How to make sure that innovation programs produce more than just coffee mugs

Your organization is full of hackathons, Shark Tanks, incubators and other innovation programs, but none of them has changed the trajectory of your company / agency?

Over the last few years, Pete Newell and I have been instrumental in establishing innovation programs at major corporations, US federal scientific organizations, and the Defense and Intelligence community. But it is only recently that we have understood why some programs were successful and others failed.

After conducting extensive research in several organizations, we now understand why innovators are frustrated and why the success of a business requires feats. We can also explain why innovation activities generated a theater of innovation, but few expected results. And we can explain why innovation in large companies does not look like startups. More importantly, we now have a better idea of ​​how to design innovation programs to deliver products and services, not just demonstrations.

He begins by understanding the "innovation stack" – the hierarchy of innovation efforts that have emerged in large organizations. The stack includes: individual innovation, tools and innovation activities, team innovation and operational innovation.

Individual innovation
The pursuit of innovation in large companies / agencies is not a 21stinvention of the century. Since companies exist, there are enthusiasts who have realized that something new, unforeseen and unforeseen is possible. And by opposing the status quo of existing processes, procedures and plans, they built a prototype / demonstration and, thanks to heroic efforts, they managed to get a new innovation above the goal – by shipping / deploying a new innovation.

We describe their efforts as "heroic" because all established procedures and processes in a large company are primarily designed to execute and support the current business model. From the point of view of the person running an engineering, manufacturing or operating organization, innovations, whether planned or unplanned, are a distraction and a drag on existing resources. (The best description I've heard is that "unhindered innovation is a denial of service attack of essential capabilities.") Indeed, until now, we had not imposed on the innovator requirements, rigor and evidence to understand what it would do. take to integrate, scale and deploy products / services.

Finally, most business and agency innovation processes converge "innovations" into "demonstration days" or "shark tanks" where they are confronted with an approval / funding committee that decides which ideas innovation are worth pursuing. However, without measurable milestones demonstrating the evolution of what the team has learned about the validity of the problem, customer needs, pivots, etc., the best presentation and the most vivid demonstration generally prevail.

In some companies and government agencies, innovators even have informal groups, such as an alliance of innovators, where they can share best practices and system workarounds. (Think of this as the innovator's support group.) But these innovation activities are ad hoc and innovators lack formal authority, resources and processes to integrate innovation programs into their departments or agencies.

Innovators vs. entrepreneurs
There are two types of people who engage in innovation in large companies / agencies: innovators – those who invent new technologies, products, services or processes; and Contractors – those who understand how to adopt and implement innovation through the existing procedures and processes of the company / agency. Although some people are both innovators and entrepreneurs, successful innovation programs require individuals or teams with at least two skills. (More details can be found here.)

Tools and activities of innovation
Over the last decade, innovators have realized that they need different tools and activities than traditional project management tools for newer versions of existing products / customers. They passionately embrace innovation tools and activities that, for the first time, help individual innovators build, build, and create effective prototypes and demos.

Some examples of innovation tools customer development, design-design, user-centered design, business template templates, storytelling, and more. The companies / agencies also co-opted the innovation activities developed for startups such as hackathons, incubators, internal kickstarters, Open Innovation programs and Maker spaces that offer individual innovators a physical space and time dedicated to building prototypes and demonstrations. In addition, companies and agencies have set up innovation outposts (most often located in Silicon Valley) in order to get closer to the relevant technologies, and then to invest, to invest in, and to invest in their own. associate or to buy.

These activities make sense in an ecosystem of startups (where 100% of the company are focused on innovation), but they generate disappointing results within companies / agencies (when 98% of the organization gets focuses on the execution of the existing business model / mission.) These tools and activities innovators educated and generated demonstrations and prototypes, they lacked an end-to-end system. process which focused on delivery / deployment. It is therefore not surprising that very few of them contributed to the profitability of the company (or to the mission of the agency).

One of the ironies of the tool / activity groups is rather than talking about the results to use tools – that is, the ability to quickly deliver new products / services that are wanted and needed – their passion evangelises them features tools and activities. This means that senior management has cataloged most of these groups as extensions of enterprise training departments and skeptics see it as the "latest fad".

Team innovation
Rather than teaching innovators how to use new tools or have them create demonstrations, we recognized the need for a process that learns all the components of a business model / mission (which are customers, what product / service solves their problem) how to obtain it, support it, etc. The next step in business training was to teach the teams a formal innovation process on how to gather evidence that allows them to verify if their idea is feasible, desirable and viable. The innovation body of the National Science Foundation (I-Corps @ NSF), the intelligence community I – Corps @ NSA and the Ministry of Defense, Hacking for Defense (H4D), are examples of programs team innovation.

Unlike single-purpose activities such as incubators, hackathons, kickstarters, etc., these programs teach what it takes to turn an idea into a deliverable product / service using the scientific test method. hypothesis and experimentation outside the building. This process puts the emphasis on quick learning cycles: speed and urgency, acceptance of failure as learning and metrics of innovation.

Teams discuss with over 100 beneficiaries and stakeholders while developing minimal viable products to maximize learning and discovery. They leave the program with a thorough understanding of all the barriers and resources needed to deliver / deploy a product.

The good news: I-Corps, Hacking for Defense and other innovation programs focused on the training of individual teams has raised the bar of innovation. These programs have taught thousands of teams of federally funded scientists as well as innovators in business, the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence community. However, over time, we have seen teams complete these programs face problems of expansion. Even with very good viable and viable products (prototypes), the teams struggled to ensure that these innovations were deployed on a large scale and in the field. Or, a team that has achieved its potential in the product market by implementing a non-standard architecture would find no way to keep it scaled within the parent company.

After reflection, we identified two root causes. The first is a lack of link between the innovation teams and their parent organization. Teams train / and are taught outside of their parent organization as innovation is disconnected from other activities. This means that when the teams returned to their original organization, they found that the execution of the existing priorities took precedence. They then returned to speak a foreign language (What is a pivot? What's viable?) To their colleagues and leaders, rewarded for their performance metrics. Moreover, as budgets are planned in advance, their organization had no idea of ​​"good ideas". As a result, it was impossible to complete and deploy innovative prototypes developed by innovators, even those that were validated.

The second root cause arose from the fact that neither the innovator teams nor their organizations had the mandate, budget or people needed to create an end-to-end environment. innovation pipeline process, a it started with a funnel of innovation supply (internal and external sources) until the integration of their prototypes in the traditional technical production. (See below and this article from HBR on the innovation pipeline.)

Operational Innovation
While companies, innovators working alone, embracing tools and innovation activities, and teaching evidence-based innovation to teams, here's what we're increasingly realizing: skills / tools and activities is essential, but insufficient in itself build a program that delivers results that matter to leadership. Only when senior officials see how an innovation process can produce important things – at full speed – can they take steps to change processes and procedures that hinder it.

We believe that the next important step is to get teams and leaders thinking about the end-to-end innovation process, namely visualizing the complete flow of how and where an idea is generated (source ) until the end. deployment (how does this get into the hands of users). So, we drew a canonical pipeline of innovation. (The article described here in detail in HBR.) To put you in context, in the figure below, the I-Body program described above is found in the box titled "Hypothesis Solution / Test Analysis." We have surrounded this process with all the build and deliver fast and large scale products and services.

Secondly, we realized that if individual initiatives won "rewards" and incubators and hackathons received coffee mugs and posters, senior leaders would identify themselves and take note of what was going on. operating groups have turned their work into a product or critical mission. When operating group teams adopted the innovation pipeline, this had an immediate impact on the rapid delivery of products / services.

An operational group can be a profit center or anything that affects the turnover, profits, users, market share, etc. In a government agency, this may allow a group to fulfill its mission more effectively or in a new way. Operational groups have visibility, credibility and, above all, direct relevance to the mission.

Where are these groups? In every large company or agency, there are groups that solve operational problems and realize "they can not continue like this" and / or "we have to do a lot more things" and / or "something has changed and we must quickly find new ways to do business. These groups are ready to try something new. More importantly, we learned that "the something new" is categorically do not more tools or activities (design, user-centered design, narration, hackathons, incubators, etc.) Because these groups want an end-to-end solution, the innovation pipeline resonates with the "actors" who lead these groups.

(One of the examples of progress in the innovation stack is that the NSA I-Corps team recently decided to no longer work with individual teams, but to help organizations deploy the methodology on a large scale. truly innovative way, they actively test multiple approaches with a variety of internal organizations ranging from 40 to over 1000 people.)

However, without a mandate to provide innovations to senior executives, deploying enterprise-wide or agency-wide innovation involves looking for one group at a time, up to the end. that you reach a critical point. It is at this moment that leaders begin to pay attention. Our experience to date is that groups of 25 to 150 people led by internal contractors with a budget and the power to solve critical problems are the right place to start implementing this. Finding these people in large companies / agencies is a repeatable process. This requires a patient and persistent customer discovery within your company / agency to find these groups and thoroughly understand their difficulties / earnings and the tasks at hand.

Lessons learned

  • Companies / agencies have adapted and adopted the innovation of the start-up tools
    • Lean, Design Thinking, User – Centered Design, Business Patterns, and more.
  • As well as startup activities and team innovation
    • Hackathons, Incubators, Kickstarters, I-Corps, FastWorks, etc.
  • Because they are disconnected from the traditional business / mission model, very few have managed to go beyond a prototype / demonstration.
  • Use the innovation stack and start working directly with the operating groups
    • Find those who realize "they can not continue like this" and / or "we need to do a lot more" and / or "something has changed and we need to find new ways to do business quickly"
  • You'll deliver things that matter instead of coffee cups

Classified in: Business / Government, Customer Development |