The Innovation Process
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
The innovation process, in the business context, is a structured action
that is remarkably easy to implement. It begins with a problem and ends
with profit. As such, it is the ideal business process. So it is remarkable
that so few businesses have actually implemented this structured innovation
process. Fortunately, all you have to do is read this and implement it
in your firm!
Step by Step
1. Begin with a problem
The innovation process starts with a problem or possibly a goal. However,
the fact that the business has not already achieved the goal might be
considered a problem. So, we can safely say the process begins with a
problem. All businesses have problems. Sales could be better, products
could be better, processes could be more efficient, costs could be reduced
and so on.
2. Convert the problem into a challenge
Once a problem has been identified, it needs to be converted into a challenge.
A challenge is a short, terse question that invites creative solutions.
Example challenges include: "In what ways might we improve product
X?" and "How might we reduce wastage in our manufacturing process?"
A challenge may also be in the form of a call to action: "Sketch
design ideas for product X" or "Use building blocks to demonstrate
ways in which we might combine processes in manufacturing." Formulating
a good challenge that addresses your problem is critical to the innovation
process. If your challenge does not properly address the underlying problem,
you may get a lot of ideas -- but they won't solve your problem and therefore
are unlikely to become innovations!
3. Challenge colleagues to suggest creative solutions
Once you have a terrific innovation challenge, you need to communicate
it to colleagues -- or others such as business partners, customers or
even the public -- so that they can generate ideas. How you communicate
depends on the method of idea generation you will use for each instance
of the innovation process.
4. Collaborative idea generation
Idea generation might be in the form of a brainstorming activity, through
the use of real idea management software (one like our
Jenni, which uses ideas campaigns based around innovation challenges)
or a team may be assigned to devise and develop ideas. You could even
generate ideas yourself, but as a general rule, diverse teams generate
more creative (both in terms of quantity and quality) than individuals
-- at least in the right circumstances.
Whatever method of idea generation you use, it should ideally be in a
collaborative environment in which people can work together to develop
ideas. Ideally, there should be no criticism, censorship or destruction
of ideas during this phase. You want to encourage people to think creatively
and be unafraid to suggest ideas. Early criticism of any kind will only
make people reluctant to share ideas, especially their most outlandishly
creative ideas (in other words, the best ideas), for fear of also being
Note: lots of people think that idea generation is the most important
element of the innovation process. It's not. A great idea, unimplemented,
is worthless to business. Nevertheless, you do need ideas to keep the
process going and creating an environment for generating creative ideas
means that the resulting innovations will be more.. innovative!
5. Combine and evaluate ideas
With lots of ideas in the pot, the next step is to combine similar ideas
into idea clusters or big ideas. Each idea cluster can be processed as
a single idea, thus making the next steps of the process more efficient.
This done, you can then evaluate ideas with an evaluation matrix in which
promising ideas are compared to relevant business criteria. The better
the idea meets each criterion, the higher its score. In the end, those
ideas with the highest evaluation scores are taken to the next step.
Note: evaluators tend to be overly critical of ideas. Hence it is important
to ask them not only what does not work with an idea, but also to ask
them how these problems might be dealt with in order to improve the idea.
6. Develop ideas
How you develop ideas depends on the innovation challenge and the kind
of ideas generated. New product ideas might be developed into prototypes.
Process efficiency ideas may be modeled. Marketing ideas may be evaluated
in consumer surveys and so on. The purpose of developing ideas is to test
them in the business environment and, if no insoluble problems are discovered,
prepare them for implementation.
In the case of highly creative ideas, it is usually best to create a
prototype if at all possible. A prototype makes it easier to sell a radical
idea to managers, committees and other dingalings who will be tempted
to kill it off.
7. Implement ideas
Finally, you are now ready to manufacture your new product, restructure
your processes or do whatever is necessary to turn the evaluated and developed
ideas into implementations that generate value for the organisation. It
is at this step that creative ideas grow up and become innovations.
If ideas are radically different to business as usual or if they require
substantial investment, it is wise to implement them with a series of
milestones along the way. This enables you to review the implementation
of the idea in order to ensure it is either delivering value or retains
the potential to deliver value at a future milestone. Although many organisations
today make it difficult to implement radical ideas, once those ideas are
launched as projects, the responsible teams are often remarkably reluctant
to stop the implementation for fear of reprisals, losses or other consequences.
You need to minimise those consequences so under-performing ideas can
be killed and resources can rapidly be reinvested in promising new ideas.
A Scalable, Repeatable and Effective Process
There are three terrific qualities of the innovation process. Firstly,
it is scalable. An individual freelancer can use it to innovate in her
business, small teams can use it for innovative projects, business units
and even entire companies can use it. Although, with large groups, specialised
idea management software is needed to capture and facilitate the processing
of the ideas efficiently.
Secondly, the process is repeatable. A company can have numerous instances
of the innovation process in action at all times. A team leader can launch
new challenges once the ideas from old challenges have been implemented
(or even sooner in some instances).
Thirdly, the process is effective. It is based on a combination of Creative
Problem Solving (CPS) and standard business processes. It has been proven
again and again. Indeed, it should be clear that the innovation process
enables you to align innovation with strategy, focus creative thinking
on current business needs and combine multiple ideas in order to develop
comprehensive solutions to all kinds of business problems.
And, as we stated in the beginning, it is a simple process; one that
can readily be implemented in most companies. Although, you will also
need to have something of a culture of innovation in place in your firm
in order for the process to work. If new ideas are routinely criticised
from conception and committees are so risk adverse they are afraid to
cross the street (as is typically the case without a culture of innovation),
there is little hope for the innovation process.
On the other hand, if new ideas are always welcome, the CEO really believes
in innovation (rather than just makes bland statements about it) and the
company is willing to invest resources not only in innovation, but also
the implementation of radical ideas, the innovation process will perform
Implementing the Process in Your Company
If you are interested in implementing the innovation process in your
us and tell us a little about your firm.
If you would like the world's best innovation process management software
to support your process, take
a look at Jenni. Better still, contact
your nearest representative for a demo so you can see how well Jenni
complements the innovation process and enables you to align your idea
generation with corporate strategy!
© 2009 jpb.com
Note: unless indicated otherwise in the bi-line above,
this is an original article by Jeffrey Baumgartner which was first published