Development executives feel that whilst the basic structure of the innovation process is functioning well, there is a lot of room for improvement. Idea-to-market Flow efficiency is a key KPI for development. Value Stream Mapping (tool from Lean) sets the measurement basis of Flow efficiency, which is calculated by dividing the value-added time (i.e. idea gets better) by total lead time. Flow efficiency is typically less than 20% for new solutions. This means that more than 80% of time is wasted (waiting, rework, over processing etc.).
Although some of the waste might be really sticky and difficult to eliminate, there is still a lot we can do ourselves to increase idea-to-market Flow. Here is a listing of 12 ways, inspired by the Lean development philosophy, to speed up your innovation process without jeopardizing value.
1. Reduce bureaucracy, break down monuments and functional silos
Your energy and effort need to be oriented outside the company – at your customers and value network, not for inside matters or politics. Innovation is a team sport, solutions are made by us to them. If you are still tangled in functional debates and over-the-wall handovers, you might want to clear the air, eliminate internally caused wastes and really work together for the good of the customer.
2. Map the Value Stream and Learn to see waste
The Value Stream is the set of interconnected activities, which are needed to bring an idea-to-market in a neat commercial package. If an activity does not create customer value, it is waste. Learn to see waste in your innovation process and work hard and smart to remove it. The 8 wastes of Lean give a framework and terminology for waste hunting.
3. Define you companies design and innovation principles
Principles are a great way to set the ground for your own Innovation DNA. Create and write down the principles of how you should go about doing design and innovation. Three questions make up the frame: What should we do? What can’t we do? What must we do? Once the rules are clear, you can assign more freedom to your creative teams to rapidly enrich and validate potential ideas. Tip: check the Design thinking mindsets and Agile manifesto for some ideas on best-practice principles.
4. Outline a system and set of rules for resourcing and project prioritization
It is all so common to hear that there are simply too many operative tasks and projects on-going at the same time. If there are too many balls in the air, nothing gets done. Lack of prioritization is a killer for flow efficiency. Learn to prioritize, make rules and be mindful of the resources at hand. Stop trying to do too much at the same time.
5. Structure the Front End of Innovation
Front End of Innovation (FEI) is the phase before an idea enters the (formal) part of the development process. FEI is where an early idea becomes a business case, the formal process is for its execution. In the Front-End, there is maximum design space available and changes are cheap. You should outline a process with a high degree of freedom on how you make a preliminary study for an idea and make it ready for the pipeline and gate committee. After all, nothing is more painful than executing a bad idea well, so make sure you have a system for enriching and validating ideas prior to committing to their commercialization.
6. Integrate users, customers and your value partners into the innovation system
We develop solutions for customers, not for ourselves. Innovation process proceeds from customer need to customer solution. You should also check many times along the way that you are on the right track with the new concept. It is best to interact with your customers and value network partners directly. Otherwise, the market launch might be a disaster and you feel silly for not making any piloting before committing a lot of time and energy for a new concept.
7. Develop and standardize a set of templates and tools to support communication and development
Powerful and easy-to-use tools are a great help when it comes to developing designs, business cases and plans and communicating them. Standardization is closely coupled with efficiency. There are a lot of useful tools and methods, such as, A3-canvases, which will easy-up information flow during the development process.
8. Assign and train Innovation champions
Make sure that someone has the power and will to drive new ideas into the market and carry end-to-end responsibility across functions. Otherwise, projects may fall to caveats during the process, as no one really feels ultimately responsible for the market result. We call these innovation champions. Spot, train, authorize and support them - innovation is a tough game, requiring talent and resilience.
9. Implement Design-to-Value
Design-to-Value (DTV) contends that all product features must contribute to customer value. Product designs must be optimized so that value is maximized, and costs are minimized. DTV runs throughout the innovation process, starting with identifying a prioritized set of design specifications, rigorously creating alternative concepts and testing them with users early on.
10. Set up visual workflow management
Visual workflow management is a tool for managing any development project. The idea is to make work visible to everyone and keep track of detailed work progress. Making workflows visual helps to find the value-path, balance resources and spot bottlenecks.
Kanban is a popular tool for visualizing the flow of work, oftentimes based on defining activities for a defined future time-period and categorizing those according to work status (to do, in progress, done). Team members pull work as capacity permits, rather than work being pushed onto them. Kanban boards are usually coupled with weekly stand-up meetings that further support workflow management.
11. Organize well-planned co-creative events
Since participation increases commitment, innovation and design events (e.g. workshops) are a great way to increase idea-to-market flow. As opposed to individual problem solving and heroism, work as a multidisciplinary team. Well-planned and executed events increase customer value and speed up innovation. There are tons of well-suited group techniques and tools to help perform any action or designing any deliverable in a workshop.
12. Foster a culture of experimentation and continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve processes towards a goal state. These efforts can seek small improvement over time or a major "breakthrough" improvement at once. Kaizen events and real-life experimentation coupled with learning cycles are at the heart of modern continuous improvement methodology. Continuous improvement is best as a common movement, supported by management and embedded into the company’s culture and DNA. Everyone should take responsibility and action to constantly improve performance.
Hopefully the listing gave you ideas on how to improve innovation performance. What did I miss, what would be your addition to the list?
Matti Perttula (D.Sc.) is a Partner and Management Consultant at Innotiimi-ICG (Helsinki, Finland) specialized in innovation and development. He believes that a modern innovation model combines best practices of classical innovation management frameworks with the new "Lean & Agile" innovation models.