Innovation. It's how humankind has moved forward. It's how civilizations have moved forward. And it's the key to moving businesses, of any industry, forward. But the search for that key will be futile without following a clear process. That’s why I've listed the Law of Process as one of the 7 Immutable Laws of Innovation, because without it, innovation simply cannot thrive.
Following an innovation process can be the difference between business success and failure, profitability and loss. But it's not just about following any process for innovation; it's about following the right process for your business and your company culture.
Innovation Processes: Defined
An innovation process is essentially a step-by-step guide to innovation. It takes a company from ideation all the way to execution—ideally, it will even include evaluation. This guide should be well thought out. It should be researched, discussed, and analyzed. It should be verbalized. And it should absolutely be written down.
A company's innovation process should have a physical, tangible feel to it. It should almost seem like a checklist, which an organization can use to assess their innovation progress.
Although you will find tips about how to develop an innovation process below, there is no set process that every business should use. It might be a good idea to start with an established process, but it should be reevaluated and adjusted over time. After all, every company is different. Their culture is unique, and the innovation process should take this into account.
Some company cultures might invite a more open and creative ideation phase. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, organizations may need to have a very formal and strict ideation phase. That's for you to play around with and decide.
Innovation Processes: The Importance
At first glance, having a process that defines your movement towards innovation might sound counterintuitive. Isn't innovation about thinking outside of the box and doing things differently? Yes, it is. But the goal of having a process isn't to limit or confine creativity. It is to help it. Here is how:
- Guidance: Idea generators are often creative types. They can be great at coming up with something revolutionary, but sometimes they lack the follow-through. A process sets a course for you and your organization. It encourages you to come up with ideas, but it then encourages you to take the next step.
- Workforce Clarity: Your workforce has ideas. They have experience in what they are doing and they know how to improve it. Sometimes, though, they don't know how to vocalize their thoughts. A process lets them see the appropriate outlets where they can express their ideas and be heard.
- Measurement: A process makes ideas tangible. It allows innovations to be measured against a timeline and against other innovations. With a clear-cut process, you will be able to collect data and improve current and future innovations.
- Starting Point: Sometimes the thought of being innovative is overwhelming. Where do you even start? A process takes care of that for you. Do step one, then step two, then step three, and so on.
Innovation Processes: The Framework
As I mentioned above, an innovation process is the framework that guides the organization to creating game-changing innovations. It starts with determining the focus of where to innovate, then it moves into idea creation and then to evaluation of those ideas so you know which one(s) to work on. The process continues with development and execution. Some processes utilize broader steps, while others emphasize very precise steps.
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will guarantee innovation success within every organization. However, there are some key components that every innovation process should include—how you decide to execute them will depend entirely on your company’s culture and industry.
For years, I have used a framework, nicknamed FIRE, to guide the development of an effective innovation process:
- Focus: This part of the innovation process involves figuring out where you want to innovate. It may be on the product and service side of your business, the customer experience side, or even the back-end of your business. Establish a process for deciding where you want to focus your attention. Who decides? How do you prioritize the areas where innovation is needed most? How do you communicate this to your team?
- Ideation: Equally crucial is the ideation phase of your innovation process. You will need to create processes that determine how innovative ideas are developed, contributed, and shared. Who will you accept ideas from? How are ideas submitted for consideration? Company culture will play a major role in the kind of ideation phase that works for your business.
- Ranking: This part of the process concentrates on prioritizing your most innovative ideas. Consider how you might want to go about evaluating and ranking ideas. What criteria will you look for? This will depend largely on your industry, your individual business, and the focus areas where you want to innovate.
- Execution: An idea doesn't just turn into an innovation. You actually have to do something about it. To round out your innovation process, you need to create an action plan. Once an idea has been approved, how do you begin to implement it? Do you first focus on creating a prototype? Do you perform some preliminary market research to gauge interest or impact? This phase of your innovation process should be clearly defined in order to guide innovations through the pipeline efficiently.
Remember, FIRE is not an innovation process in and of itself. It’s merely a framework of the basic steps that every innovation process should include. Every business must tailor the actual steps of the innovation process to suit their specific needs and culture.
For example, those who produce physical products may have an innovation process that includes phases such as concept feasibility, financial/technical feasibility, capability development, prototype development, and market testing.
Other organizations may also want to include launch and re-launch phases, where they feel out the market by launching an imperfect product or service. Then, after collecting consumer feedback and perfecting their innovation, they re-launch it.
Innovation is scary. It is a step into the unknown. But with a process, you have a map, a compass, and a flashlight. Processes help you figure out where you are going and how to get there more quickly. For help developing an innovation process for your organization, contact me.