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Innovation is much more than just ideation. To be an innovator, your organization needs to build on the new and novel ideas you generate to realize their expected benefits. Rapid, iterative experimentation and monetization – the often overlooked ‘back-end of innovation’ – can help you convert interesting concepts into useful innovations. As an innovation program manager (or ‘CINO’), you will need to coordinate a risk-balanced portfolio of projects that are consistent with the organization’s innovation strategy. To be successful in launching a scalable and successful innovation program, you’ll need broad executive commitment and adequate funding.

Unless you can invest the resources needed – financial, human, etc. – to create a systematic enterprise-wide capability to generate a continuous pipeline of advantages, then start small and focus on an area that has broad potential. Choose ideas that can be applied in different parts of the business or in different ways in the same business, to create the greatest impact for sustaining the enterprise’s market relevance and fiscal viability.

Thinking Big, Starting Small, and Learning Fast

Just as a startup goes through different stages of growth, we’ve observed innovation programs do the same. We can identify three general stages; concerted guidance and the right talent are required if they’re to be successfully navigated.

In the first stage, staff your core team with dynamic individuals who are generalists in innovation and innovation management, and can tackle the challenges of starting up the program, not the least of which is achieving executive alignment and culture change. When specific skills are needed, you can ‘source on demand’ from other parts of the enterprise or third parties like consultants, supply chain partners, emerging technology startups, and academics.

After having demonstrated some success against the measures that matter for achievement of the organization’s innovation strategy, you can embark on the second stage of your program. You now better understand what techniques, tools, and operating models have driven your success and can imagine what capabilities you need to complement your team. You should be able to add more specialized roles to the core team that not only extend the capabilities of the group but also allow for economies of scale and scope.

By the time you’re in the final stage, the ‘people, processes, and technology’ of the innovation program should be operating and evolving smoothly. Not every idea will become a great innovation, but what has been put in place allows for a systematic approach to generating and converting more of the right kinds of novel ideas – whether for a product, service, business model, customer experience, business capability, etc.– into meaningful innovations that are consistent with the goals and objectives of the enterprise. At this point, you should be able to anticipate what kinds of skills and capabilities you’ll need, and when. You can recruit new people or train the right kinds of the ‘best and brightest’ from around the organization, as well as engage third parties as needed.

Staffing Your Innovation Program with the Best of the Best

Innovation is an enterprise-wide team sport. When you’re picking colleagues for the core team, seek out individuals who are passionate and have grit, believe in teamwork, and have a desire to learn (i.e., ‘intrapreneurs’). Make sure that the team’s members can thrive in ambiguity and put the interests of the company before their own. A strong team that has the ability to grapple with such challenges will quickly build a reputation for itself through the contribution it makes to your organization’s future.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to get your innovation engines started and firing.

Related Links:

Digital Age Transformation: Building a High-Performing Innovation Engine.

Other blog posts by C. Wood


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