Congratulations! You developed and are using a best-in-class Innovation Process.
You start by talking to consumers, studying mega-trends, and scanning the globe for emerging technologies and disruptive offerings.
Once you find a problem and fall in love with it, you start dreaming and designing possible solutions. You imagine what could be, focused on creating as many ideas as possible. Then you shift to quality, prioritizing ideas that fit the company’s strategy and are potentially desirable, viable, and feasible.
With prioritized ideas in hand, you start iterating, an ongoing cycle of prototyping and testing until you confidently home in on a solution that consumers desire, is technically feasible, and financially viable.
But you don’t stop there! You know that ideas are easily copied by innovative business models are the source of lasting competitive advantage, so you think broadly and identify financial, operational, and strategic assumptions before testing each one like the innovation scientist you are.
If (and when) a solution survives all the phases and stage gates and emerges triumphant from the narrow end of the innovation process, there is a grand celebration. Because now, finally, it is ready to go to market and delight customers.
The solution’s journey has only just begun.
What lies ahead can be far more threatening and destructive than what lies behind.
Unless you planned for it by including these three steps in your innovation process.
Partnership with Sales
During testing, you ask consumers to give feedback on solutions. But do you ask Sales?
Salespeople spend most of their time outside the office and in stores, talking to customers (e.g., retailers, procurement), consumers, and users. They see and hear what competitors are doing, what is working, and what isn’t. And they will share all of this with you if you ask.
When I ask why innovation processes don’t include Sales, I hear two things (1) “it’s too early to talk to Sales” and (2) “they always tell us the same thing – it’s too expensive.”
First, if you have a concept (or two or three) with a 50/50 shot of going to market, call a few Salespeople and ask for their reactions. Nothing formal, no meeting required—just a gut reaction. And once you get that, ask when they’d like to talk again because their perspective is essential.
Second, “too expensive” should never be the end of the conversation. It’s one piece of feedback, ask follow-up questions to understand why it’s too expensive, then ask, “What else?” There’s always more, and some of it is useful. Plus, better to hear it now than months or years from now at the launch announcement.
Relay with Operations
Most companies have a process between the end of the innovation process and shipping the new offering. It’s where sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, inventory management, contracting, and many other crucial and practical decisions and plans are made.
Also, at most companies, the “transition” from the innovation process to the operational process is akin to chucking something over a wall. “Here you go,” Innovation seems to say, “we proved this will be a big business. Now go make it happen!”
Unfortunately, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and everyone else affected usually stand on the other side of the wall, solution in hand, mouth agape, eyes wide, thinking, “Huh?”
Instead of an abrupt hand-off, the Innovation Process needs to identify when the relay-style hand-off starts, and Innovation and Operations run side-by-side, developing, adjusting, and honing the solution.
Hand-off to the Core Business
The hand-off to the Core Business is the most precarious of all moments for an innovation. The moment it leaves the Innovation team’s warm, nurturing, and forgiving nest and moves into the performance-driven reality of the Core Business.
The Core Business knows why it was added to the P&L, but they don’t understand how it came to be or why it is the way it is. And they definitely don’t love it as much as you do. All they see is a tiny, odd thing that requires lots of their already scarce resources to become something worthwhile.
Instead of depositing beloved solutions on the Core Business’ doorstep like an unwanted orphan, Innovation Process should ensure that the following three questions are answered and aligned to well before the hand-off occurs.
- How material (revenue, profit) does a solution need to be to be welcomed into the Core Business?
- Who runs the new business, and what else is on their plate?
- What mechanisms are in place to ensure the Core Business supports the new solution during its tenuous first 1-3 years?
Create a process that creates innovation
Invention is something new.
Innovation is something new that creates value.
Innovation processes that focus solely on defining, designing, developing, and de-risking a solution run the risk of being Invention process because they result in something new but stop short of outlining how the innovation will be produced at scale, launched, scaled, and supported for years to come. You know, all those things required to create value.
- 99.7% isn’t an exact number. In my experience, it’s 100%. But I wanted to leave some wiggle room.
- I am 100% guilty of forgetting these three things.
- If you’re trying to innovate for the first time in a loooooooong time, it’s ok to focus on the front end of innovation (define, design, develop, de-risk) and tackle these three things later. But trust me, you will need to tackle them later.