The 9 steps to Translating Innovation within an Organisation
Innovation is hard. To do it well, you need to have a clear picture on where you are heading and how you are going to get there. You need to coordinate a shared vision, cross functional teams, product development and a sales strategy and all of this needs to fit within an existing structure, somehow nestling it's way into the small openings of time that most employees simply do not have.
I have written before about the need for a company to employ an Innovation Manager, someone who's sole job is to manage the innovation projects within an organisation. Ideally, this person has an entrepreneurial mindset and can see the different angles and join the dots on some of these ideas. I once consulted to a company on Innovation and recommended that they create such a role. At the time, I was deep into my startup and travelling back and forth to the USA. As I was writing the broad brush strokes on a position description, I thought to myself how perfect this role would be for someone like me. Ten months later, I took that very role. Probably the most entrepreneurial way of becoming an employee.
The most fundamental reason innovation is so hard is that everyone speaks a different language when it comes to innovation. An idea from someone on the factory floor will sound like gibberish to someone in marketing and finance will not fund an opportunity unless they can see thing in dollars and cents.
From my experience, an idea goes through 9 stages of translation, before it is launched into the market.
Step 1 - An idea is lodged or explained to the translator
The translator can make his or her job much easier by creating a clear set of questions to be answered at this stage. At Geofabrics, we use a simple google form, which employees can save as a shortcut on their phones. Anyone submitting an idea needs to answer the following questions;
- What is your name (an easy question to start)
- What is the name of your idea?
- What type of idea is it?
- New product
- New service
- Product improvement
- New market
- Cost reduction
- Process improvement
- Describe your idea
- What is the problem your idea will solve?
- Who has this problem?
- What is the benefit to Geofabrics?
- Anything else to add?
Step 2 - An opportunity evaluation is completed and gaps are identified
Translate the idea into what it will look like as an actual innovation. Early product/market fit determinations will take place at this stage. I tend to use a lean startup type approach here. Before an idea goes through this process, it's really just an exploration project.
Step 3 - Further evaluation occurs, including determinations on which employees and/or outside partners are needed to collaborate.
Translate the idea into a vision for what it will become. The vision of the idea needs to be portrayed in order to motivate key partners.
Step 4 - The idea is now an opportunity and a "product" needs to be developed
Congratulations, you have a real opportunity to work on! By "product", I'm referring to any IP that will come from the project, be it an actual product, a service or a process improvement.
Step 5 - The opportunity needs to be mapped as a financial model
Translate the opportunity into financial terms to gain buy-in from the people who divvy up the dough. I have reconnected with my inner spreadsheet angel and really enjoy this part, but I can understand that this might be the most annoying part of this whole process for some people. A solid financial model that you can run a scenario analysis through it pure gold in the land of accountants.
Step 6 - The product is translated into manufacturing terms (it's core properties), so rapid prototyping can occur
We outsource this stage, as our machines are huge and can chew up a lot of time and resources to get even one prototype built.
Step 7 - Feedback from the market is sought
Different to the initial Opportunity Evaluation, where we may speak with a handful of potential customers to assess whether this is indeed something they even want, we are looking to refine the value proposition of the product.
Step 8 - Market feedback leads to marketing copy
Translate the product so it appeals to a wider market
Step 9 - Market feedback leads to sales strategies
How should we sell this? What processes should the sales team undertake?
The above steps can be broken down into "Champion" Stage (steps 1-4) and "Doing" stage (steps 5-9).
And there you have it. My observations only. Comments welcome.