The Challenges Being Faced by Innovation Consultants

Ignoring different voicesFrom my perspective I’ve been looking at a real challenge today, that many consultants offering innovation services are not providing real sustaining consulting value to clients, only ad-hoc services.

Unless this changes it will continue to erode the clients’ confidence in these service providers and they will be seeking increasing internal solutions to tackle their problems. I think if this trend continues it will be a mistaken course.

Consultants are not addressing many of the changes occurring and ignoring opportunities to adapt to different circumstances, they are simply not putting up a strong case of their engagement  by redesigning their business models or opening themselves up to different forms of collaboration.

In many ways, the consulting industry specializing in innovation is its own worst enemy.

It is highly fragmented, often highly specialized in certain innovation practices, and with much of the advice comes from a cottage industry of independent practitioners, caught up in executing and little time for advancing their own knowledge.

There is this sense that consultants are resolutely staying very internally driven, self-promoting, still trying to convey the story of innovation mastery, when clearly this is lacking in rapidly changing market and technology conditions and due to this staying ahead of the knowledge curve are actually failing the client.

Many consulting firms have spent the last decade trying to make themselves more efficient, going from craft work to selling one solution as a mass production to many, to yield ever-increasing fees, so as to gain a re-occurring return on a one-off invested solution. Innovation solutions simply need to be crafted to each set of circumstances mostly, in my opinion and that conflicts with this repeating model.

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Opening up the Stage Gates to let the new innovating world in?

Stage Gate hurdlesThere is no question the Stage-Gate process has had a significant impact on the conception, development and launch of new products. Yet there have been consistent criticisms of it, as the world of innovation has moved on. Today it is faster-paced, far more competitive and global and become less predictable.

The cries of the Stage-Gate process as being too linear, too rigid and far too planned, bordering on prescriptive have often been heard. The gates are too structured and the constant ‘creep’ of the controlling bureaucracy surrounding it in paperwork, checklists and justification has simply led to so much non-value-added work add to the moans and groans.

Surprisingly, the Stage-Gate concept was created in the 1980’s and led to Robert G Cooper’s different evolutions of this evolving and absorbing many new practices and experiences gained by different organizations across this time.

I’ve written previously on this blog site about the concerns within this Stage Gate system if organizations allow the ‘controllers’ to dominate over the ‘creators’ of innovation what can happen. We end up with “self-inflicted wounds caused by jumping hurdles and closing gates on innovation”.

The idea-to-launch gating system is under more threat today than ever before.

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Self-inflicted wounds caused by jumping hurdles and closing gates on innovation

Many organizations have made Stage-Gate or a mutation of it, their ‘go-to’ innovation process that all innovation must ‘somehow’ pass through. Squeezing all types of innovation through this, for whatever people claim is a linear process, is simply wrong.

You can simply say: “we destroyed much to get sometimes so little out as the final outcome, when initially it was seen to be so promising.

The difficulty is that we are still struggling to find a real alternative, although there have been some recent noteworthy attempts, firstly by Jose A Briones and his Spiro-Level 3D approach and then by Paul R Williams, of the American Institute for Innovation Excellence, to move the discussions beyond the Stage-Gate process from this linear into more spiral concepts and beyond.

There has been an awful lot written on Stage-Gate, some people attacking it and suggesting it “guarantees mediocrity for your business”. Clayton Christensen has suggested “the Stage-gate system is not suited to the task of assessing innovation whose purpose is to build new growth businesses, but most companies continue to follow it simply because they see no alternative”

Stage-Gate has certainly earned its place for product management. Continue reading