Standing Up An Innovation Center 2 – Getting Oriented

This is the second blog in a five-part series about innovation centers. The first blog described the functions of a center. In this blog, let’s look more closely at establishing business objectives and orienting to them.

Getting Oriented

Standing up an innovation center is like orienteering – navigating to a destination across unmarked terrain using just a map and compass. Here’s how:

Navigation Component

Navigation Activity

Your destination is a productive innovation center, stood up and ready to operate

Determine the destination and define productive using a requirements hierarchy; document using the hierarchy and additional formats, as needed

The terrain you navigate is the environment in which the center is stood up and will operate

Observe and clarify using graphics and descriptions of your organizational environment, the customer’s, stakeholders’ and relevant business and technology markets

Your trek is the set of activities you manage and perform to stand up the center

Determine using project management practices modified with innovation requirements
Your map contains phases and disciplines required to stand the center up

Fill in using the requirements hierarchy, project management inputs, and innovation requirements

Your compass is a set of tools which you use to take readings, adjust direction, and proceed

Use by facilitating conversations to decisions, then implementing decisions


Choosing A Destination

Standing up a center ready to productively operate begs the question of what productive means. Simply put, it’s the right center for the right need at this time. That begs questions about what’s right and how one would know, and that’s where the requirements hierarchy helps. I like the one below because it smoothly links business requirements to design and technical requirements. Influence flows in two directions:

  • Requirements disaggregate in the downward direction where the relationship is one of “includes” or “bounds.” A department mission includes or bounds a component mission. A performance requirement includes or bounds functional requirements.
  • Requirements consolidate in the upward direction where the relationship is one of “is necessary for” or “supports the accomplishment of…” Meeting functional requirements is necessary to meeting performance requirements (but perhaps not sufficient). Meeting the component mission supports the accomplishment of the department mission.

Here’s an example for standing up a fictitious U.S. Coast Guard innovation center:


What To Fill In


Department Mission

DHS mission statement Lead a unified national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards
Component Mission (add rows as required) Coast Guard mission statement

Protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic interests in the nation’s ports, waterways, coasts, international waters, or any maritime region as required to support national security

Mission Need/  Capability Gap

Make a statement about a capability missing or lacking but which is required to satisfy the component mission. Can read like a strategic goal or objective, or problem statement.

Create a culture of innovation which produces cutting-edge solutions for operators


Capability Requirement Make a statement of capability required to satisfy the mission need or close the capability gap. Will read like a solution statement.

Stand up a center where staff, customers, and stakeholders continuously collaborate to develop cutting-edge solutions for operators

Performance Requirement

Make a statement of outputs or outcomes which satisfy the capability requirement. May be more than one statement, but they must be complementary. Fill a pipeline of ideas in various stages of technology readiness by [date]; deploy one new cutting-edge solution by [date]
Functional Requirements Make specific statements of what a solution should do to satisfy the performance requirement. Requires multiple statements. Foster collaboration; foster innovation or inventive thinking; manage a pipeline; develop, design, test solutions for deployment; etc.
Design Requirements Make specific statements of how the solution should be designed to meet functional requirements. Requires multiple statements. Create processes to solicit user needs, generate candidate solutions, manage the pipeline, determine ROI; define resources and core competencies required to operate; etc.
Material Requirements Make specific statements of people, processes, tools, materials, etc. required to satisfy design requirements. Requires multiple statements.

Provide physical space to work at…; provide virtual space to work at…; determine protocols for; acquire testing equipment to…; store data in…; etc.


Requirements hierarchies aren’t easy to fill out but they’re worth investing the time and effort, early. No matter how challenging it might be to get agreement on words, it’s more challenging later to get agreement on actions – and more costly.

How the Mission Need/Capability Gap and Capability Requirement are worded is critical. There are many ways to describe a need and a capability to meet it, and small wording changes can have big design and operation impacts. Compare the Mission Need/Capability Gap above with a slightly altered alternative:

  1. Create a culture of innovation which produces cutting-edge solutions for operators
  2. Create a culture of innovation which accelerates the transition of technologies from R&D to operators

Statement 1’s broader framing opens up more possibilities. Statement 2 narrows the focus to R&D. Neither is or more “right” unless one is better at helping the organization solve the right problem the right way, at a certain time. Because each lower level disaggregates the requirement above into specific conversations, decisions, and actions, small degrees of difference at one level multiply at lower levels.

What Next?

Picking a destination and getting oriented to it is the best start for standing up an innovation center. The third blog in this five-part series, The Terrain, looks at the organizational, customer and market environments in which you’ll stand up the center.

Read my complete paper on Standing Up An Innovation Center at There you’ll also find papers on What Is Innovation and Creating an Innovation Strategy. Look for all my innovation blogs at

Write me if you have questions and I’ll do my best to respond.

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