Breakthrough projects to create innovation opportunities
I am discussing the issue of learning innovation through practising it. Innovation does not happen through talking and theorising about it, it happens from taking actions and doing something about it. Organisations can become more innovative only if their managers are forced to innovate, experiment, succeed and learn, i.e. taking action on ideas. So the challenge then becomes to figure out how the organisation can create such an environment. Breakthrough projects There are two good structured approaches for building innovation into on-going business activity. One is the Breakthrough strategy and the other is the Work-Out process. I focused on the Work-Out process in the previous article, so the Breakthrough strategy will be covered in this article. The Breakthrough strategy is the approach where planned undertakings (breakthrough projects), aimed at achieving tangible, bottom-line results in a short period of time, are used to mobilise the organisation into action. It is designed to unleash people’s creativity and drive, and provide real experience in implementing change, i.e. innovation. To understand how it works, let me break it down into its components. What is the definition of a breakthrough in this context? A breakthrough is a new and discontinuous level of accomplishment, or a result that is not predictable from past performance and highly desired. The breakthrough itself may take the form of an unprecedented level of performance, an unexpected speed of production or task completion, or a new possibility that is seen and that creates a new future for an organisation. Whatever the form, a breakthrough is characterized by a discontinuity with the past – something that is not incremental or linear in nature and could not have been predicted. What constitutes a breakthrough project? A breakthrough project is an initiative with a specific team or group that has an aggressive and quantifiable goal. The breakthrough goal represents the accomplishment of an unprecedented or seemingly impossible objective. Let me give you a practical example with a story about the specialized product division of a large reinsurance company. After losing several key people a year earlier, the division’s efforts to generate new business were stalled. In an attempt to resurrect sales, the head of the division pulled together a team and gave it a mandate to significantly increase the number of qualified prospects in the sales pipeline. The team set a goal of bringing in 10 qualified prospects within 90 days, a dramatic improvement over the existing empty pipeline. Shaken out of its comfort zone by the need to scare up 10 qualified prospects in 90 days, the team tried things that had not been tried before, things that had been outside team members’ self-defined “boxes” and pre-existing assumptions. In this example, it was the requirement for real results that made the team keep asking “Is this working?” and if the answer was “No”, then they tried something else. It engaged the team in rapid-cycle experimentation to find out what is working and what is not. Examples of breakthrough challenges for your organisation? Raising the sales forecast only 10% next year; why not make it 80%? Planning to launch 3 new products next year; why not make it 10 new products? Increase revenue by 10%, why not double it? Ways in which organisations can create an environment that supports breakthrough projects, include: Encouraging greater risk-taking; Accepting that failure of some projects is a natural part of the learning process and developing incentive programmes that give employees ownership of breakthrough projects.