Standing Up An Innovation Center 3 – Checking The Terrain

Checking the terrain is the third blog in a five-part series on standing up an innovation center. The second blog described how to pick a destination and get oriented to it. In this blog, we’ll look more closely at the organizational, customer and market environments in which you’ll stand up the center.

Checking The Terrain

The terrain refers to the entire environment in which the center is stood up and will operate. This includes organizational, operational, and market environments. These intersect where the center operates. Their requirements, needs, interests, constraints, influences, trends and more are inputs to the center’s operations. To orient yourself and others in this space, you’ll need ways to understand how they and the center interact.

Organizational Environment

The organizational environment includes all the people, processes, resources, requirements, constraints – everything within the boundaries of the organization creating the innovation center. Not just the organizational unit leading the center’s development, but the entire enterprise.

Org charts of the center and the enterprise in relation to the center are useful. You can use both to communicate up, down, and across lines, and to manage participation in deliberations and decision making pertaining to the center’s design.

A change management strategy is also useful. There are many frameworks for developing change management strategies. Use one that helps you plan and manage impacts of the stand-up to the broader organization in two ways:

Plan the center stand-up. Standing up the center will require decisions about strategy, structure, processes, systems, staff and skills, and tools. Your requirements hierarchy will tell you a lot about the what and why of these decisions. Your change management strategy will guide how you plan the center.

Manage impacts to the broader organization. Standing up the center will impact the organization within which it exists. Your change management strategy should help you monitor and manage how the center impacts the organization in terms of the depth, size, and extent of change.

Operational Environment

The operational environment is where the innovation center’s solutions are implemented and used. Actors in this environment include the center’s customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders. Actors in this space also include customer’s customers or targets, depending on the mission. In my Coast Guard example this would include bad guys operators chase, recreational boaters they assist, and so on. An acquisition innovation center designed to support contract officers and specialists would include requirements owners, general counsel and others in that operational environment. What follows focuses on the customer.

The customer’s environment includes everything that impacts their role, responsibilities, authority, competencies, and activities – the things for which the innovation center should add value. As with the center, customers have requirements, needs, interests, enablers, constraints, influences, and forces operating on them that they must successfully manage to perform their job. An innovation center that does its job meets a mission need, or closes a capability gap, that the customer has in his or her own requirements hierarchy. Government agencies have many customers. See my paper What Is Innovation for information on primary and supporting customers, and what customers value.

Markets For Candidate Innovations

Innovation is doing something different to add value for a customer, and a center is a place to plan, execute, and evaluate innovation activity. A productive innovation center needs a pipeline of things different – candidate solutions in different stages of readiness capable of adding different value for different customers. Many will be technology solutions, but business and culture model innovations should be part of the pipeline portfolio. Think recruiting, hiring, training, development processes, governance, analytics, decision making and many others.

Markets for technology and business innovations are everywhere. There are many in the commercial sector, the not-for-profit sector, and all of government – including state and local government. Relevant innovations might also be overseas. Many government subject matter experts belong to and understand markets relevant to their work. But candidate innovations exist in fields where government isn’t engaged and wouldn’t see them. Many agencies are hard at work finding non-traditional partners, but there are too many to understand and track.

A center can manage this challenge by engaging its own subject matter experts in the areas it expects to innovate, and by communicating through networks to which they belong. A center can tap networks of networks this way and extend its reach. The investment community is an under-utilized source of information about innovation generally, and about technology innovations in particular. Challenges, SBIRs, grants, FFRDCs, and R&D programs are avenues of innovation candidates. And a center would likely benefit from considering universities, professional associations, government associations, not-for-profits, trade press and other nodes in nontraditional networks that can source candidate innovations.

What Next?

Checking the terrain is a critical step in standing up a center. The fourth blog in this series, Using Your Map and Compass, looks at ways to manage strategy, innovation, change, and learning in your 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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