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Structuring Innovation

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Here is an HBR blog post about the disconnect between innovation processes followed by large organizations at the organization level and the processes followed by individual teams at the team level. Based on their research which looked at processes followed by innovation teams at 21 science and engineering companies the authors posit that there are three reasons why smaller teams do not adhere to the more rigorous and structured approaches that are the norm at the organizational level:

  • The define-as-you-go problem: Teams do not establish up front the processes they intend to use.
  • The “which metrics?” problem: Teams do not converge on a set of metrics that they wish to use.
  • The “which methods?” problem:  Teams lack common understanding of the methods that will be applied in the decision making process.

The reasons by themselves do not tell us much. But what I found interesting were the comments from the interviewees in the study. Define-as-you-go problem is described partly as a trust issue i.e., teams fail to establish processes up front because frequently they are comprised of personnel that are working together for the first time and have not had a chance to build trust. The metrics problem stems from the divergent priorities of technological (long-term) and business (short-term) stakeholders. The methods problem is frequently a reflection of the lack of transparency in the decision-making process.

If you want to make your team’s innovation process more predictable and productive, start by building up a trust reservoir in the team (co-location, off-sites etc), explicitly align the objectives and agendas of all functional units involved in the project and finally have the courage to make all decision-making less autocratic and more transparent. Simple voting mechanisms or more sophisticated tools such as those from Crowdcast that let you crowd-source internal knowledge and wisdom in a controlled environment can assist with this process.


Written by Varma Chanderraju

February 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

Posted in Innovation

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