Innovate from the Inside Out – Create an Innovation Plan

Recent “Innovate from the Inside Out” blogs focused on forming teams and generating ideas. Now it’s time to create an innovation plan.

Ideally you will create a plan that conforms to a larger organizational innovation strategy. No such strategy in the organization? That’s OK. Think of your innovation plan as you’d think of a project plan – as a temporary effort undertaken to address a specific situation or challenge. With a couple twists.

Let’s say your customers are telling you they need your services to address emerging problems, not only the existing, recognized problems. Your team brainstormed ideas about what it wants to do, and you want to know the plan. What do you ask them for?

  • An Innovation Charter

An innovation charter should document your team’s understanding of customer requirements and how to satisfy the customer’s needs and expectations. The charter is like home base in baseball. All play begins and ends with it. You and the team should return to it, as work proceeds, to validate and refine your understanding. It can be a brief document, but thorough enough for you to formally authorize work to proceed.

  • Innovation Objectives

Strive for clear outcomes, results, or improved conditions. You might think of these as substantive or process-oriented, as customer or organization-oriented, or another way that works in your organization. Regardless, there’s a difference between an objective that reads, “Create a new program” and one that reads, “Learn what works/doesn’t work.” A strong set of innovation objectives will contain both types. Include at least one objective related to learning.

  • Innovation Measures

Focus on what matters – what the customer cares about, what you as a manager care about, and what your superiors care about. This often translates into value of some sort. The customer might care about a new service, or time-to-value, or merely having a problem solved. You and your superiors might care about customer satisfaction, effective use of resources, continuous improvement, staff morale. Measure a few things, not so many that its overwhelming or difficult. And be sure to measure learning. Learning is vital to successful innovation, and worth investigating. If you’re not sure what to measure, measure anything. You’ll learn what to measure.

  • Innovation Activities

If objectives are your targets and measures tell you how you did, activities get you from one to the other. In many respects this is project planning with the innovation effort as your project. Consider resources, schedule, costs, risks, communication, etc., as you would any project. To innovate – to do something different that gets a better result – add processes and conversations targeted at learning and creativity. Ask why, what if, and how questions to help the team change its perspective about things it knows well. Use creative problem solving activities such as Appreciative Inquiry, Synectics, problem-reversal, and other “right-brain” techniques to help the team unthink what it believes it knows about the situation, and see it with fresh eyes.

 

The value of a plan is in the planning. Organize lively conversations about a problem and solution – in the form of a charter, objectives, measures, and activities – and you’ll create an innovation plan worth implementing.

 

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