My recent blog post was about how enterprises are too often overlooking the innovation management processes. Perhaps some feel that this area is a bit too famous for expensive and colorful consulting industry. Or perhaps because of the lessons learned from social collaboration software: There is plenty of tools available, but engaging users to participate is the most challenging part.
Many reasons can be found for keeping innovation “as it is” – in meeting notes and brainstorming workshops. Innovation is too often not seen as integral part of the everyday production and therefore it is not under continuous process improvement – or at least ideation part in effective “Innovation Project Machine” is often not properly solved (very interesting article at InnovationManagement.se, I recommend to read).
There is no reason to let it be like this. Let’s take a closer look what simple steps enterprises can do to engage their employees, partners and customers to innovate better together. And with what expense does this happen.
In agile innovation the question is not how to create detailed processes, but how to get people actively sharing ideas and implementing them productively together. If everyone is already busy on their daily activities, how to motivate people to participate something that might not affect directly to their work?
Innovation solutions have been evolving a lot during recent years. Innovation platforms have become more social and the most advanced solutions already provide concepts such as gamification for better engagement. Studies made for example by Gartner have shown that leading enterprises have a great interest towards these concepts. This accelerates the development.
Organizations that haven’t invested large sums of money into innovation platforms can also benefit of this ongoing revolution. While big innovation platforms get more standardized with features, new tools evolve with easy-to-use mature concepts and proven solutions.
This takes us to the next level of innovation management solutions: Less expensive consulting, more straightforward action and result-driven experimenting. Building an innovation process shouldn’t be about configuring a complex software for your processes – it’s about passion, flow and instant experimental implementation with agile iterations and readymade components.
Here’s some perspective to this thinking: Stage-Gate is a mature framework for managing innovations. It has shown effectivity in enterprises across the world. With new set of tools it gets even better. We can create a simple social and gamified solution with a lean Stage-Gate process to support everyday ideation and innovation. With modern web based and mobile solutions you can start running the whole new platform in cloud with monthly basis without huge upfront investments on consulting or implementation.
Here’s one example how LumoFlow supports Stage-Gate (same ideas can be repeated with other innovation software as well):
How can this be easily implemented and perhaps a bit more agile way? Let’s also remember that in average business, there is not yet sustainable ideation processes for discovery stage.
Lean approach is a good beginning in this: Build, measure and learn. Get started with a small solution, add more over the time. At early stage simple ideation process with similar kind of approach is quite much enough.
This is how you could start an agile innovation engine with LumoFlow:
Start ideation first with your closest colleagues without a process – take ten minutes per day to post one or two ideas that has been bugging you already some time. Ask others to do the same. After a while start creating structure to these ideas. Push them into simple innovation funnel with a small workflow: evaluation, scoping, implementation .. (this workflow should be defined by your business needs).
Take the next step: Between stages create a decision making gate: Once a week read through the highest scored ideas and push most promising ones deeper into funnel. After one or two months you have some implemented ideas and fine tuned innovation funnel to repeat this process. Then it’s time to add more participants (cross-organizational, across enterprises as much as possible) and repeat the build, measure and learn steps. Setup doesn’t have to be more complicated than this:
Agile, and definitely lean – at least if you remember to keep this iterative and connect your key customers to share ideas. Be also ready to push the thumb down and kill the idea or sometimes critically recycle the idea before it goes to the next stage. Also don’t allow people to be afraid of letting ideas grow something that they weren’t meant to be. This is not a sales funnel for closing deals! And above all – change the process if it’s too complex or you figure out how to improve it.
Total cost of this proof-of-concept case is some hours of your work and some other by your colleagues. This cost together with less than a hundred per month software subscription are reasonably spread across the experimenting time without upfront investments.
What to expect as a return for your investment? If not yet looking how your new ideas are affecting to sales, at least now you have an agile innovation engine that is ready to be pimped up and tuned. Expand it to cover more users – build, measure and learn. Process improvement is in any case continuous practice. Or in worst case you have learned something about your innovation culture with very low cost.
The real world is of course much more complicated. Ideation usually requires a “critical mass” of people to participate. Yet before expanding too much there must be slots reserved for measuring and learning as well. The best part is that deeper you dive in innovation, better possibilities you have to measure. How many ideas have been posted? How many decisions have been made? How many comments have been given? How many tasks have been completed? How active people have been? A good innovation platforms gives answers while you focus on learning.
Implementing a productive and cost-effective ideation engine is important, but it also fosters the next questions: How can you get people motivated to participate over and over again and how can this engine be integrated seamlessly to your production or projects? I will return to these questions soon.