Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Strategic Innovation Management

It’s only during the last few years that I have heard Nordic companies talk about innovation from a more strategic and business growth oriented perspective. Maybe this shift to what I would call a more sophisticated approach to innovation is linked to the last few years of European recession where companies with a strong innovation pipeline have proven that growth is possible - despite the economic gloom. Or could it be the result of a new generation of senior management with the growing awareness that innovation doesn’t simply pop-up from nowhere but is rather a business growth discipline with opportunity to learn from the likes of the 3M’s and P&G’s of this world.

No matter what, it’s with great anticipation I see this growing awareness and first foundations to a more sophisticated innovation approach. I hear of companies that employ innovation leaders, build innovation teams and invest in tools and processes for how to manage innovation successfully. It’s early steps and a new discipline for many, but I believe that these early steps of approaching innovation as a business discipline may soon be compared to the quality movement of the 90’s.

When it comes to the HOW of innovation, I would like to raise the importance of top management leadership and ‘Strategic Innovation Management’. In my definition this relates to the importance of raising innovation to the higher management agenda, to act as a continuous steering tool with focus on identifying and managing the projects leading to organic business growth. Some of the important elements to consider in that respect would be to:

Establish a top management ‘Innovation management’ forum
oThis is a decision and steering forum for all innovation projects, where projects are established, gate decisions are taken, and particular steering is given on the request of the project lead or owner.

Identify future growth drivers or opportunity platforms
o Growth drivers or opportunity platforms are identified and promising innovation territories in a market. These are used to help focus innovation efforts in the direction that the business feels would be the most promising.

To actively manage and balance the Innovation Portfolio
o This is the classification and continuous analysis of innovation projects, to ensure that there are enough projects and project breadth in the innovation portfolio to secure future profit streams. With innovation project breadth I mean the mix of more easy wins, low risk and less groundbreaking initiatives VS projects that are truly big opportunities but also with a much higher risk profile.

An innovation process with direction, steering and clear decision points
The classical Innovation stage gate funnel is a commonly used approach that makes sense in my world but each company would of course have the opportunity to create its own process, and a process that is fit for the business and market environment. The key thing is that there is a framework for innovation with clarity on why projects are run, who gives direction, who makes decisions and when in time each of the previous points should be handled.

The above factors I would consider being core of the discipline of ‘Strategic Innovation Management’. And once those are in place a good foundation for promising innovation projects would be in place.