It happens everyday: process slows down innovation which turns out a grueling race. Don’t get me wrong: innovation is a process that needs to be managed (‘Creative Tension‘). But stage process don’t flow without meaning.
Going through a fictional innovation story detailed below, we sort out 2 lessons around ‘Feature Team’ and ‘Leadership’, that would be worth tested in your next innovation challenge.
September 2012 –> February 2013 : getting approval
‘Why did it take so long to build a first mock-up for this digital device, while in a similar time frame one competitor managed to launch commercially?’ was wondering the innovation project leader that first day of October 2013.
Although everything started well one year ago, little black clouds gradually rolled in. What happened? Well, nothing special, just water running downhill.
He remembered coming back from a professional event abroad, with the exciting idea of a creative digital device that could revolutionize the market, at the crossroad of emerging consumer habits and cutting-edge capabilities (September).
The moment after, he was striving to craft a mock-up illustrating the idea. He was told, this couldn’t process without putting in place appropriate conditions. Why? What kind of?
- Because you need to dig into the concept, define a strategic positioning, investigate business model, produce a deck of slides, and get the various marketing teams aligned on a joint baseline (>> November);
- Because the project must be approved by the Innovation Committee, that another file format must be fulfilled, a slot found in the agenda, and that it’s not so easy in this period of year, at end of year (>> February);
- Because the boss’s boss wants to make sure all marketing teams are on the same page, and as he’s not available at Innovation Committee meeting, you have to set up a dedicated meeting with all stakeholders (>> March);
- Because the presentation to the boss’s boss would be completed without appropriate support of relevant resource such as the innovation project leader, and, in a budget cuts context, would drive to one-half approval, the one that the boss’s boss figured out, and which had been previously approved by the Innovation Committee (>> April);
- Because the team corresponding to the budget cut got then demobilized.
April 2013 –> June 2013 : getting people staffed
‘Can we go for development now?’ asked the innovation project leader. Hold on, you’re almost there, just a few more things besides:
- Because once Innovation Committee has approved, request for development resources shall proceed from ‘Project management’ Lab to Lab ‘Make or Buy’ desk (>> April);
- Because once ‘Make’ decision is completed, development team must finalize its current assignments, get ready and be briefed on the work to do (>> May);
- Because you need to issue an RFI (Request for Information) in order to get some device samples for the development team, that an RFI requires rework to be easily understandable by suppliers, that Purchasing cell has to be briefed and involved (>> June);
- Because development time has to be slated in summer time, not easy in a vacation period (>> July-August);
July 2013 –> September 2013 : getting things done
You’ve got your team assigned, you’re not arrived yet: harsh tasks will be staggering from crummy track to flawless proof of concept, demanding for full innovation leader commitment:
- Because the product owners of the apps that could be reused to stage the device mock-up do not want to share the code with the innovation team, and so another app has to be identified within the Lab (>> June);
- Because, considering the number of team members and their location, the first comprehensive team meeting was achieved in September (>> September);
- Because there is no platform to enable end-to-end tests with the device mock-up (>> September);
- Because the suppliers’ presentations in response to the RFI left out some members of the marketing team, so as not look like an ‘ill-disciplined army’ (>> October);
September 2013 –> on-going : getting ‘buy-in’
Now that the mock-up stages the concept in a resounding way, innovation project leader shall seek buy-in and delivery support from the national business units, which brings additional :
- Because no business unit commits right away to the innovative device, because they are overwhelmed, and they don’t clearly see the ground breaking opportunity among a roadshow of 10 innovation concepts presented in the same afternoon;
- Because from a mock-up to an industrial product, with all purchasing contracts and supply chain in place, a roll-out kit actionnable by every business unit / country (including SDK, customer experience, local product positioning, promotion, price, place), and sustaining an innovation ecosystem (APIs), one will need another 9 months (October >> July);
- Because no one launches in July (Soft launch in July >> Massive launch in September), we will probably incur a one year penalty compared to competition.
Feature Team and Leadership
How well documented a stage-gate process might be, it doesn’t grant you for success, and neither for speed. For innovation to step-in, meaning must prevail: product development rules are relevant when they add value, not chasing smaller and smaller, suppressing autonomy to lead to dull or hollow upshot; otherwise innovation flow must find ways to circumvent to match market speed. In the long run, the best rules are the ones which are collectively shared and experienced. Activating collective intelligence is innovation purpose and span:
- When innovation team is not a fully dedicated Feature Team (assembling all necessary skills such as product marketing, design, development, customer experience, device supply), one is going to stop and queue at every trade desk. Never will you form a unified team, bonded in faith and deep conviction. Furthermore, moving from one desk to another, breaking things in pieces, your risk losing the consistency of the innovation story;
- Without Leadership, innovation is governed by budget regulation, committee without inspiration, and work service planning, which only fits for incremental innovation. Without vision and conviction, collaborative innovation ends up to contractual agreement instead of sharing competencies fruitfully, unraveling flexible open innovation, fostering creativity and disruption.
image credits: radioscopy-choq-fm, letsgo-com, fastcompany.com
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Nicolas is a senior VP at Orange Innovation Group. Serial innovator, he set-up creative BU with an international challenge, and a focus on new TV experiences. Forward thinker, he completed a thesis on “Rapid Innovation”, implemented successfully at Orange, and further developed at nbry.wordpress.com. He tweets @nicobry