From initial idea through to product launch, having clarity in your innovation strategy will move your business in the desired direction.
An Olympic athlete doesn’t put winning down to pure luck. For a chance at success, they commit to a goal and use a structured approach to achieving their objective which is developed and implemented over many years.
The same applies to innovation, it can’t be down to luck. To succeed, it needs to be focused, it needs to be encouraged, and it needs to be structured.
Yet, innovation is often viewed as a ‘tomorrow’ task. Whilst its importance is often acknowledged, it is rarely an urgent priority. We can all be guilty of being busy getting on with the day-to-day pressures, that sometimes it’s easy to put off making time to plan for the future direction of your business. A structured approach to innovation helps to avoid falling into this cycle by bringing innovation to the forefront.
We could go on at length about the benefits of implementing an innovation strategy, but in short, a structured approach will help you:
- Develop new markets
- Stay ahead of your competition
- Bring in new revenue streams
- Concentrate resources efficiently
- Remove bottlenecks
- Reduce cost
- Increase chances of success
- Enable an organisation to remain sustainable
- Engage your workforce
So, how do you go about developing a strategic approach to innovation?
In this article, we will set out the key steps of the innovation journey, and what key outputs you should be aiming for at each stage.
The BIC Innovation R&D Roadmap is our tried and tested blueprint for implementing a culture of innovation in your business. It has supported many businesses in creating a robust R&D strategy, through to developing a tactical plan for its implementation.
Image: Implementing innovation management using the BIC Innovation R&D Roadmap
Structured Brainstorming for new ideas is a vital part of the ‘ideas’ process. Think about what you want your company to be doing in the next 5-10 years and what you would need to be doing to get there. What are the current trends in the market? What are your current strengths? Where are the opportunity areas? It is important to be as wide-ranging in your thinking as possible to encourage the participants to identify, share and build exciting new ideas.
The brainstorming exercise is something that you should do on an annual basis so that you keep up to date with what is happening in your market and the new technologies available. If you have not conducted a brainstorming exercise before, you should consider using a facilitator, at least for the first session. There are lots of simple hits and tips which can really make the difference when running an ideas session and a facilitator can help you with that process.
Now that you have generated a good number of ideas from your brainstorming session, you can use these to inform your selection of projects.
Develop a project brief that will guide your decision on whether to take your selected projects through to the formal NPD process. At this early stage, the answers to these questions may be speculative on your part and this is acceptable. At the most basic the project brief identified needs to cover the following areas.
- What is the idea? Describe the concept
- Is it desirable? Does anyone want it?
- Is it technically feasible? Can we see a way to make it work?
- Is it financially viable? Is the return on investment acceptable?
It is certain at this stage that you will need to do some basic research into the most promising ideas to develop your ideas and decide which ones to progress.
Once that initial review of an idea has been carried out, it is at this is the point at which the idea starts to become something more than just that – an idea. It is the point at which you start to lay the groundwork for that idea to become a reality. Communication of and ‘buy-in’ to the idea is important. It is, therefore, vital that the ground is prepared thoroughly for the idea to proceed.
You will now need to refine and focus your ideas. To do this prepare a project execution plan (PEP). This will structure how you will seek to gain further information and data, conduct tests and research markets, to confirm your belief that the project has potential, and could be accomplished.
Now you will need evidence that you have conducted certain tests or gathered data, or demonstrate that you have considered all aspects of moving to commit resources to develop the concept. All the required resources should be considered including people, skills, equipment, facilities and finance, and you should also identify resource gaps that will need to be filled.
The purpose will be to seek managerial and financial approval to develop this idea. This is also the point at which ROI (Return on Investment) should be considered in more detail, to ensure that the project is sustainably profitable.
In addition, don’t forget that it is important to consider if the project would attract R&D tax credits from HMRC and you may want to take some advice on this.
Refine the PEP by producing a detailed development plan. It will be used to direct work and will be reported against at each meeting. It is important that the plan covers, at a minimum, a detailed plan of development activity for technical, marketing and operations. Including the time to complete stages of implementation and a predicted launch date.
Monitoring and Evaluation
It is essential to ensure that the progress of the project is monitored at each meeting. The key information that needs to be presented by the project manager at each meeting is:
- A reminder of the original aims and objectives of the project
- A report of progress against the timelines set out in the planning process
- A summary of the current key risks and challenges and how they are being overcome
- The next steps to be taken
Appropriate monitoring of the project allows any key decisions to be made in the event
that a change of direction is needed for a project or if it ceases to be viable and needs to
Piloting, Testing and Production Trials
At this point, you are finalising the operational process and conducting full scale pilot trials or maybe potentially first production runs. Difficulties or issues encountered should be noted and resolved at the time. Amendments to the processes should be noted and agreed upon with all key stakeholders.
In parallel, work with potential customers should be ongoing to ensure that the new product or service aligns with their expectations.
At this point, you are ready to enter the market and now your idea is a reality. However, work is not over as you now need to establish your product in the market, deliver it consistently, at the expected quality, and maintain profitability. And remember, have you identified the ‘lessons learnt’ from this project?
This article provides a brief guide through the process from generating ideas to launching a new product or service. Two important points to remember are that at any stage a project may be parked or abandoned, however, it should still be recorded and archived in case it is revived or any further action is required.
Secondly, at the end of a project, you should always have a ‘lessons learned’ review so that you are continuously improving your ways of working.
We regularly work with businesses on an in-depth, extended basis, to inform and establish an R&D strategy. Read more