Implementing a “rapid innovation” entity: timeline

For Vijay Govindarajan, there is no doubt: “Innovation cannot happen inside the performance engine, so it requires a dedicated innovation team. Every time you start a new innovation initiative — which the performance engine cannot do because of its limits of reach — you are essentially creating a startup company. This is a major organizational undertaking.” (“How to bring innovation to market” 2011, Jan)

In the “Rapid innovation” model, we have followed Vijay argument (also developed in details in his amazing analysis:  “Forget, Borrow, Learn: Secrets to Building Breakthrough Businesses, Within Established Organizations”, Harvard Business School Press, 2005). We suggested 3 principles :

  1. creating a dedicated entity dedicated to fast innovation: flexible, agile, open to new opportunities picked out from the innovation market; it will be mixed, both “inside and outside” the group, so as to bring back the innovation value to the core co;
  2. instilling “creative tension“, a framework for creativity to leverage on its agile organization and accelerate creation and development of new products and associated leadership platform. Culture of diversity, focus, and specific goals (“narrowing the scope actually helps the team”), and knowledge circulation in short cycle are a key components of this creative tension;
  3. aligning with innovation strategy, by developing coordination with the core company, forging persistent connections between innovators and mainstream operations, cultivating communication and collaboration skills (“your team won’t work well in active competition with the rest of the organization”). Endorse some core co strategic priorities, so as to engage core co in new co innovations, following “a line of least resistance“.

We did not yet design a roadmap to implement this model. Let’s see how we would build this up in a 6 to 9 months timeline. I have split it in 3 main timeframes, 1, 3, and 6 to 9 months, and to create this entity, I have used the same stages I use for innovation plan: Create, Develop, Engage.

First month – Create a framework for rapid innovation

  • Create a new entity, an independant susbsidiary of the core co; ensure direct report to CEO, and that boosting innovation is a strategic priority that has transformed in tangible objectives for core co (i.e 25% of products sales have to come from new products, products which did not exist 5 years ago, was the objective set by 3M CEO; 50% of innovations has to include innovations coming from outside the company was targeted by P&G CEO) ; listen to CEO needs, learn from other decision makers in the innovation field: start identifying some innovation investigations that could be shared with core co. Agree with CEO on new co performance yardstick: prefer product delivered or new markets explored to usual core co indicators like  short-term financial results. Plan monthly meeting with CEO, and have a clear sponsor designed by CEO, someone in core co who will support you once new co initiatives acknowledged, and continuously explain differences between new co  and core co, and the reason why.  As Vijay says: “Executive sponsor will anticipate and monitor tensions at points of interaction between new co and core co, he will be ready to intervene and counter the tensions if they escalate beyond the point where they are productive tensions”.
  • Define your belief & challenges you want to face (perspectives),  posit some principles of the innovation culture you want to instill and skills you want to enhance (openness,  diversity, creativity, risk-taking, team spirit, self-starter,  demanding, willingness to iterate and to circulate knowledge). Determine some axes of investigation and ways of managing innovation that you will further refine with your innovation team: embracing open innovation and  building innovation networks, investigating targeting non core co customers, designing portfolio  balance (disruptive  & radical vs incremental innovation / quick wins vs medium term projects),  concentrating strengths toward innovation vs support tasks, reducing chart hierarchy and titles,  limiting entity size (25-40 people), defining in what would consist a mission statement required for each innovation project (“get out of serendipity land“).
  • Build an innovation team. Start by recruiting some T-shaped professionals outside, so as to overcome the orthodoxies of the core business. They will be the cornerstone of your management team, and help you in recruiting next level people in a cooptated way, each member being seen by various managers (i.e at Ideo,  any potential hire will be “lunched ” by 10 current staffers). Some other precious tips are listed in “The Idiot’s Guide to Launching Successful Innovation Task Forces” by Mitch Ditkoff.

Three months – Implement fast Development methodologies

  • Create context: get clear on your innovation “intent”, define your organization mantra, share the innovation strategy and culture principles so that they are used as a basis for individual and team decisions. Set-up knowledge circulation levers: project review with a view to enrich project and transfer learning, not to destroy them, seminar project leader  to optimize project management know-how and innovation protocols, use cross-fertilization as a key catalyst for innovation. develop information stream coming from the outside, and 2.0 communities. Translate entity yardstick into individual objectives and potential bonus.
  • Organize creative thinking; professionalize pre-development phase and ensure each project has defined what Guy Kawaski calls its mantra, or what we’ve seen as metaphor, analogy, and model (Ikijiro Nonaka), or belief (Simon Sinek).
  • Start with a handful of projects, some having buy-out from core co. Staff projects appropriately to complete them faster. Build mixed teams, staffing selected people from core co, who will bring specific expertise, take a breath of fresh air working at the innovation entity. They will be both “knowledge ferrymen” towards the new co and  innovation ambassadors within the core co.
  • Transfer concept in elegant realization, embracing the Rugby approach” (Ikijiro Nonaka), using fast prototyping and iterations with customers; take the benefit of open innovation, to complement your skills and buy you time; go deeper into your innovation, looking at it as a leadership platform (including items such as channels, brands or customer experience, processes or service systems or business models). Ensure Keep it simple and sexy! protocole is applied.
  • Stay alert, listen, and chase innovation killers.
  • Initiate innovation cycle: start identifying future projects, and feed the pipe of innovation portfolio.
  • Stay connected with core co, through meetings with CEO, sponsor and innovation decision makers. Share project progress and innovation portfolio. Develop external communication from the innovation team, encourage mutual respect, formal meetings and informal conversations.

Six to nine months – Go for Engagement

  • Assess and optimize your innovation: test prototypes and implement feedbacks, eliminate while sticking to your belief, select the one thing that works so well that you get the WAOUH effect, don’t look for perfection:  remember that customers often do not want the product itself, but rather the effect that the product produces. Work on reducing risks, both technical and market risks. Leave the door open to cocreation.
  • Use your license to kill: stop some projects that have been caught up by competition or some concepts that don’t transform in great customer experience. Share the reason why, and ensure everyone understands it’s the natural law of innovation, and prevent traumatism. At Gore, “The fabric of creativity”, they say: “Celebrate failure, don’t stigmatize it. When a project doesn’t work out and the team kills it, they celebrate with beer or champagne just as they would if it had been a success. Celebrating a failure encourages risk taking.
  • Prepare go-to-market: refine your usp, train  to sell your innovation by keeping it simple. Identify what core co strategic strength your innovation will capitalize on (brand, marketing and sales channels, …), the worst entry barrier for competitors, that you can transfer into your innovation thanks to core co. Consider modifying team skills when innovation is going to market. List requirements for implementation and scaling of the product.
  • Seek for core co engagement: Identify fears, harness the acceptance seeds you have planted (detachment of resources coming from core co, network of decision makers, investment of the parent company, portfolio reflecting shared innovation goals, CEO and sponsor supports, external communication from innovation team), create necessity for change, identifying agents of change such as competition threat, customer disatisfaction, business opportunity, deregulation, benchmark. listen to influence. Once core is engaged,  plan implementation and scaling of the product.
  • Be mindful of the future : complete post-mortem and post-launch, learn from the experience to feed the new product developments with improved practices. Reward and celebrate! At Ideo, produced trophies are presented at project completion ceremonies. These time sharing are also opportunities for project leaders to search for released people  interested in coming to help.

No doubt that you will learn a lot more things going the innovation way forward, and that you will forge your own identity and pattern, becoming innovation experts as David Kelley, Ideo’s founder puts it: “We don’t have technical expertise to hang our hats on, what we have is our methodology. We have to believe we are experts in how “to innovate.” We pick the things we and our clients have  done well, and assimilate them into our methodology. We’re not good at innovating because of our flawless intellects, but because we’ve done 2000 products, and we’ve been mindful”.


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