Strategies For The Strategists

Strategies For Your Innovators

Today’s article will focus on the typical problems innovators face and the proposed solution for the problems.  Most likely you or your innovation stakeholders have day jobs running production critical projects, so how do you fit in innovation projects or convince others?

Working on innovative projects which typically entails exploring unproven, nascent advanced technology is challenging from financial and resource management standpoint. In most cases, innovative projects with no proven market makes financial forecasting difficult therefore harder to justify resources.

Here is a list of common problems faced by innovators:

  1. Alignment with company objectives – short term needs are often in conflict with the need for exploratory and unproven causes
  2. Budget or resources allocation – management is often reluctant to fund ventures that have no direct immediate or discernible impact to company goals
  3. Prioritization – how to choose the most important projects to work on
  4. Quantifying Effort – how to justify hypothetical ventures
  5. Venture Survivability – even well-funded innovation programs can struggle with moving from theory to practice. How can one take innovation further?

While not the exhaustive list of solutions, here are some ways to address the issues:

  1. Offer strict adherence to a timeline in alignment with company long term goals and provide incremental, demonstrable milestones
  2. Opt for “self-funding” via external/internal potential customers or the beg-borrow-steal method
  3. Utilize tools for assessing project value
  4. Implement methods to quantify innovation includes patent creation based on the innovation and potential revenue impact
  5. Provide alternative paths for the continuity of innovation projects

One of the key challenges with innovating is producing tangible deliverables regardless of how theoretical the innovation is. As with any grand ambitions, the key to success is to break the project into smaller bits that:

  • when possible – align with current immediate, intermediate or long term goals
  • is quantifiable or demonstrable at every milestone
  • can be proven to improve/accelerate/assist in current goals

Take as an example, an innovation project to create a wide-area network to track multiple dispersed outdoor objects using a mesh network of short-range radio technology that’s ultra low power and self-powered. Break down the milestones and objectives to short duration achievable milestones.

The project milestones may look like this:

Milestone 1: Find existing ultra low power tracking solutions with key variables such as short range vs. connectivity (modem), outdoor vs indoor, low-power vs need to recharge. Assess the plus or minuses of each variable and note which are important for your use cases. If the project is stalled at this stage, at least you have a portfolio of off-the-shelf products you can leverage.

Milestone 2: Based on your findings from milestone 1, narrow down on a solution that best fit your use case.  Assess cost, scalability, and feasibility of the solution. If the project is stalled at this stage, at least you have a blueprint for when the project can be picked up again

Milestone 3: Based on the blueprint you have created, you can start building a prototype or two. Assess the lifecycle, vendor/manufacturing feasibility, test in various different environments. If the project is stalled at this stage, at least you have a manufacturing plan, test reports from your prototype that you can leverage when the project can be picked up again.

You can carry on breaking down the milestones even more or continue on expanding on the milestones until you have reached your ultimate use case/objectives.