At one point she asked me to name the 5 key criteria for successful implementation of innovation projects within an organization.
Many wise books and articles have been written about this and I can only humbly suggest my own perspective which has been shaped by working with 'new stuff' in large corporations the past 15 years.
So here we go, my view on 5 criteria for successful innovation within an organization:
1) Senior management support and advocacy
This is old hat, really, but true nonetheless. If the innovation project hasn't got the support and enjoys active advocacy from upstairs, then forget it.
Be it a new business process, a ground-breaking product, a different set of performance metrics, an untried department structure, a novel view on strategy planning, an unfamiliar business model, a new business unit - it has to be backed by the CEO and his/her management team and explicitly supported and encouraged by them.
If you want to try and go it alone, be my guest - I've done this myself on more than one occasion - but there will be a limit as to far you'll get.
2) The right people
Often, you'll have only few headcounts dedicated to the innovation project so you have to be certain that they're the right people. You can't afford to make hiring mistakes or to lose people in this situation - hiring the wrong person means losing capacity, losing people means losing vital knowledge.
With the right people, you can move at high speed and to high standards, because they create the kind of synergy that make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts.
Not only do people working on innovation projects have to have superior technical/formal skills in more than just their own immediate area. They also have to possess certain personal skills:
- High capacity for learning new stuff and for applying new knowledge, constantly.
- Comfortable with the unknown and with making decisions based on limited information.
- Ability to fly with the eagles and crawl with the ants, meaning keeping the big perspective while getting deep into the engine room.
- Creative thinkers, able to problem-solve and to generate options.
- Driven and with a relatively high level of energy.
- Communication skills, open to and comfortable with a lot of feedback and dialogue.
3) An easily understood plan
Forget complicated, long-winded reports and poetic, flowery vision statements. 'A woolly plan means a woolly idea'.
To get buy-in, the plan needs to be concrete, communicated in basic terms and describe your constituents' role in it. Is it also possible to describe what's in it for them, great, but sometimes there isn't anything in it for them directly, other than a nod from senior management. And actually, that counts for a lot for a lot of people.
4) Stick to the plan
Your plan lays out the goals and how to achieve them. This is worth nothing if you don't stick to it. It's tempting to throw in a new idea that you just heard about from a colleague, your well-meaning boss might have some new thought that would really add a great dimension to the project, the sales guys might want you to please a big customer, and so on and so forth.
Listen to them, take it in, and then tell them why you will stick to the plan. Of course, there might be internal or external developments that force you to take a slight detour or swap the timing of key building blocks, but stick to the overall course and at all times relate everything you do back to the key objectives.
5) Understand where in the innovation process you are
All innovation projects consist of a number of phases that each have certain characteristics, set of activities, focus, and operating mode. Some call it Storming, Forming, Performing, Re-forming. Others call it Proof-of-concept, Proof-of-business, Growth, Scale. Others call it something third, but it all means the same thing, really.
The point is to understand each of these phases, in which phase your innovation project is, and when it needs to shift from one phase to the next. It's not unusual that the project owner or team firmly believes that the project has concluded, say, the proof-of-concept phase and is well into the proof-of-business or even the growth phase. This can be detrimental because focus is on a set of activities that are wrong for the project at that particular time.
For example: A new business unit might assess that it's the right time to start heavily marketing the new service and is overlooking that key business processes are not firmly in place - which would mean that the increased demand would bring the back office to its knees, disappoint customers, and make you unpopular with your supply chain and customer service colleagues.
These criteria, I propose, are the 'high five'. If you have other views on key criteria for successful innovation projects, please don't hesitate to comment on this post or drop me a note.