Industryweek 2553 Creative Thinking

Five Questions to Ask Before Mapping Out an Innovation Plan

May 8, 2012
Innovation is not a luxury that can be placed on the back burner, even for today's successful companies.

There are plenty of reasons to innovate.

Especially now more than ever before, sustained innovation is the means to developing marketplace showstoppers that lead to profitable growth.

Innovation is not a luxury that can be placed on the back burner, even for today's successful companies.

So before beginning your next innovation effort, here are some key questions to consider for mapping out an effective innovation plan.

Define the Type of Innovation

1. What type of innovation does your organization need?

The key to implementing innovation is first defining the type that your organization needs.

Robert Brands: By focusing effort in the right places, companies can avoid oversight and increase their chances of innovation success.

The hardest kind of innovation to manage is breakthrough -- which creates an entirely new way to deliver value. Few and far between, these game changers hold the greatest potential for business success.

Most innovations are incremental, which can mean a tweak on an existing product, process or service. Examining how your innovation effort fits into the current organization's needs is critical at this go/no-go checkpoint.

(There is nothing wrong with focusing and starting with incremental innovation or line extensions to get some early wins, get the organization engaged and excited and create a structured, repeatable process.)

Satisfying Customer Needs

2. Does your innovation satisfy customer needs?

Customer demand affects the successful outcome of your innovation.

Beyond asking your customers what features they would like to see, ask them what their biggest concerns are, and that will help shed light on the products and functionalities they require for a more successful innovation.

Innovation Champions

3. Who are your innovation champions?

The innovator-in-chief needs to truly champion this culture and drive it throughout the organization to make it happen.

In order to defeat the devil's advocates and become an agent for change, the leader must democratize the innovation process and select a group of people from different business groups, different backgrounds and different skill sets joined together for a common purpose.

He or she must engage, walk the talk and not just delegate the spiritual leadership. The companies with inspirational innovation leaders stand out with their results, i.e Apple, Kohler, etc.

Measuring Success

4. How will you measure success?

Innovation is ultimately about return on investment. It's critical to use leading and lagging key performance indicators, and observe and measure time spent on each segment of the new-product-development process to see how it's progressing.

Leading metrics used in the industry can include ideas generated, ideation sessions held, number of patents filed. Lagging metrics can include new products released and percentage of sales due to new products.

Rewarding Success

5. How will success be rewarded?

With successful innovation comes profitable growth and a win-win situation for shareholders, employees and customers alike.

Incentives are needed for all participants on your new-product-development staff, and oftentimes the key motivator is less financial than it is about recognition for a job well-done.

Motivation does not have to be about money -- but it is necessary, so reward your people. They are your best innovation resource.

By focusing effort in the right places, companies can avoid oversight and increase their chance of innovation success.

Robert Brands is the founder and president of Brands & Co. LLC, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival." The book offers 10 imperatives that serve as a guide for successfully starting, nurturing and profiting from a culture of sustained innovation in the workplace.

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