Standing Up An Innovation Center 4 – Your Map and Compass

This is the fourth blog in a five-part series about innovation centers. The third blog described the organizational, customer and market environments in centers are stood up. In this blog, let’s look more closely at ways to manage strategy, innovation, change, and learning in a center.

Making Your Trek

Your trek is the set of activities you manage and perform to stand up the center. Your requirements hierarchy identifies some activities and suggests many more. The hierarchy is summative however, so you’ll need to document all the activities you can think of in a work breakdown structure (WBS) of some kind. Categories and lists, or an outline will do. The point is to get items out of your head and onto paper where you can see and manage them, and communicate about them.

In many respects standing up a center is a project with traditional project management activities. To these you should add the following innovation requirements:

  • Manage Strategy, such as envisioning/imagining/re-imaging the future, identifying customer value and benefit, identifying business value and benefit, and more
  • Manage Innovation, including managing the requirements hierarchy, organizing for innovation, creating and managing value pipeline/portfolio processes, buying innovation, and more
  • Manage Change, especially business model, technology model, and culture model change
  • Manage Learning by establishing learning objectives, tracking and reporting learning, applying lessons, and more

These additional requirements will also help you fill out the requirements hierarchy, and vice versa. Many of these activities meet requirements for Functional, Design, or Material Requirements, or inform decision making about them. Meeting these additional requirements will help develop a productive innovation center, one which improves and eventually optimizes how your organization innovates.

Reading Your Map

Just as a topographic map contains lines of longitude and latitude, your map contains time phases and sets of activities to be performed. And just as you use lat-long to orient yourself on a map, you can use the intersection of phases and activities to orient yourself and others to navigate standing up an innovation center.

There are many frameworks available for time phases. The PMBOK’s Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor/Control, and Closeout; Rational Unified Process phases for Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition; and more. Activity sets are managing strategy, innovation, change and learning, plus whatever sets of activities your framework requires. Create a phase-activity matrix to locate any activity in relation to others, and to phases. This is especially important in iterative and processes, and will help you sync to requirements hierarchy iterations.

Whichever development framework you use, consider how it helps you accomplish and refresh requirements in the hierarchy. While hierarchy levels are not strictly temporal, work on them progresses over time through iterative and incremental deliberations and decisions. Your center development phases and activities should support them.

Another important read to make on your map is phase transitions. In addition to transitions as described by the framework you choose, certain conditions signal you’re ready to transition to another phase of development. When priority customers and stakeholders support the requirements hierarchy down to the Performance Requirement and project sponsors/decision makers approve the statement, you’re ready to make initial time, budget, and resource estimates. Similarly, when priority customers and stakeholders support the requirements hierarchy down to Functional Requirements and project sponsors/decision makers approve the statements, decision makers are ready to commit an initial operating capability.

See my full paper on Standing Up An Innovation Center for more examples.

Using Your Compass

Your compass is a set of tools you use to take readings, adjust direction, and proceed. Your compass is composed of four tools you use to orient yourself to others to stand up of a productive innovation center. Use these to facilitate conversations to decisions.

  1. Definition. The definition of innovation is your first and most basic tool. You should anchor everything to the three parts of the definition – doing something different, to add value, for a customer. Facilitating conversation around these will focus participants on the right things and help people regroup if they get lost in the process.
  2. Questions. No one can do something different to add value for a customer without asking questions, and the definition gives you the most basic questions you can ask: What could I do differently, to add what value, for which customer? Those questions lead to many more. Also ask Why, What If, and How questions.
  3. Requirements. Requirements are attributes of a product, service or system necessary to produce an outcome that satisfies a customer. In this case, the center is the product and its attributes are its people, structure, and operations. Filling out the requirements hierarchy will clarify your thinking and make your center more effective by aligning important means-ends relationships in design and operations.
  4. Reactions. Doing something different predictably causes many reactions in many people. All reactions contain valuable information, particularly the not so favorable reactions. Reading the effect of your actions, and others, can regularly show you how you’re doing to do something different that adds value for a customer. See my paper on What Is Innovation to understand innovation impacts to various organizational cultures.

What Next?

Using information as a map and compass is important to standing up an innovation center. The fifth and final blog in this series, Look Back From The Start, looks at two final techniques that will help you stand up a productive 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.


Leave a Comment