picking up the signals. But you can’t do everything – you need to be able to answer the question: “Of all the things we could do, what are we going to do, and why?” You need to select – to make choices based on where you are trying to get to as an organization and how the proposed innovation might help you to get there.
Quick-Tips: Build A Road Map For The Journey
Mapping out how you will take the idea ahead helps identify potential problems and who or what else you will need to help deal with them.
Next, you have the challenge of implementing the innovation possibility – to make the new product or service come alive, to bring the new way of doing things into shape. This is all about project management, but against a background of uncertainty. You won’t know whether you can actually make the technology or innovation work. Or if there be a market for your new product or service until you try to make it happen. So you need a structure that allows you to monitor the innovation progress. Additionally, if necessary, stop projects before they go too far ahead.
Reviewing the System
When you have gotten as far as a working model or a prototype of the new product, service, or process. You need to make sure people will actually adopt it. Not every new idea finds a home. And the challenge at this stage is making sure you can get sufficient uptake to make a difference. If you are really going to make this an innovation system. One that delivers a steady stream of new products, services, and processes. You need to make sure you learn from your mistakes. And modify the system so you can do it better the next time.
Learning from Mistakes
Sometimes great ideas come from mistakes and apparent failures. 3M’s Post-it notes began when a polymer chemist mixed an experimental batch of adhesive that turned out to be quite weak. This failure in terms of the original project provided the impetus. For what is now a billion-dollar product platform for the company.
Lastly, innovation is a process that no one organization can avoid. The success of it will determine your organizational sucess. Before you start planning & implemeting your next innovative strategy, why don’t watch this TEDx Talks video by Davian Watson on Turning an Idea into Reality.