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Innovation Management Systems - Master or Servant?

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 11:06 -- KevinMcFarthing

Very few management systems or initiatives start with a blank sheet of paper.  Every sizeable company already has ways of managing supply, quality, finance etc – and innovation.  When the realisation comes that innovation needs to be strengthened, the temptation is often to import a system that will solve all your problems.

But innovation needs more than this.  As I’ve said before, innovation isn’t easy but it’s simple.  There are some key elements to this structure:

-  alignment with strategy and associated targets

-  technology

-  customer understanding and user insights

-  nurturing the front end

-  management systems and processes such as portfolio management, excellent execution and validation

-  rapid learning and adaptation

-  building a supportive culture

I’m not aware of a commercially available innovation management system that covers all these elements, as my American friends would say, “from soup to nuts”.  So much about the integrated simple structure for innovation has to come from leadership and management where the decisions are the masters and the systems are the servants.  I’ve not yet come across a software system for leadership and determination to win.

There are some excellent products available, particularly in idea management and portfolio management; but the context requires an understanding of each company’s individual challenges.  The system should fit the situation, not the other way round.

The first decision should therefore be what you want to do, and only then to see which systems out there fit best.  You can then decide what you would be prepared to adapt or change to fit the system.  If you have to make too many compromises, the system probably isn’t right for you.

Many companies looking to introduce innovation management systems appear all too often to bend and twist their ways of operating to fit the system being bought, rather than the other way round.  It’s been the same way with Stage Gate; rather than starting with the very sound principles, then deciding how many (and which) stages and gates to have, many companies adopted the standard system. 

There seems to be a great proliferation of offerings at the front end of idea management.  However it doesn’t make sense to announce a new approach to innovation and then just focus on installing a front end idea system.  Innovation is about much more than ideas.  If that is your objective, that’s fine, but there should be clarity on what is being done (more and better ideas; community engagement) and why. 

There’s nothing wrong with idea management systems – in fact, just the opposite – as long as the system isn’t being used as a “crutch” to support the abrogation of management responsibility.  You should know what you want to do and engage the system to support it, not the other way round.

Finally, I’ll refrain from recommending any particular systems, even though I’m familiar with many of the excellent ones out there, because each situation is different; and ultimately it’s your decision.

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