It seems so simple doesn’t it - “bringing final ideas to market”. So easy to say, yet it does seem so very hard to achieve. Everything we should be aiming at is ‘successful execution’, it’s the last, hard five yards of all the work that went into something, which can be finally realized and come to ‘commercial life’.
Here in Europe it is often suggested that “Europe is the cradle of creativity”, perhaps but I think the “United States is the crucible of innovation”, it forges ideas and takes them to market far better. In the US there is this powerful push to make money far more and to realize innovation, as clearly you must focus on the ‘making money part.’
Europe has many good ideas but they seem to get lost in this final stage, the execution of the concept, turning it into something realisable and commercially valuable, or socially needed. There is far more emphasis on this final step within the Horizon 2020 funds to show ‘proof of concept’ or commercial value than in the past and that is a good thing. Putting more resource behind the likely winners, rather than on projects that simply stay ‘blue sky’ or get picked up by others to commercialize.
The back-end of innovation is the rugged part
I love the association of the “fuzzy front end” with ideas, brainstorming and all those creative energies bringing ideas to life, but sadly unless that final ‘rugged terrain’ at the back end is not travelled we never see the innovation come to life in the market place.
To travel the final ‘rugged terrain’ of innovation execution I believe requires fortitude, stamina, belief, a healthy dose of courage and as much commitment from the whole organization engaged in the innovation process as any ‘front end’ or driving it through the pipeline, yet we often fail to recognize that.
Resources get pulled away, repositioned back at the front or in the middle to push others through the pipeline, leaving a dwindling, sometimes scarce resource to push that final five yards. The R&D group feel their role is complete, the new development team finalise the official ‘hand over' and the leadership for development and growth begins to get distracted away to push more through the pipeline, taking experienced resources with them. Suddenly it is down to a small team to tackle this execution stage and all it means.
Those lovely shiny products ready to be shipped
It is always a proud moment, having that sense of real pride (and relief) when you see the final product come off the production line, packed and ready to be shipped. Final designs were hard fought over and the product is ready to go. Let’s relax….wrong; it should be let’s get really busy with our execution plan.
This plan to execute needs as much hands-on commitment, clarity in actions and outcomes expected as any business case for justifying the product in the first place. The market simply does not care - unless you seem to be Apple with all its disciples eagerly waiting for the latest product version - you have to make the market care.
Dealing with many wants and needs
When you get into the final stages you really have to take into account all the individual demands such as “why my country is special”, or “we can’t agree the final selling price due to a different market (evolution)” or “our major client cycle for approval is not for another six months” or the final design disappoints when you are well passed the discussion stage, all can drive you ‘up the wall’ but need carefully handling. Effective execution gets very complicated and the skill of the project coordinator comes really to the fore.
Also you do have to make the rest of your organization really care, the busy salesman, the distributor, the design and advertising partners, the remaining parts of the marketing department, who were not involved in your innovation. How are you conveying the real meaning of the innovation, not from your perspective but from the value of their perspective?
Suddenly you become ‘stretched’ in catering to those often conflicting needs, and as you look around for additional help there seems a lack of clear leadership on who determines final execution, it seems to have gone ‘missing in action’. It becomes tough and complicated to execute well, you sense a feeling of exposure.
So what is needed at the execution end?
There are lots of thoughts here but three big traits stand out for me.
1). An overriding bias for action, irrespective of the challenge, problem or issue to be resolved- don’t let it fester. Take them head on. Keep the execution pedal flat to the floor, so others understand the sense of commitment and personal passion. Let it become infectious, in a positive way.
2) Really tap into all the knowledge out there in the market place, face the client, sell the product, explain the story, hone that value proposition and keep ‘pivoting’ until you get it right. You unblock the roadblocks, you unlock the mind, and you change the dynamics.
3) No pathway of execution is smooth; it is a rough and rugged road. Recognizing and valuing any breakthrough solutions to move them forward is critical. Forward momentum in any execution plan is essential; as issues come in (and sure they will) you will meet them with a commitment and passion to get them resolved. You offer the ‘waves of support’ to others.
Standing in the deployment zone focused simply on ‘executing away’
Offer true leadership that is leading from the front. Be ready to set and live the expectations; you define the critical deliverables, establish accountability and resolve the conflicts quickly. You influence and install the metrics that are execution specific.
You actively seek commitments from the wider team of stakeholders, vested in a good result. You never forget to share all the news, the good and the bad parts of the progress back into the organization.
You set out clearly to communicate accurately and frequently, keeping on top of issues, breaking down problems, reaching back into the organization for help when help is needed. You offer true execution leadership, from the front.
Just remember it is only realized when this innovation becomes the buyers choice to invest in.
Remember new innovations replace something of the existing.
Innovation does not stop when it goes out of the organizations doors, it actually only just begins, and it has to prove itself, it needs to justify all the hard work that went into it. It got to here because it was seen as worthwhile, expected to make a contribution.
To make innovation work, it is only when it is in the market place - judged by customers sufficiently enough to stump up their cash - that we have a successful innovation. To get there is often travelling over some rough, tough terrain and the more you are exposed, the more you learn. When you execute you need to deploy a significant skill set and dedicated resource to bring home the results.
Execution is the place where you can hone your judgement better. Those that are known to be good execution people are a valuable resource, they bring the results in and that is highly prized as so few have the resolve or ability to do this.
Organizations are constantly lamenting their lack of implementation capabilities. Go blaze the path as you are actually making and leading the changes. It is how you set about the execution of innovation that will separate you from the pack but it can be rugged terrain but is worth the effort as it is a real skill to possess, to manage the execution part in innovation.
- Innovation Management in support of Strategic Shifts
- The Innovation Maturity Model – Becoming More Adaptive