Often you can be asked or placed in a position where you have to assess quickly the innovation capability of an organization, a unit or a team, working on an innovative concept to deliver in changing market or organizational circumstances and can they?
There are many ways to do this but when someone says “look, (and takes a long breath) it has to be really quick as we need to make some fairly swift decisions to meet some deadlines” then you can’t go and propose a three month study, or to construct an extensive questionnaire. Sometimes a real urgency needs some sharpening down within your focus.
You certainly need to be careful in accepting these assignments and ensure you set out some caveats and qualifications before you accept them.
- Caveat lector, “let the reader beware”
- Caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”
- Caveat venditor, “let the seller beware”
Six honest men are often simply not enough.
I’ve always loved the Poem “Six honest serving men” by Rudyard Kipling ( http://bit.ly/bKKheI) but I’m not sure this alone would serve me well in this sudden situation to assess a given situation or the innovation capability needed in quick assessments.
I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
So I have a short and simple snapshot approach.
These are my rapid six things to check. Not cast in stone or rigid but they quickly get at the core I feel.
I seek to understand the motivation, the timing, the organization, the network, process and inventory make ups. Let me explain each but recognize this is far from perfect and needs consistent exploring and often looping back.
What is the motivation behind the innovation concept? Has it been explicitly formulated, what does this innovation create in new value? What does the story (so far) communicate to me? Questions that work around the reasons and needs for a given course of action. The aspirations, purpose and desire can often move mountains (and projects). Also knowing its importance gives you a ‘clear heads up’ in the real urgency.
What is the time plan to deliver this? Are these realistic dates? Does it match needs and considerations of (all) the parties involved? What possible consequences can arise from this timing? Simply a reality check,that often someone external can ask and probe more effectively, but make sure you keep cross checking this to not be ‘snowed’.
This is the one you can get sucked into. This can be a minefield of politics so don’t dive in, just work around some of the ‘raw’ edges. Sound out relationships within the team, those contributing into the concept as step one. Then probe a little more at the delivery capability- past and present stories. Finally get at the key resources and the knowledge capital within the project to see if it ‘gels’ and seemingly makes some sense. Leave the ‘beating and amount of eggs’ to others.
Relationships make or break innovation especially when you are under pressure. What are the interactions, what are the dynamics within the team, what are the dependencies, what and where does this innovation concept fit within all the conflicting pressures going on and how does the support structure support this. What might help, what causes barriers, what needs unblocking from what you can ‘quickly’ see.
Knowing the innovation process, the hurdles and gates, a concept needs to go through and what is focused upon to achieve this. How does the reviewing process work, what is captured, reflected upon and then built into the ongoing process? It is often the process that dictates and kills innovation off. The shift to ‘status and attainment’ rather than ‘value and benefit’ often gets muddled up. What can make a difference, what are the risks and benefits.
This might be the resources you have working on the innovation concept for sure, but I would equally want to have explicit and distinctive value propositions well articulated. What are the options in different scenarios, what needs to change, search for inventory gaps, explore alternatives, getting a sense of capability and capacity to deliver in varying situations. Get a handle on this is not easy but essential to discussing alternatives.
At the end of this short investigation prepare for the shooting of the messenger- you!
What you have to be really ready for is the ‘cross examination’ from this. As I said at the beginning this is to form a quick opinion on the present position, the realities of delivery as promised and the potential and risks if deadlines need to change or are required to change. It serves as a structure for ‘delving into’ much that should be sufficient to ‘flag’ issues or ‘wave’ the project on. Ensure they don’t hold your feet over the fire but it can get hot as they are feeling the heat more than you.
As the end of Rudyard Kiplings poem it finishes with:
“One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!”
Again, you need your caveat list ready. The most well known caveat is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Seriously if you can provide some early warning signals and highlight some issues it is far better than everyone pressing on regardless. Also respect what you have learnt when it is told in confidence. There are ways to break the news without naming the source and be clear to avoid at all costs the politics of others!
Sometimes these can be tough assignments and can leave there mark on you. Deliver as best an assessment as you can, nothing less, but they are not easy.