Innovation – Implementation of ideas
Previously I looked at methods and frameworks for evaluating and selecting ideas. The key objective of this stage is to identify and accelerate promising ideas and to eliminate bad ideas early. After this process is finished and the best ideas have been selected for solving the innovation challenge, execution of the ideas must happen in order for it to be “innovation”. Remember in the first article I said that implementation is a definitive requirement for innovation, because if you have a great new idea, and you do nothing about it, that is all it is – a great idea.
The other side of innovation
Research has shown that most organisations struggle with the execution part of innovation. Some authors even refer to it as “the other side of innovation” because it is such an elusive goal to attain. But what are the reasons for this? Not a lot of research has been done on this topic, but of the research I could find, indicated that some of the causes for this phenomenon are issues such as: organisations being risk averse, resource availability, skills shortage, lack of management support, the product or service being a failure in itself, rewards and incentives are focused on “business as usual” activities, lack of proper metrics and (as usual) the organisation’s culture. I don’t want to dwell too much into the “why implementation is failing” issue, but rather focus on how an organisation can become better at execution .
There are two issues that I view as crucial for becoming an organisation that can “execute”. First and foremost the organisation must accept the fact that innovation is risky and that there will be mistakes and failures when executing ideas. No doubt this is difficult to achieve. Years of cost cutting and focus on process excellence have created in many organisations a culture that is focused on operational excellence and risk avoidance. Organisations (and people, for that matter) love stability and predictability because these factors make it easier to earn profits. Innovation, however, is about adaptation, risk and change, which can be very difficult to live with or to profit from. Something as entrenched as this in the organisational culture cannot be changed overnight and leadership has to set the example to show that an organisation is willing to take risks. Start with small projects, grow through the lessons learned and gradually increase the organisation’s risk tolerance and risk management capabilities.
Secondly, the organisation must make time to execute. This issue is closely aligned to the first one because resources are so focused on doing their “day jobs” – the work that they get paid for – that they don’t have time for “extra projects” or “other work”. This obstacle too can be overcome with the appropriate leadership awareness and via leveraging some of the following tactics to re-balance work effort: reduce day-to-day operational responsibilities; increase resources; design performance incentives aligned to working on new projects; remove work flow and/or process-based obstacles; establish frequent and focused communication on work balance; design a roadmap, plan or other structure for innovation execution activities and make it visible; be honest about organisational changes and share both the benefits and the risks of the strategy; establish a specialised team to work outside of the day-to-day operations. I can hear you say “we don’t have the budget to do this”. My answer to that is: You better start budgeting for this, because your competition is already doing it. I have covered some of the “soft” issues around implementation of ideas or “innovation execution”. Since I believe that innovation should be treated as a business discipline, execution excellence is also dependent on the application of structured disciplines such as project management, quality management and prototyping, the focus for the next article. I conclude with a quote by William Pollard: “It is not always what we know or analysed before we make a decision that makes it a great decision. It is what we do after we make the decision to implement and execute it, that makes it a good decision”.