Try this exercise. Draw a flow chart diagram of your organization’s approval process for innovations. Pick an example for a theoretical new idea. Suppose it is a good idea to improve customers’ satisfaction that would involve significant spending and the co-operation of several departments. What levels of approval and authority would it need to see the light of day? Who are the key stakeholders in the approval process? Who has the right of veto? What levels of planning or business case development are needed to get it through the system?
Draw as detailed a flow chart as you can showing the go/no go decision points and the feedback loops where ideas are sent back for reconsideration. Now ask some questions. Is this process fit for purpose? Is it over-engineered? Do we have too many hurdles for new proposals to jump? Often when this exercise is done we find that the approval process has been designed for significant new product initiatives but it is unwieldy for smaller developments or process improvement proposals that still have to jump through all the hoops.
The National Audit Office in the UK examined innovation in the government sector and found that approval processes were inappropriate and deterred innovation. It was recommended that Government departments and agencies should ensure that:
- Their review processes are purposeful and proportionate for the risks that the innovations pose.
- Pilots are appropriately scaled for projects and analyzed.
- Reversible innovations can be tested speedily and at small scale before being rolled out more widely.
- Decision-making processes take appropriate account of the opportunity costs of delays, especially the foregoing of expected financial savings.
These recommendations apply to large and small organizations everywhere. Make more decisions faster. This will lead to more failures but if you fail often and fail inexpensively then you will also find winners sooner.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, both published by Kogan-Page.