Though we often use the term “innovation” in reference to an end product, in reality, innovation is a process. Business innovations do not simply spring to life, ready to go to market. It takes an incredible amount of time, a number of resources, numerous people working together, and a bit of luck for a truly innovative idea to go from concept to reality. The way in which you manage that process, and guide those ideas to fruition, can have a huge impact on your enterprise’s growth.
An effective and efficient innovation program should be at the heart of any growing enterprise. But if your company’s program is falling short, or if you don’t have an official innovation program in place, then it’s time to start making a change. Here are 5 steps to follow to start your company on a new, more efficient, and more effective innovation program.
Step 1: Gathering Ideas
The first phase of innovation, as outlined by a recent paper from Northeastern University, is called the “Discovery Phase,” and the first step in this phase is to gather ideas for potential innovations. According to Tucker Marion, director of the Master of Science in Innovation program at Northeastern University, this is the part of the process where you should be investing most of your time and funding. He says, “History shows us that front-loading the process is a good thing.”
So, this means you shouldn’t be limiting your business’s ideas to ones generated from a small group of individuals. You should be taking the time and making the effort to gather ideas from a wide variety of sources, including every employee in your company, as well as your consumers. The idea management company Qmarkets refers to this as “crowdsourcing” innovation, and it has proven to be a highly effective strategy for many thriving enterprises.
Step 2: Organizing and Analyzing Ideas
The next step in the Discovery Phase is to sort through and analyze the ideas you’ve received to determine which of them have the most merit. Not every suggestion is going to be worth pursuing, but it will be important in this step to take special note of any recurring themes or trends in the suggestions you receive. Did you receive multiple customer suggestions regarding a new feature they’d like to see? Did several of your employees note the same bottleneck in fulfillment?
Certain types of innovation management software can track and flag these kinds of trends for you, making this step much easier.
Step 3: Getting to Work
Once you’ve pinpointed an idea that you want to see fulfilled, it’s time to get to work. However, don’t think it’s time to jump straight into the Development Phase. You’re still in the Discovery Phase, and should be focusing on mapping out the concept you’re trying to fulfill. Depending on the exact project you’re working on, this may include building a prototype, creating a chart to map out a new fulfillment process, and working out any kinks that arise during those processes.
Keep in mind that this step doesn’t have to be regulated to upper management or the R&D department. Depending on the project at hand, you can have your employees performing this step, and taking ownership of innovation within the business.
Step 4: Testing and Development
Once a concept is solidified, it’s time to move on to the Development Phase. If you spent enough time and resources on the Discover Phase, you should have a solid idea, as well as a functioning prototype that has gone through several rounds of improvement. But this step is where you truly begin to focus on the design and functionality of the idea you’re developing.
Depending on the project, this step might include identifying suppliers to help you build the product en masse, drawing up plans for manufacturing, and developing relationships with distributors. In essence, this step should be all about laying the groundwork that will get your product to market, or put your process improvement into action.
Step 5: Implementation
Finally, you’re ready for the Implementation Phase—or, as it’s often called, the Commercialization Phase. However, as “commercialization” generally refers to innovations going directly to market, “implementation” is a more accurate term to encompass business innovations that don’t go to market, like improvements to your business’s processes.
This step can also be broken down into smaller steps, in case you want to introduce your product or service in limited quantities before pursuing mass production. But ultimately, the goal of this phase is to bring the innovation to life. If you’re releasing a new product, this step may include marketing efforts to promote the product. If it’s a process improvement for your business, the “launch” of your idea would include training employees on the new process. But, ultimately, at the end of this step, your innovation has been brought to life, and become an integral part of your enterprise.
If you take the time to follow each step outlined above, and dedicate the resources needed to the Discovery Phase of your innovation program, your efforts will be more successful.