Why Ideas Are More Than Merely Input

I made the case for innovation at the management level as response to improving the Ideas Management process itself. Whilst the arguments in the post was primarily addressing the “hard” factors of the Ideas Management process e.g. KPIs, this post is addressing some of the “soft” factors.

As an strategy consultant my experience is often that companies perceive the innovation process to start just prior to initiating a project. Like a forerunner to project execution, expected to be short and nonintrusive to daily operations, but at the same involving the whole organization. If successful in involving the organization, the result is frequent a frustrated innovation department or responsible because of the sheer number of incoming ideas and their “low” quality as these are not yet ideas, but merely input or inspirations.

Question: Why do we intuitively accept the validity of company-wide involvement and diversity of stakeholder participation, but fail to understand the nature the fuzzy front-end?

The reason can be found in how the innovation management process is being supported (see my definition of the innovation process in the end of this post). Most companies have developed process support for their project management, some even for their iteration phase, but few companies have support for the fuzzy front-end or the first two phases of the innovation management process.

The later phases of the innovation process often have defined and identified owners, whereas the first two phases, the fuzzy front-end, is often orphan without an owner thus frequently also without a budget.

The competencies required in the first versus the latter phases of the innovation process are very different, primarily because creative facilitation is key in the Inspiration and Ideation phases, whereas execution is key towards the end of the innovation process. Most businesses do not have many employees that meet the required competences of the first two phases, why these phases often become merged into a forerunner to project execution, where project managers take over.

The solution to the problem could be appoint visible owners of the fuzzy front-end, preferable a member of top management as these phases require a more holistic understanding of the business; its strategy, context, and business model. Yet again requiring innovation at the top management level.

The Innovation Process

I define the innovation process as a sequence of five phases:

  1. Inspiration phase, where input are sought regardless of immediate relevance to the company or its context. The intent is to receive inspiration from all possible sources, and success is measured in terms of involvement and diversity
  2. Ideation phase, where inputs have been through the initial screening based upon qualitative metrics. The intent is to connect and cluster input into ideas within a relevant context of the company, where success is measured in terms of adherence to strategic priorities or innovation themes
  3. Iteration phase, where ideas are yet again screened based on more quantitative metrics and get clustered into “concepts” or “themes” that are iterated on. The intent is to develop the business case for the concept and success is measured in terms of financial metrics
  4. Integration phase, where a concept have been formally approved as project, which is then executed according to the company’s project governance model. The intent is project execution and success is measured in terms of standard project management metrics
  5. Implementation phase, where the project is handed over to the organization for implementation into normal business operations. The intent is to turn the idea into an innovation through generating value from it

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