It’s not unusual to hear large companies bemoan their inability to innovate new products then bring them to market. This is often the outcome of a failed launch or successful launch by a competitor. The next predictable step is the establishment of a robust M&A pipeline, Tiger Team, Innovation Group or Lab.
All natural and fine moves however the problem is not so much the structure as the intent and understanding of why the company has lost their ability to capitalize on new ideas. Each story is unique and follow a similar trend that installs a product process like Stage-Gate. This is great for the first few tries until the tribal knowledge ideas dry up.
Stage-Gate Process comes without a defined front end.
Innovation is the step before the process! Process is important, it shows you where you are and Innovation shows ideas where the point of entry is. As someone who has worked with many companies to establish New Product Processes and believes in the Stage-Gate value I have two critical pieces of advice.
- Build a front end that includes many doors for entry. Ideas come from many places, the more rules you place on the entry, the lower the quality of ideas you will receive. This is true for the Stage-gate itself, remember the goal is to track, measure and fund appropriately, there will be large and small steps between gates.
- Any idea should be allowed to be in the front end or Stage-gate as long as it needs to. Stalling out in the process is good, getting cancelled in the process is good, getting through the process in record time is good.
Structure the Fuzzy Front-end without making it fussy!
How many times have we heard that Innovation only happens when it is completely uninhibited? Horse-hockey! Innovation without market insight, feedback or goals is as dysfunctional as no innovation. Teams of Creative Engineers without measure or goals create crap. Or create stuff that the best sales and marketing teams can’t sell to anyone (crap). Just ask anyone who has been tasked to sell from the old ATT labs.
Building an innovation process that is open and dynamic requires a team who have many tools at their disposal. It is not unlike being the Ventures group only you lead the concepts from start to finish. Process strangles the idea and not enough allows it to wonder off track. Structure here means concepts are asked to step up to agreements and explain deviations from those performance based agreements.
Structure shows ideas and concepts the front door. From there the paths should be a unique as the concept. If a segment or industry disrupter gets uncovered it should be incubated until it is market ready to cannibalize the current product base. This should not be confused with controlling or burring it, the market and company strategy will guide your strategy. Also if a concept is great one plus for the current offering then fast track it and use internal domain knowledge unique to your position as an established provider to harden the offering and deliver it to the market.