Asked and Answered

“Would the Apple iPod have ever gotten through your new product development process? If the answer is “no,” the process is probably too risk adverse and cumbersome; it should be scrapped and reinvented, “zero-based” style. If the answer is “yes,” then your process has the flexibility, the market focus, and the recognition of breakthroughs necessary to be an innovation superstar. The most likely answer, however, is “I don’t know,” that’s where you as a manager or as part of an innovation team need to really evaluate your processes and systems critically and decide if what you have really works or is just an impediment to successful new product development.

One question I also ask, when in front of clients: “Does your organization have the kind of leaders and the kind of leadership that can get a breakthrough project or idea through the gates?” Do you have a Steve Jobs or someone with that kind of vision and passion who can evangelize a product or idea past the gatekeepers – and who can get the gatekeepers on board with the idea of net customer value in the first place? Oftentimes it isn’t the process – it’s the people who execute the process – who are the problem. Staged approval systems run by truly passionate, innovative people can really work – it’s all about climate.

I’m often asked: “What should organizations expect their innovation processes and systems to do? My answer: they should help manage and share good ideas, and they should promote – not inhibit – a culture of innovation. And these processes should align to overall business visions and strategies – not to the internally-focused gods of risk and cost control. That said, I also warn clients that these systems are not designed to guarantee success or avoid failure completely, and that the best processes and tools actually help and organization learn from those failures.

When the “system” becomes part of the “solution” to developing world-class innovations and bringing them to market – and not just an end in and of itself, you’ve found success.

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