Innovation – The Operating Model, Challenges & Opportunities
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean developing new products and technologies. Innovation to me is finding new ways to solve existing problems and known challenges resulting in improved efficiencies and productivity. It’s a team sport where individuals with varying skillset and experience collaborate effectively to find right solutions. Like any team sport, it requires an operating model, a persistent rhythm, between people who are passionate about accomplishing the collective goals. Within this operating model (refer to the diagram below), the team is methodologically evaluating opportunities and finding ways to progress them. There are always opportunities to discover new ways to perform tasks, improve existing systems and processes.
The reality is that innovation is a lot of hard work than just coming up with the concepts. In this article, I am sharing what I believe are some of the challenges/barriers in identifying opportunities and progressing them to meaningful conclusion. I fully comprehend that not everything mentioned in this article would be applicable to all organizations.
Challenges & opportunities
1. Access to information (that impacts me and my team)
An ideal situation would be when there is total clarity at all levels of the organisation on the business goals, various strategies that have been formulated aligned to the business goals, in-flight programmes and their objectives, clear statements on outstanding technology, operations, process and service risks, and their impact. Such clarity of the information may not be available in all areas of the organisation. When information is not easily accessible across all business domains, particularly within organisations that implement platforms with connected operations, it makes it even more difficult to innovate due to cross-functional dependencies that exist. Knowledge is an essential resource for innovations. The key to creating an innovative culture is to provide information to the organisation using digital tools.
2. Interpreting the information – What does it mean for me and my team?
Once information is available freely, the second challenge is to understand how it is relevant to individuals and teams. Figuring that out is down to teams and individuals and reaching out to their colleagues to seek clarity. However, the learning process can be much faster within cross-functional teams – this is where agile practices are extremely helpful. Diving deeper into understanding how an information impacts me and others in my team and sharing that within team builds a culture of openness and trust. This supports team members to ask questions openly which eventually leads to identifying new opportunities and concepts.
3. Leading cross-functional team(s)
Cross-functional teams are key to finding new opportunities as established earlier. It breaks down the traditional silos that helps businesses achieve its goals and provide broad career experiences to employees. What’s so hard about it is to build the team with the right individuals and skillset in the first place. Many times, individual’s yearly objectives do not account for cross-team collaboration – so there is a risk of too much unaccounted time spent in cross-functional collaborations with no potential outcome to show. Employees needs support from their management to participate in such collaborations along with their core responsibilities.
4. Running an agenda and refining it
Essentially the ask here is to – Identify the focus areas, build the hypotheses upfront for team to engage (and remain engaged) in meaningful discussions, facilitate the discussions and seek clarity, ensure team members are aware of what’s on inside the organization in related areas, assign tasks to yourself and everyone else in the team and track them, engage with customers and partners, minute the meetings and clearly state the actions, and finally come up with clear requirements on opportunities identified. I am sure I missed a few but running this cadence is often very challenging – often relying on the borrowed time from the participants. At this point nothing is funded, it just being driven by passionate individuals.
5. Identifying stakeholders, developing partnerships, & seeking approvals
This is a crucial next step after the opportunities are identified. Identifying the right partners and stakeholder, and seeking approvals are integral but challenging aspects of organizational management. New opportunities require effective integration into the broader ecosystem, and this involves addressing the challenges of stakeholders and partners. It’s about fostering right partnerships who can champion the initiatives and offer support and resources within their respective areas. There are still substantial areas to expand further – enterprise & solution architecture, product alignment, vendor management if applicable, new standards development, investment planning & business case development, and few others.
6. Alignment with existing and future opportunities
Alignment with existing and approved programmes presents real prospects to find home to new ideas supporting dynamic business environment. It’s the best chance and a practical and strategic framework for innovation. There are several compelling reasons:
a. Alignment with existing opportunities ensures that new ideas are relevant to customer requirements.
b. Capitalize on the existing or emerging trends.
c. Internal support to new ideas that solve existing challenges.
d. High likelihood of successful adoption
e. Leverage existing investments, expertise & resources.
f. Easier to build effective partnerships and garner support from stakeholders.
g. Faster time-to-market
By separating individual ideas into small, isolated deliverables, so that they fit well within the existing programme delivery schedule and technology architecture, it allows team to anticipate market trends and adapt the original ideas to future changes.
Knowing current and upcoming opportunities (point 1) and capitalising on them significantly improves the chances of successful idea implementation.
Those ideas that couldn’t be aligned with the known opportunities, continue to build individual business case and highlight their benefits.
7. Celebrate success, remain passionate and repeat!