The 9-Step innovation Process
Idea generation needs to be done quickly and well. In a busy life, taking time out to think has become a scarce resource. "The leader knows everything, just follow orders" is a construct for failure. Organisations need to draw on the full brainpower and experience of the whole team, and the leader’s job is to tap into that rich vein. We all probably imagine that technology companies have these types of innovation process as a given. You would be surprised! We have found many innovators who have the individual R&D components but no overall guiding process.
Here is a 9-Step process that is comprehensive, simple to execute and fast.
Step 1 – Visualisation. This requires some hard and clear thinking around the "should be", the ideal future we want to achieve. It sounds simple but there are many interacting parts in the corporate machine and we need to visualize how we get them all working to achieve the ideal outcome. Time, cost and quality aspirations are in constant tension. We have to be careful what we wish for because if we choose the wrong target we will hit it!
Step-2 –Fact finding. We determine the "as Is" situation, that is our current state of play and gather data to establish our starting point. This is a critical step to enable measurement but also to help our brainstorming process. It is very difficult to go from a vision to a quality idea in in one bound. We need to gather information and use this as our base to launch forth and do idea generation.
Step 3 – Problem or opportunity finding. We now know where we are and where we want to be, so why aren’t we there already? What is holding us back? This step requires identifying and then prioritising the problems or opportunities facing us. A great leading question is "in what way can we…." The prioritization step is critical in a busy life. We can’t do everything but we can do the most important thing, we just need to be clear about what that might be.
Step 4 - Idea finding. We need to consider the aim, the reasons holding us back and be reminded of the key information about the critical aspects of our business, so we can use these as a base from which to come up with the creative ideas we need. There is a caveat we need to apply at this point. We must use Green Light thinking. This means we are aiming for volume of ideas not judgment of ideas at this point. We want a big basket of ideas from which to harvest the best. Even if someone in the group comes up with the most ridiculous, idiotic contribution you have had the indignity to suffer and affront your intelligence just SHUT UP! That crazy idea might stimulate someone else to come up with a truly creative and usable idea, so don’t kill ideas off at this point, just get them out. Encourage people to write their ideas down before sharing with the group and use a good facilitator to make sure all of those ideas are drawn out.
Step 5 – Solution finding. Now we use Red Light thinking. We become judicial, we make decisions about competing ideas as to which is best, we now focus on the quality of the idea. There are many ways at arriving at this process, be it consensus, voting, criteria method (absolutes vs desirables) or directing. It will really vary from issue to issue and company culture plays a role here.
Step 6 – Acceptance finding. Ideas are free but their execution is usually attached to a cost and this is when we need to get the decision-makers involved. It may require a pilot programme for testing with users or it may require jumping in with both feet. Regardless, don’t bother doing any more work unless the senior management are with you on this.
Step 7 – Implementation. Now we put the ideas into action as the execution stage to get from "as is" to "should be". This requires a planning process to be attached to it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to be written down, have names attached to tasks and have rock hard timelines.
Step 8 – Follow up. Monitoring that people are doing what they say they are doing is always insightful. "Good intentions" doesn’t cut it and people must be held accountable for their role or the project begins to drift. Set up 30, 60, 90 day follow up meetings.
Step 9 – Evaluation. If we had a clear starting point, a clear goal and we have executed the project well, then we are well placed to make judgments about identifying and assessing the end results. It sounds simplistic when we read this but sometimes the fuzziness and lack of clarity at the start comes back to haunt us at the end. Do we continue as is or do we need to modify for further success?
These 9 Steps provide a complete framework for innovation that will tap the full power of the team and leave your competitors wondering what happened. Good luck besting the competition through your innovation power!