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The Innovation Process: Benefits, Steps & Secrets for Success

Establishing the right innovation process to deliver on your enterprise company-wide strategy can be a real challenge, but it is crucial to the success of any innovation program. You need to make sure you’re leveraging the right resources and audiences as impactfully and efficiently as possible in order to move the right solutions forward. If this sounds scary, don’t worry! In this article, I’ll go through the key points to consider to help you develop the most effective innovation process for your organization.

What is the Innovation Process?

In a nutshell, the innovation process covers every step that an organization takes in order to transform ideas or insight into innovations, whether in the form of new products, services, or processes. Innovation programs are often complex, and an innovation process at an enterprise-level company might incorporate a variety of disciplines, from idea management and continuous improvement to trend management, technology scouting, and innovation portfolio management. The role of the process is to make sure every one of these efforts runs as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Importance and Benefits of an Effective Innovation Process 

Any organization should be actively looking for ways to improve their innovation process all the time. But what does an effective process look like, and how do you measure success? The return on investment delivered by your program will always be the primary KPI, but there are plenty of things to get right on the way. Here’s what a successful innovation process can offer: 

Optimal Use of Resources

The innovation process needs to be as efficient as possible in the way it uses its resources. This includes financial resources, of course, but also the effort of the organizations’ employees, its experts, and other stakeholders, and the tools that they use to do their jobs. All of these need to be used at the right time, and in the right way, so that your innovation program delivers maximum value at minimum cost.

Timely Conversion of Ideas into Innovations 

This is what the innovation process is all about. As we’ll see, the process is made up of a number of steps, or stage-gates, that move ideas and solutions forward through the funnel to commercialization. An effective innovation process will have the right structures and triggers in place to move ideas through this funnel as quickly as possible, while ensuring that only the best ones make it through to implementation. 

Quality and Quantity of Solutions 

Whether you’re seeking ideas from your employees or customers, monitoring trends, or scouting for startups, an innovation process needs to deliver high numbers of quality solutions consistently. This is the fuel that drives an innovation program forward, and an effective innovation process will unearth high numbers of ideas that can be implemented and align with the organization’s broader strategy. 

The Fundamental Steps in the Innovation Process

The innovation process varies from company to company, and it’s important that it does because it needs to be tailored to the specific needs and objectives of the organization. This is why it is crucial to have an innovation strategy in place before you start to build a process. Companies need to consider what innovation success looks like for them, and identify objectives to help the company to achieve it’s wider strategic goals.  

For more on this, check out 5 Misconceptions to Avoid When Building Your Innovation Strategy

That said, effective innovation processes usually contain the same fundamental steps to move ideas and solutions forward to commercialization. How your organization takes those steps will depend on its own unique requirements, but they are all important stages of an innovation program that you’ll need to incorporate into your own process in some way. Here they are: 

1. Discovery 

The first step is to generate fuel for your innovation program. This could be ideas from your employees or customers, trends that you see taking place in your sector or in other relevant industries, or it could come in the form of ready-made solutions that you source by scouting for technologies or start-ups. Or it could be all of the above! 

What’s important is that you establish a process that aligns with your organization’s specific needs and strategic goals. What opportunity or business challenge are you addressing? What audience is best-placed to ideate around this topic? How can you structure your ideation or scouting challenge to ensure your audience provides the right information to help you to make a decision? And how will you encourage participation?  

All of these are important questions to consider when building a process to ask your audience for ideas or solutions. 

2. Collaboration 

Before ideas or solutions are ready for assessment, they can significantly benefit from a period of collaborative improvement. During this step of the process, your audience community can engage with the contributions of other members, offering their own insights and ideas on how the idea could be developed further and enriched.  

You might ask users to rate one another’s ideas or add some sort of social functionality so that discussions can take place around each suggestion. Adding a collaboration phase to the process can add real weight and depth to ideas, and show you which ones your community thinks are the best. 

3. Evaluation

After you’ve generated solutions, the next important step is to identify which ones have the highest potential and should therefore be approved to move into development. Again, there are several things to consider when you’re establishing an evaluation process.  

There are lots of different methods you can use to rate and compare solutions, but what’s most important is that the evaluation criteria assesses the potential value the solution can bring to your organization, its feasibility, the cost involved, and its relevance to your innovation strategy.  

Another key consideration is who will be carrying out these evaluations. Depending on the subject matter, it might make sense to involve experts from relevant departments, who are uniquely well-placed to understand the pros and cons of each idea or solution.  

4. Implementation 

Now that you’ve identified the solutions you want to take forward, it’s time to make it happen. What’s crucial during this stage of the innovation process is that everybody knows what is expected of them, and when, in order to prototype the innovation and rollout its launch across the business.  

You can do this by assigning tasks and resources to relevant team members and using project management tools to stay on top of the process and ensure it runs smoothly, and on time.   

5. Tracking 

The final piece of the puzzle is to calculate and track the performance of your project once the innovation has been commercialized or launched. The key things to think about here are the best metrics for measuring impact and ROI, and the tools that you use to monitor them.  

When tracking the performance of innovations you don’t only want to be able to assess each innovation against its KPIs, but to have eyes on your innovation portfolio as a whole so that you can understand and act on the general performance of your innovation program. Tools should help you to transform your data into actionable insights and allow you to easily generate reports to share with your stakeholders. 

The Secret Sauce: Making Your Innovation Process Excel 

Cartoon graphics of characters sitting on lightbulbs holding stars - symbolizing making an innovation process excel

The steps above outline the core components of an effective innovation process, but there are a few other things that are important to have in place to ensure that your innovation program runs as smoothly as possible and delivers the best possible results consistently. When an innovation program has these three components, the chances are it is going to have every success.

A Culture of Innovation

Innovative companies are usually characterized by an innovation culture that runs through the entire business. When this culture is in place a company benefits from having every one of its brains actively thinking about ways that its offering or its process can be improved.

To nurture this type of culture, it’s important that employees feel that their voice is being heard. You might want to cast as wide a net as possible when seeking innovative solutions from your employees, challenging the entire company to share their ideas rather than specific teams or departments.

It’s also important to celebrate successes and reward employees for their participation. Having the right incentives in place and recognizing contributors for their efforts can go a long way to developing this type of culture and generating sustained engagement in the innovation process.

For more tips on this, check out 6 Powerful Methods for Creating a Culture of Innovation.

Leadership Buy-In

A green light from the boardroom is fundamental to the success of any innovation process. With it, you’ll be assured that everyone is pulling in the right direction and that your innovation process is aligned with the strategic aims of the business and its leadership. Without it, your innovation program could be halted at any moment with all that time and money wasted.

Transparency is key in ensuring ongoing buy-in from your leadership team. Involve them in all of the key decisions you make as you build your innovation process and report to them regularly with updates on the performance of your program. Building that sense of trust will give you and your team stability and confidence as you go forward.

Dedicated Software

As we’ve seen, an innovation process is complex! It involves multiple audiences, experts, and stakeholders, and comprises various disciples, such as idea management, technology scouting, trend management, continuous improvement, and portfolio management.

Dedicated innovation management software is specifically designed to cater for these use cases, and offers a wide range of features and functionality to help you conduct every step in the process as effectively and efficiently as possible.

It might be possible to establish a process that makes do with the tools you have available, but at large-scale enterprise companies different teams and offices are so often used to using their own communication tools and ways of working. Dedicated software should be able to integrate with these tools so that everyone can pull together in the right direction, and save you huge amounts of time and effort.

Innovation management software offers engagement features that will help you to generate ideas and solutions for your program, and reward your biggest and best contributors. The best platforms will enable you to move innovations through the stage-gate workflow according to the criteria that’s important to you, set tasks for stakeholders to keep projects on track, and give you all of the insight you need to make informed decisions about your innovations.

It’s never easy to build an innovation process, but this article should serve as a helpful starting point for you to apply to the unique needs of your own organization.

If you want to find out more about the innovation process and how to tailor it to specific innovation use cases, head to our solution pages.

For examples of effective innovation processes in action using Qmarkets innovation management software, explore the success stories over on our Resources Hub.

Charlie Lloyd Author
Charlie Lloyd

Charlie is an innovation strategist at Qmarkets. He started his innovation journey at a boutique consultancy in London, where he worked with some of the world’s leading retail and CPG brands. In his spare time, he’s a voracious reader of crime fiction and an avid supporter of Arsenal FC.

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