Moving Ideas Forward: Defining the Innovation Process Within Your Organization



Defining InnovationBy Jaime Vos, AEM Senior Director of Cultural Innovation — 

Within weeks of launching AEM’s cultural innovation program, I knew I had a problem. A large number of employees were excited to share their ideas with someone who would champion and support their implementation. I found myself suddenly inundated with email requests from colleagues to meet and brainstorm.  

I have always prided myself as an idea person. When I worked in a corporate creative department years before, I would brainstorm all day long. But when it came to vetting those ideas for value and potential, I usually handed them off to someone else. The marketing team would do the research, the designers would take care of the concepts, and the project managers would juggle the logistics. My work was finished. I had done the fun part. I was fine letting others fill in all the details. 

With this new AEM initiative, however, I’m responsible for the entire process of moving ideas forward within the organization. Following several weeks of meeting with coworkers, my notebook was filled. I began feeling a little overwhelmed about what to do next. 

As I’ve stated in previous articles, the innovation process is a balancing act between collaborative thinking/idea generation and the vetting stages/value criteria of each idea. 

While It’s important to generate as many new ideas as possible, you can easily get backlogged if you don’t have a structured method to move them forward. Innovating is critical to any organization’s growth. Despite feeling overwhelmed, you can help yourself and your team by implementing the following phases for building momentum behind your innovation process. 

Generator Phase 

When generating new ideas, they need to not only be discussed but documented as well. It’s not enough to simply have a casual conversation over lunch with a coworker about random thoughts that might create new revenue. You need to organize sessions to foster those conversations. Have a dedicated space and time to detail the thinking behind the ideas. Get a whiteboard and a large number of paper pads to take notes. Document everything in a project brief, no matter how silly or outrageous it sounds. Allow yourself enough freedom to discuss random ideas, while at the same time, capture them in some way to gain perspective and categorize them into actionable items. 

Brainstorming sessions can be ignited with questions that inspire curiosity: 

  • What is the need? 
  • Who is the customer? 
  • What does a successful product/service look like? 
  • Are there other ideas this can be combined with? 
  • Does this idea generate revenue and/or cost efficiencies? 

Facilitator Phase 

This phase facilitates the research and vetting of chosen ideas based on your predetermined criteria. Some of those might include: 

  • What kind of investment will need to be made? 
  • Who needs to be involved? 
  • How will the idea be tested?
  • What is the projected ROI? 

Consider if other stakeholders need to be included in this phase. Be sure your team is not only diversified, but knowledgeable in their respective disciplines to provide insight. As I’ve said before, empowering your culture to innovate strengthens the entire organization.  

This is an opportunity to inspire your team to take charge. Challenge them to provide constructive criticism and “poke holes” in the idea to reveal hidden problems. Also, consider performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) in this phase. This vetting process will truly help validate your idea before it gets too far down the road. 

Accelerator Phase 

After a significant amount of research has been done and ideas have been vetted, they will need to quickly gain momentum toward launch. This phase is more granular, focusing on specifics needed for the idea to speed to market. For an idea to fully be realized, the following actions need to be initiated: 

  • Develop a business plan – outline a budget, describe how the idea will be implemented. 
  • Identify resources – production costs, marketing strategies, distribution channels, etc. 
  • Beta testing, consumer research, quantitative and qualitative testing may be needed. 
  • Create metrics to measure the idea once it’s launched.  
  • Clarify which department will oversee it/manage it/measure its success.
  • Determine a yearly budget for all operating costs. 

Launchpad Phase 

Just like the name implies, launching your idea requires it first go through all the qualification phases to ensure a successful liftoff. The criteria that you use that confirms your idea is ready to take to market will greatly depend on how your specific business is structured and how your stakeholders participate. Obviously, budgets and operating costs should always be signed off by senior staff or someone who has the authority to give approval. 

The other important part of this phase is making sure you know how the idea will be measured, supported, maintained and improved to strengthen its chances for success. Just like launching a rocket, every detail should be examined from every angle, lists should be double-checked and all systems should be confirmed GO to make sure the idea is ready for the marketplace. Once launched, it will need to be monitored, supported and measured to avoid any unforeseen problems and ensure continual growth. 

In Summary 

Innovation looks different to every organization. Careful consideration needs to be taken into account when defining what your company is looking for with an innovation process. Brainstorming ideas is an important practice, but careful attention needs to be given to the vetting phases that move the ideas forward. 

And finally, it’s important to acknowledge once again that your organization’s innovation process is a delicate balance. Too much brainstorming (and not enough process vetting), and ideas languish. Too much process (and too soon), and ideation becomes stale.  

Documenting a vetting process for your ideas is a sound business practice. Collaborate with coworkers to clarify the phases your organization will need to successfully speed your ideas to market. Ideation, research, testing and documentation breathe life into your ideas and help your organization grow.

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