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Including innovation in the planning cycle

In previous articles, I discussed the role of a corporate innovation manager and also the team who will be involved in making innovation happen in the organisation.
For the organisations that have year-end in December, the planning and budgeting cycle is now in full swing, so in this article I want to focus on inclusion of innovation in the planning cycle.
Planning for innovation
When the financial year winds down, organisations start reviewing their budgets and strategic plans and objectives for the next year.  This is an excellent opportunity to budget and plan for innovation as well, in order to eliminate two of the great excuses for innovation, namely: “It’s not in the budget” and “We don’t have capacity for it now”.
Contrary to popular believe that innovation can strike at any time, innovation is actually much more achievable and sustainable if it is properly planned for, and you can actually plan for the unexpected innovation opportunity as well.  I want to mention that of the organisations I have worked with in Namibia, very few have included innovation in the planning cycle. It amuses me that every time when it comes to the following year’s revenue or cost saving’s targets, the message comes through that “we need to make or save an additional x percent” and then great effort is put into tweaking the numbers to get to the extra “x” percent, but no effort is put in to identify new and novel ways to make the new revenue targets or reduce costs, also known as innovation. So let me start with answering the question of what does innovation planning entail?  In broad terms, an organisation must plan for innovation on two levels. One level is for creating the foundation for making innovation happen.  This means planning and budgeting for innovation training and skills development, ideation and planning workshops, innovation spaces, team-building sessions, incentives and rewards, and tools and software. The other level is for taking on specific innovation projects, like a new product- or service development. These projects should be the outcome of strategic planning sessions, or ideation sessions where useful ideas have been generated and developed into solid business cases where costs and benefits have been properly estimated to ensure the projects look feasible. 

Many organisations do have a capital budget where the project budgets feature, but usually this is just a wish list and the link to strategy and innovation objectives have not been appropriately thought through.  So essentially the innovation planning should have started even a while before the annual planning cycle starts, as it takes a month or two to generate ideas and develop it into feasible business cases that are aligned to strategic objectives. Going into more detail, planning for innovation includes: 1. Setting goals. 2. Identifying existing and needed resources and capabilities 3. Assigning and prioritising tasks. 4. Developing timelines. 5. Establishing evaluation measures 6. Developing protocols for dealing with the unexpected. Establishing measures will ensure that whatever value for innovation was envisioned gets tracked and reported on, because “what gets measured gets managed”.  Developing protocols for dealing with the unexpected is the plan for managing the unforeseen “million dollar idea”, or for when you have to act quickly – and are forced to innovate – to counter competitor “surprises”… There is no substitute for good planning; innovation benefits can only be achieved through planned effort to invest in new ideas and convert them into practice in a systematic way.

Next Time
I trust that I have made a solid case here for including innovation in the planning cycle and that it will be a regular feature on the planning agenda from now on. I always propagate innovation and improving innovation skills, capabilities and capacities.  However, sometimes innovation activities have to be prevented, yes, prevented.  Make sure to read the next delivery to appreciate my reasons for this controversy.  I conclude with a quote from Alan Lakein: “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

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