Making Innovation happen (Part I)
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at ESADECREAPOLIS an ecosystem on open innovation taking place in Barcelona at ESADE’s business school. My role was to deliver describing methods by which innovation can happen, as well as potential barriers, catalysts and hazard. It is, indeed, an interesting point of reflection -once a strategy is made clear and the objectives of innovation are clearly outlined, what are other elements need to be covered in order to ensure innovation happens?
We first discussed internal communication and its role in fostering innovation: I personally believe that there are four ways of defining this particular topic. The first method is via the leadership factor: internal communication ensures that we know in which direction our innovation efforts need to flow, as much as it allows for early involvement of a company’s leadership in the decision-making process. This last aspect helps set apart companies who are actually innovating from those who are not. According to a study of Deloitte’s, companies who innovate most frequently tend to involve their leadership quite early on in the process, well before the implementation state has begun. The second dimension is culture: internal communication shapes, clarifies and enables a company’s culture within the organization. Culture, consequently, has everything to do with enabling or constraining innovation. To provide an example, let’s think about an extreme case: how culture treats failure or a lack of promised deliverables and whether or not a post-mortem is undertaken in this situation. A truly innovative organization, an organization which is able to develop and implement innovation, is also an organization which does not shy away from failing at innovation. Treating failure as a educational platform rather than a finger pointing exercise is really a derivative of professional culture. Post-mortems are critical to the innovation cyclea nd need to be analyzed as honestly as possible, not as a way to re-write the record of the project. This is exactly how a management-consulting firm would approach such a task- from an unbiased point of view.
The third dimension is collaboration: internal communication is also about developing resources to connect people inside a company and enable them to transfer and share their experiences and knowledge. This dimension appears increasingly as if it is transforming the corporate intranet into a social network (e.g., profiles, video uploads, “follow me” buttons, discussion forums, chats, messengers, wikis,…).
Internal communication supports innovation through the use of small incentives: free time to work on an idea, resources allocated to the idea (e.g., human and technological to build prototypes,…), time to work on a social entrepreneurship project, or even just few extra vacation days! Anything can make a difference.
During the session in Esadecreapolis, we also discussed three tools related to project management that can help enable innovation. The first of these tools is the “project champion”. This is normally a senior executive that assumes an informal role in the project next to the project sponsor and the project manager. His role is to mentor the project manager, but also to assist with the allocation of resources. Projects which have a champion tend to successfully remove any barriers posed by naysayers barrier within a company. These projects are also more likely to make it into the marketplace. There is a caveat, however: these projects are not necessarily more successful in the market place. This is largely due to the fact that, wit is more difficult to kill a project with a project champion in the picture, even in situations when it should be killed. Moreover, there is another drawback: projects with a senior champion tend to be allocated more resources than they need, to the detriment of all other innovation projects in a company.
Furthermore, managing effective innovation often relies on the figure of innovation champion: this is someone within the organization who has previous experience in successfully delivering a completed innovation project. They normally have a good reputation and, therefore, lend credibility to the project itself. These individuals play an important role in mentoring the project manager and providing powerful insight on future hurdles and barriers. Projects which include an innovation champion are more likely to be completed on time and on budget, although, once again, they are not necessarily more successful in the market place.
Finally, the third best practice in innovation project management is the “war room”. Typically found in design firms around the globe, it is a space which is used for various project meetings and it contains all possible knowledge about the project (e.g. charts, insights, barriers, prototypes) . War room scan be used for rapidly generating ideas and building prototypes.
Firms who rely on a war room normally tend to reduce the need for “status meetings”, all of which can happen online, and promote the use of physical meetings in order to allow for group synergy A “war room” is effective only if there is an on-line space for the project where all contributors are properly recognized, their time is allocated, and all deadline and milestones are clear. I personally believe that all branding and strategic marketing departments should also have a war room, but I will save that for another post!
In the next post, we will be discussing change and change management, and its connection with innovation.