The last five yards – the really hard part

Innovation Project ExecutionIt seems so simple doesn’t it – “bringing final ideas to market”. So easy to say, yet it does seem so very hard to achieve.

Everything we should be aiming towards boils down to the judgement of a ‘successful execution’ or not. It is this last, hard five yards of all the work that went into something, which can make or break so much of the efforts that have gone into this emerging ‘commercial life’ of our new innovation activities.

We should regard the back-end of innovation as the rugged part

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Alignment is needed everywhere

Alignment of Innovation to Organization's Strategic Goals

Alignment of Innovation to Organization’s Strategic Goals

Working in most organizations you spend a disproportional amount of time on looking to achieve alignment. This can range from aligning your meeting schedules to the bigger strategic issues by gaining agreement on the way forward.

 I would bet you that working on alignment is certainly one of the main tasks that is sucking up a large part of your working day. Interesting enough the higher up in the organization you go, the more you have to seek alignment. Gaining alignment is actually very hard.

In corporate life we are constantly attempting to also link organizational goals with our own personal goals. To make this alignment, it requires the difficult aspect of achieving common understanding of all the parties for the specific purpose you are requiring, so as to achieve a consistency between ‘agreed’ objectives and the implementation of these across those involved.

In pursuit of alignment

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The four framing technique for critical innovation questions

Often we do get a little muddled on  our framing assessments for any innovation activity we are considering, and we then often don’t ask the appropriate questions at the right time.  I think there is a neat four box approach to this which hopefully you might see has value to your rating and judgements of the innovation opportunity.

The four framing criteria

  •        Formulation Principles
  •        Formulation Risks
  •        Execution Principles
  •        Execution Risks

So the need is to ask critical questions in given boxes of enquiry.

The four frame methodology for asking the right questions for new innovation activity

Short Descriptors of what makes up the questions within the different boxes

Let me provide a short description of each framing blocks briefly. I feel you can expand within these for your own four-framing approach.

Formulation Principles

These deals with a range of questions that should be asked at different stages of any innovation activity but are set out to establish the guiding approaches and scope.

  1. The Boundaries- how often do we set the boundaries for the way innovation should proceed, this question seeks the potential scope that can be explored.
  2. The Big Picture- often we miss the bigger picture as we delve straight into the problem or solution, having one can really help others see the potential and draw encouragement to expand on their ideas and contributions.
  3. Existing Demand- questioning what is currently available, getting a feeling for its present demand and what additional demand will be gained by you participating, if any
  4. Sequence and Clarity- the understanding of the sequence that innovation initiative should run through and providing the clarity as best as one can early makes for a more effective project.

Formulation Risks

These deal with the different stages of risk investigation so it is better understood early enough.

  1. Search Risk- the amount of time, energy and commitment needed to undertake any search
  2. Plan for Risk- the robustness of risk, outlining the minimum and tolerant points of any risk
  3. Scale Risk- addressing the additional cost of any subsequent scaling highlights issues early
  4. Business Model Risk- what impact does it have on the existing business model, what might need to be changed and the effect this can have

Execution Principles

These deal with the execution guiding structures and beliefs

  1. Overcome Diverse Hurdles- within any innovation there is complexity and diversity and knowing the possible options available to you early on allows for structuring the rules and governance
  2. Resolve Inhibitors- these need to address resources, time and clarify how the approach should be conducted
  3. Clarify Fit- if we don’t know the potential fit then we can make some real mistakes in execution
  4. Build execution into the thinking- knowing how you are likely going to execute can often determine the way you set about the task of innovating your solutions. Knowing the market capacity, channels, customer’s tolerances all come into play here

Execution Risks

These focus upon the risks associated with the different aspects of execution

  1. Organization Risks- the what are they as best as we can antiscipate and ideally updated as we learn more.
  2. Personal Risks- often we stick our necks out but it is sometimes wise to pause and reflect first
  3. Combined Risks- be this with a team group in loss of time, energy, reputation or in the partners you want to engage with for developing any innovation
  4. Lack of Uptake Risk- the downsides are often ignored as innovation is hyped up. By making a ‘reasonable; assessment of the risks of the effect of a poorer uptake and a range of scenarios’ allows for some deeper reflection and need to attempt a better forecasting range early enough.

So within each of these frames you are askng for a clarity on different critical questions that need clear seperation. I think it makes sense to ‘frame’ your questions from these different perspectives. What do you think?

Twenty critical questions to be resolved for succeeding in innovation

Some time back I compiled a list of those critical areas that I felt need addressing for innovation to have a chance of success. Going through them again today and in light of different insights picked up on the way, I added more of a descriptor to each. I certainly think these reflect the struggles within innovation that need working upon constantly, so it has a better chance to succeed.

This revised thinking I feel has upgraded my own focal points as areas I will be exploring even further in my work in the period ahead.

What do you think? Do you think the list is missing something?

My upgraded thinking on the 20 top innovation aspects to master and resolve.

1. There seems so much ongoing difficulty to identify the real opportunities for innovation as there is often no structured approach to this, or even worse a poor recognition of any well formulated strategy, so allowing so many opportunities to fall through the gaps.

2.   Not generating and managing ideas that deliver real growth, mostly due to a lack of any effective decision-making process, organised governance and structure to manage this.

3.   A on-going failure in not effectively seeking out external insights in clear ways and lacking a capturing structure to achieve this, so simply restricting the real awareness of the external environment to the necessary person internally within the organization.

4.   The inability to draw down from a diverse set of networks, partners, systems and people and then connecting them in a ecosystem to acquire, transform or exploit this new knowledge for new innovation.

5.   Not setting the appropriate focus on innovation activities for value creation and making those critical points explicit enough within and across the organization, so leaving it too open to personal interpretation and fuzzyness, resulting in often disappointing end results.

6.   Not having a clear alignment to the Corporate Strategy for innovation, often missing the connections between formal and informal mechanisms needed for managing innovation.

7.   Having poor implementation that fails expectations as the ‘need’ of the end result was left far too vague or compromised somewhere between discovery and delivery.(see 5 also)

8.   Failing to recognize and build innovation capabilities across the organisation that deliver the appropriate mix of skills and experience by often not appreciating the significant differences between the types of innovation necessary and their unique characteristics to execute through these.

9.   Building the competencies to further strengthen change is based far to much on existing organizational cultures that focus on effectiveness and efficiency, failing to recognize this is often in conflict with innovation, that is requiring a far more open ended, adaptive approach.

10. Having different expectations and behaviours across the organisation, divergent opinions and significant disconnects of self-interest and petty politics that override innovation intent.

11. Continually having changing priorities and conflicting responsibilities by not successfully managing the conflict between short and long term needs that are required to be managed in a more structured, thoughtful way.

12. A lack of concerted effort to encourage collaboration across and outside the organization I would suggest is limiting organization design in flows and effectiveness for innovation success.

13. Diverse systems that restrict the flow of knowledge sharing and don’t capture and share those aspects that would, if overcome, would trigger fresh insight and growing awareness of valuable alternatives.

14. Inadequate understanding of consumer and customer needs as the front line engagement process is not alert enough or trained to discover these, or often don’t have a system in place to report these back in the knowledge and incentive that these are seen as important by the customer.

15. Localised innovation that does not engage the whole organisation and continues on a silo basis, pushed by local managers as their pet projects, starving more critical ones and not being well picked up due to a lack of a comprehensive innovation portfolio management system.

16. Largely being reactive to competition and not being proactive, due to this constant struggle to fully understand the external environment and failing to anticipate those future trends and where they fit in their implications for the organization and its innovation focus.

17. Lacking a leadership perspective of the “ideal” culture and climate to inspire innovation and really appreciating what real differences do motivate people at the different levels for them to participate and actively engage in innovation activity or simply not.

18. Not having enough time, resource and resolve to grow innovation activity, as innovation and its appropriate management has not been fully designated as a clear function, with designated accountability, well resourced and integrated within and across the organization.

19. Failure to exploit the know-how and IP within the organisation and explore its potential with partners, so its potential can be fully exploited and commercialised instead of often just left ‘gathering dust’ as simply a protected patent not being exploited.

20. No clear and distinct measures and metrics to drive the innovation process effectively across the organisation and for the individual to relate to, that aligns the efforts with promoting and exploiting innovation as part of everyone’s responsibility.

The implication of this list or even simply parts of it

The effective tasking of innovation activities today cannot be left to chance; it has to be designed into the organization from top to bottom. By not having designated people fully involved and accountable for innovation is likely to inhibit growth. Having a well designed innovation structure and governance is essential but still not well understood

Having an honest conversation at board level is a good starting point.

Reflecting on this twenty points alone and being open enough in addressing them can make a dramatic difference between success and ongoing disappointment. Leaders or those tasked with innovation need to have this honest conversation, if they come up short then they need to ‘reach out’ and seek fresh external advice on how to resolve these gaps so as they can quickly understand their gaps.

Gaining a deeper understanding does make a real difference

I would argue executives should not be afraid to ask. Having a deeper understanding can often come from a dedicated focus often not possible within the confines of one organization. The external advice offered can help move them towards a more successful innovation management structure to succeed in those innovation efforts and go closer to match their desires and growth goals from innovation. Sometimes it is well worth reaching out for fresh perspectives and even, a dose of reality.

Innovation Empowerment Is So Elusive

Looking across a sea of faces you feel that certain resigned feeling, that lack of empowerment, you press on, encouraged by the movement, not within the eyes but the clock. Is that the only thing ticking? You shudder.

How many times have you felt that ‘wave’ of oppression when one colleague looks nervously at his boss just sitting across from him in the same workshop or conference, hoping to gain some new, fresh glimmer of hope? None comes, just a stony, empty blank face staring straight back.

It is really sad but with all that is written about innovation, discussed, offered as leading, best or emergent practice, the majority still simply don’t get it and if they do, they often are forced to keep quiet about it. It can be depressing to witness.

Often you get that feeling the different (and latest) innovation message simply rolls over, a little like the mist rolling in off the sea on a foggy wet day, slowly clawing itself up over a wet rock to suddenly stop and hang there, waiting for something to change.

Will ‘getting it’ change for the many or does this resigned feeling wait upon the boss suddenly waking up and getting innovation, so it all suddenly changes and the innovating sunshine comes out. Empowerment needs enactment

Why is it so?

Here’s a vital question to answer:  who is the most important person when it comes to innovation?  Many people will argue it is the person with the best idea.  Others will argue that it is the person who can make the idea a reality.  We believe the CEO or another senior executive is the most important person, since they have the ability to:

  • link innovation to strategy,
  • direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
  • accelerate good ideas to market as new products and services.

In mid-sized and large companies, CEOs and senior executives are vital to innovation success.  What’s more, these leaders want innovation to happen.

“Hope springs eternal” perhaps?

    “Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Jeffrey Phillips and I have been working on a collaborative ‘white paper’ on this real leadership gap when it comes to innovation. We are still moving this back and forth between us but it does seem from these exchanges from our own independent experiences we have one awful yawning gap to plug before we get that ground swell of innovation empowerment. More will emerge in the weeks and months ahead to get the message of hope out.

If we cannot get this vital message out to the one person that matters for making innovation happen then we will continue to look out and see this sea of faces, who are really wanting to engage. Deep down they do know the problem but can’t seem to influence the way innovation is managed. Just simply knowing that yet they are not in the position to change it. It can’t be ‘released’ until they have been  given permission which so often seemingly falls only at the highest levels within the organization, so they wait. They wait so they can safely extract from all the environment and tools that can be easily available to make it happen, if they have this feeling of confidence and given belief and lasting support.

How can we bring “innovation into every persons life?  Jeffrey and I are trying to construct some different ways to get the message out there and make a more meaningful connection to the leaders than can ‘allow’ empowerment.

Wrapped in a belief helps me

All I know is that ‘relief’ when you come back in from that walk on the cliffs, you shudder from that damp cold and are just grateful you can feel the sunshine just beginning to clear away that mist. We need to organize the winds of innovation change at this leadership level.

We simply need to find ways to unlock and unleash that incredible latent energy waiting to come out of many organizations, locked in their yoke of innovation oppression.

Empowerment should not be so elusive, it needs to be demanded, so innovation can really change our lives and allow “great things to happen” that we can all find hidden within ourselves.

In the US, they are entering the political season again but I feel we should offer “the yes we can” one up for innovation this time as a movement of change, as it offers the pathway towards real engagement and growth, surely that is empowering for us all, leaders especially.

Preparing the secret sauce for innovation delivery.

The secret sauce required for innovation delivery sometimes can be hard to itemize but knowing the ingredients and constantly improving on them wil make your ‘sauce’ stand out from others.  For many it seems, execution or final delivery of the innovation is simply not given enough attention inside many organizations and that needs to certainly change and not just left to chance or delegated out as the less important stage.

For me, clarifying and committing resources on the innovation delivery part is a critical task to get right. I’ve discussed that elsewhere, but if your final delivery is wrong then all your preparation and effort simply ‘goes out the window.’

It is like a restaurant kitchin- correct delivery of the item makes or breaks all the hard work beforehand and if the final garnish or sauces are wrongly executed, the meal itself fails and it leaves the customer dissatisfied, irrespective of the original efforts put in.

To avoid this in innovation delivery you must have a full ‘convergence’ where you have aligned within your innovation process the organization, knowledge, technology, resources, concept and performance to bring this all into your go-to-market plans.

As you consider what is  involved for effective innovation delivery you might want to reflect upon the following within your sauce:

  1. Mapping and planning this delivery completely- execution planning needs dedicated focus, a robust plan that has clear objectives but not overly complicated or excessive in detail.
  2. Building and editing based on changing insights- keeping fluid and agile to changes and adapting the plans where necessary but crucially keeping everyone in the ‘loop’ so all news, good and bad, gets ‘aired’ and seen.
  3. Project management and planning- adapting a disciplined approach to tackling the execution part: setting milestones, tracking changes, informing and pushing for commitments to be delivered upon.
  4. Aligning and influencing multiple ‘vested’ interests- nothing beats communication, seeking opinion and knowing where you can accomodate or not. Be clear on what is important, what can be ‘worked around’ but draw all ‘voices’ into the process but take responsibility and decide- don’t let issues ‘hang’.
  5. Collaborating with external stakeholders- knowing and valuing their place within the execution process is important to always have in mind. Engage with them constantly.
  6. Ensure you have diversity in the team to promote and challenge constantly, seek to encourage and  engage in this often consuming participation as it will ‘alert’ you far earlier to problems than pressing on regardless, not wanting to listen to those signals.

A Go-2-Market plan covers the who, what, where and when and must include:

  • Clarifying the needs and wants of customers in this launch- know these early.
  • Attributes of success, a winning proposition articulated and constantly reviewed.
  • Ensuring innovation delivery is tightly linked across the whole innovation process
  • Scope, timeline and approach to market strategy is well thought through and updated.
  • Definition of risks, economic, competitive and internal positions that are honest.
  • Alignment capabilities and techniques and knowing the gaps to bridge realistically
  • Definition and clarity of the relevant value to the different parties and the final customer
  • Differentiation that is being provided by the new innovation that is clearly spelt out in a clear Value Proposition that keeps being referred too and evaluated.
  • Outline of the appropriate proof-of- innovation delivery concept (based on research, concept work, piloting, customer engagement etc)
  • Plan to acknowledge and cultivate the critical relationships involved and making sure all parties are kept in the loop, compromises only made to resolve impasse.
  • Have clear ways to measure the results, impact and success of any delivery.
  • Provision of feedback and enhancement opportunities/ needs to all relevant parties, even back to the front end of idea creation to provide improved clarity and definition that helps
  • The clear accountability clarification of who does what well stated and well managed.

Achieving correct, effective innovation delivery does provide the chances of  achieving greater commercialised success than simply allowing implementation to just happen as an afterthought. The value of providing the appropriate resources to the final delivery end of innovation are sometimes the critical difference between why certain companies are just so much better at ‘delivering’ their innovation. They ruthlessly execution to a well thought through plan that has learnt its secret sauce and constantly refined it.

Mission Critical for Innovation – Final Delivery

Why is it that for some firm’s innovation seems to be incredibly rewarding yet for the majority it remains at best an unfulfilled promise. Why does innovation present such a stark choice, often fraught with difficulties for many, yet so simple and successful for the few? Innovation delivery is one of those differentiation points.

Let me sugggest here nine points needing your consideration when it comes to thinking through the innovation back end delivery part. Execution as I have outlined in a previous blog, is the final rugged frontier- the tough one to truly master as it is so variable in its makeup. Just consider:

Point one: the key to successful innovation is not idea generation or putting all your creative efforts into the front end of innovation, ideas are always plentiful; it is turning this myriad of ideas into market or customer changing outcomes that successfully deliver based on understanding the customer’s needs.

Point two: There are no silver bullets for execution that is simply a fact. For any established business it is striving to perform above known standards. The ability to sustain leadership in the market is not just about the new product but about the execution and delivery of this. Executing well you have to be ruthless as the market is unrelenting, so you must make designated people accountable to meeting or exceeding standards. Normally innovation delivery needs a highly engaged executive involvement. The innovation delivery part cannot be devolved; it has to be well orchestrated.

Point three: Innovation is always swimming in uncertain waters. As uncertainty rises, the value of a well-thought-out strategy actually drops. There are constantly arising critical unknowns and sometimes all you are left with as your innovation emerges is actually a starting point, a launching point that needs rapid understanding and interpretation to build quickly upon, to yet fully capitalise upon in suddenly hitting a ‘rich vein’ of untapped need.

Point four : So you really do have to be ready to adapt, be agile, be ready to experiment, explore and learn, hence why execution is actually the harder end of the innovation process to get right. Everything hangs off a hypothesis, a set of assumptions, a ‘germ’ of an idea and needs to be proven in its delivery. When innovation is at the heart of your strategy, you need to zero in to the best possible execution strategy and constantly review this as successful delivery provides the validation. What you learn has to be feed back fast into the organization so you need to make sure the listening and responding parts are switched on to ‘receive’ this new information.

Point five: Often the lack of a clear formalised decision making process for commercialization and going-to-market is not present. Corporate leadership often leaves this to lower levels to execute, yet those ‘responsible’ struggle due to a lack of fact-based safety nets, managing the levels of uncertainly that innovation has and the often reluctant to seek out leadership engagement to resolve conflicts.

Point six: Far too often senior executives are engaged elsewhere and those left in charge of the execution process lack the courage to make often tough and game changing decisions. This often damages optimal innovation delivery as teams often adopt safety first principles.

Point seven: The ability to move an idea to implementation- with increasing agility- is what will distinguish the successful organization from the less successful. The ability to execute well remains a critical gap of performance. Innovation requires a deeply imbedded set of capabilities. Innovation is high maintenance but also offers high reward.

Point eight: The increasing complexity within markets, the global pressures of consistent breakthrough or disruptive innovation happening consistently all around us is making successful innovation harder.  The increased emphasis on new business models are causing escalating problems as well, changing approaches to market or challenging core offerings that were previously accepted. Complexity at the innovation delivery stage calls also has no different a need for a higher level of getting organized, keeping discipline and executing effectively. Staying alert to the rapid changes occuring daily.

Point nine: Innovation delivery requires having the right capacity in place, at the right time, to drive execution through to its identified end points. Innovation delivery is where many decisions are often muddled through. Market ‘alertness’ and fast reaction times is becoming more crucial than ever. This needs building into your delivery part- adaptive alertness.

The relationship between innovation efforts and their success lies increasingly in understanding the “go-to-market’ phase- executing the innovation delivery based on understanding clearly the customer and market needs.

Innovation should not be a mystery but it is hard to go from end-to-end without a real recognition that focused effort on the back end delivery part is a relevant, extremely important part of the innovation process, for achieving the return expected from all the total efforts that goes into it from that original idea.