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As an innovation manager/leader you likely deal with processes (and process improvements) every day. You know, prioritizing and tweaking those actions your firm engages in to accomplish a pre-established business purpose or objective (Michel Porter is a great reference on this topic – he introduced the process view of organizations). From creating the physical space for innovation and adjusting your incentive scheme, to more abstract goals like becoming a learning organization or being customer centric, all initiatives require a careful and possibly constant orchestration. 

Reading Tip:
Not all processes are held equal. Ideally, most of your time should be spent on those that are strategically important

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There is little arguing that having the right tools and processes in place correlates with the effectiveness of (open) innovation. But how do you make sure things run smoothly? Automation is one way to solve this. For example, using software solutions to create projects and run idea campaigns. These tools are often great at generating stats. Then you have the more classical options like staff augmentation and specific training, which provide a more person-centric approach.

Whatever your choice may be, a continuous internal auditing of your efforts is key.

To keep your innovation processes in check you should, at the very least, attempt to:

  • professionalize them;
  • adapt to unforeseen situations; and
  • find/recognize opportunities to improve them.

In as follows, I’ve picked some interesting pieces of research to help you assess your current practice along the aforementioned lines. 

The professionalization of your NPD (New Product Development) Process

An important trait of effective new product/ service development processes is their level of professionalization. In other words, how “seriously” these processes are taken, how systematically they are carried out, what resources are committed to them etc. According to recent research, a professional new product development process can lead to better performance.

A simple way to assess whether your existing innovation process are professional (and professionally handled) is to ask some basic questions. For example: is there a formal NPD strategy? Are there clearly articulated goals?

Here is a handy checklist to get you started:
To what extent have you applied the following five strategy-related NPD best practices?

  • The role of NPD in achieving business goals is clearly articulated
  • There is a formally stated NPD strategy
  • We have clearly defined goals for all of our individual new products
  • Systematic portfolio management is in place
  • The project portfolios are aligned with the business strategy

Answer honest and improve accordingly.

Further reading:
Matthias de Visser, Petronella C. de Weerd-Nederhof, D.L.M. Faems, Michael Song, Michael Song, Bart van Looy, Bart van Looy, and Klaasjan Visscher – “Structural ambidexterity in NPD processes: A firm-level assessment of the impact of differentiated structures on innovation performance” (Link)

Sudden adaptation

Flexibility can be an excellent (and possibly the only viable) strategy in turbulent times. One form of flexibility is the so-called “sudden adaptation” – or the capacity to resort to ad-hoc processes (as opposed to routines) in times of need. In the best-case scenario, flexible organizations can even take unfamiliar problems, involving high degrees of unexpectedness and urgency, and make them central to their competitiveness and survival.

But don’t take my word for it.  These ideas come from recent research exploring how innovative organizations deal with unfamiliar problems.

Reading tip:

Speaking of unusual ways of doing things, job-sharing programs, anyone?

Managers’ awareness of ad hoc logic and processes (as opposed to fully routinized, high rigidity problem-solving processes) is important because it can lead to more effective innovation and positive change.

But how adaptable is your organization?
Here are a few statements to help you find out:

  • We are able to spontaneously react to certain circumstances - e.g. by putting aside existing routines
  • We are able to deploy appropriate analytical or synthetic processes to overcome biases and environmental impediments to the problem-finding activity
  • We are able to discriminate between problems based on their complexity
  • We can easily detach from existing routines when unfamiliar problems arise

Further reading:
Paavo Ritala, Bruce Heiman, and Pia Hurmelinna-Laukkanen – “The need for speed—unfamiliar problems, capability rigidity, and ad hoc processes in organizations”  (Link)

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Opportunity recognition

An organization's effectiveness with innovation and open innovation lies, among other aspects, in its ability to identify, assimilate, transform, and apply valuable external knowledge. As you can probably guess, this general ability also has a special name in the literature. It is called: "absorptive capacity".

The first pillar of absorptive capacity – recognition capacity – is especially important and provides a good baseline for additional efforts. How so? "Recognition" represents the ability to scan the external environment for new technologies, as well as assess the strategic fit of external resources with the firm’s core businesses. To have well performing processes, managers should therefore assess how external know-how is accessed and ultimately aligned with what the organization already knows/ has.  

How easily does your organization recognise new opportunities? To find out think about how strongly do you agree/ disagree with the following.

To what extent does your company conduct the following activities?

  • Participating in professional association activities
  • Attending scientific or professional conferences
  • Attending trade shows (i.e., industry exhibitions)
  • Establishing contacts with researchers at universities
  • Reading specialized journals and magazines
  • Screening the start-up community

In deciding whether to bring external knowledge into the company, your organization implements processes and mechanisms for:

  • evaluating fit with our internal competencies
  • verifying applicability to market segments
  • assessing potential strategic benefits for our business
  • appointing business lines for unsolicited ideas and knowledge

Further reading:
Ann-Kristin Zobel – “Benefiting from Open Innovation: A Multidimensional Model of Absorptive Capacity” (Link)

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Oana-Maria Pop

Oana-Maria Pop

Oana is a researcher in Open Innovation and Marketing at the Hasselt University in Belgium, where she works closely with professors Wim Vanhaverbeke and Nadine Roijakkers on bridging leading academic research and industry insights to create smarter innovation practice.

Schooled in Romania and Denmark and formerly the head of marketing at InnovationManagement.se in Sweden, Oana currently divides her time between an exciting PhD project at Hasselt University - focus: the (elusive) mechanisms that characterise innovation in service firms; open Innovation conferences and events around the world; working with innovation management education for SMEs in Eastern Europe, and trying to figure out how to fit her ambition of becoming a certified Les Mills personal trainer one day into all this.

Finally, Oana publishes regularly on the HYPE Innovation Blog and does so with great enthusiasm. Check out her author page for great insights on the benefits of engaging in collaborative innovation as well as essential reads "translated" with care and humour from academia.

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