Sunday, September 29, 2013

Empower your innovation work with strategy!

I have spent the last few months working on an innovation strategy, on the side along with my other product projects. Friday I presented it to our leadership team and the following is a brief explanation of 1) what it is, 2) why I thought it was important to do, and 2) how I got it done.

I cannot share any of the actual content of course, but this is enough to give you an idea of how to do this work yourself.

One note, I did not do this work alone. I am incredibly grateful to one of the principals at Innosight for introducing me to this tool and then holding my hand through this work.

Goals and Boundaries.jpg
(Image from "How to Form an Innovation Strategy", HBR blog Aug. 2008)

What is an Innovation Strategy?
Ultimately, the strategy represents alignment among the key leaders at an organization overseeing innovation in terms of what innovation needs to achieve, where innovation will be focused and how it will get done.

Specifically the strategy has a few key components:
  1. Vision of the industry and organization 5 years out;
  2. Growth targets (including expectations of revenue gain/loss or margin erosion);
  3. Assessment of how attractive certain geographies, end users, markets, brands, categories, channels, etc. are in terms of delivering growth through innovation; and
  4. Assessment of how effective certain capabilities and business models will be at delivering innovation success.
The above image is a sample output of the strategy. The wheel chart offers the company a visual tool to remind us what is desirable, discussable or out of bounds in terms of innovation efforts on a daily basis.

Why I think an Innovation Strategy is important.
Whatever the tool you use to define an innovation strategy - it can drive effectiveness and foster trust for innovation initiatives.

Innovation is by its nature a fuzzy and inexact field of work. Without clarity regarding the end goal of innovation efforts, where it is expected to occur and how it is going to get done, there is even greater room for confusion. 

It is easy to say let's be more innovative and have more innovation. But unless these aspirations are translated into clear calls to action across the organization there will be no innovation.

In my specific case, I knew we were missing something. I knew we were not as effective at innovation as we could be.  For example, I found myself reviewing ideas and wondering, would the leadership expect that we evaluate this idea or vault it? I'm passionate about open innovation so I developed a program, but I had to ask myself, what is the leadership's expectation from oi? There are the employees who want to contribute ideas and information - what direction could I provide about what we are looking for and what kind of ideas are valuable? And of course there is sales - how soon and how often should they expect innovation and in which categories?

I could not answer these questions on a case-by-case basis or answer them alone.

How I set an Innovation Strategy.
When I first started my job, I had asked the leadership what winning looks like, where we were going to innovate and how we were going to win. However, I found that posing those questions to the leadership was ineffective. They were too broad, too easy to answer without giving extensive thought.

I was excited to learn of Innosight's framework - it offered a clearer set of questions that were easier to respond to, but required greater consideration.

To set the strategy I took the following steps:
  1. Determined what the wheel chart should look like - what business aspects should be evaluated, what types of decisions could not be case-by-case per project but needed to be strategic,
  2. Developed a discussion guide, outlining the key questions for the strategy,
  3. Provided the discussion guide, related articles and a letter outlining the value of the strategy and key steps a few weeks in advance,
  4. Interviewed each key leader at the organization,
  5. Analyzed the data to develop a the strategy and wheel chart,
  6. Presented to the leadership and identified action items - such as developing a plan, working to foster an innovation oriented culture, etc.
 The most difficult part was step 1. I went back to why this was important to do - what types of questions kept arising that could not be answered on a case-by-case basis?

The entire process took a few months, as a side project. One could complete this work in a month or so. I have been testing the strategy over the last few months. It feels good to be able to be more decisive regarding where to focus and how to get things done. It is early to tell, but it seems the leadership feels a little more comfortable too - it is a little bit of clarity in what is a very fuzzy world.

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