The Nine-Step innovation Process

Idea generation needs to be done quickly and well. In our busy lives, time out to think has become a scarce resource. “The leader knows everything, just follow orders” is a construct for failure.

Organisations need to draw on the full brainpower and experience of the whole team, and the leader’s job is to tap into that rich vein. We all probably assume that technology firms have such innovation processes in place, but this is not the case.

You would be surprised to know that many innovators seem to have the individual R&D components set up, but no overall guiding process.

Below is a nine-step process that is fast, comprehensive and simple to execute.

Step 1. Visualisation

This requires some hard and clear thinking around the “should be”, the ideal future we want to achieve.
It sounds simple, but there are many interacting parts in the corporate machine, and we need to visualise how we can get them all working together to achieve the ideal outcome.

Time, cost and quality aspirations are in constant tension. We must be careful what we wish for, because if we choose the wrong target, we will hit it!

Step 2. Fact finding

We determine the “as is” situation, namely our current state, and gather data to establish a starting point. This is a critical step to enable measurement, but also to promote the brainstorming process.

It is very difficult to go from a vision to a quality idea in one bound. We need to gather information and use this as our base to launch forward into idea generation.

Step 3. Problem or opportunity finding

We now know where we are and where we want to be, so why aren’t we there already? What is holding us back? This step requires identifying and then prioritising the problems or opportunities facing us. A great leading question is “In what way can we…”

This prioritisation step is critical in busy people’s lives. You can’t do everything, but you can do the most important thing. You just need to be clear about what that thing is.

Step 4. Idea finding

The aim, the reasons holding us back, and key information about the critical aspects of our business should serve as a foundation for brainstorming the creative ideas we need.

However, there is a caveat we need to apply at this point; we must use Green Light Thinking. This means we are aiming for volume of ideas and not judging the quality of those ideas at this point.

We want a big basket of ideas from which to harvest the best. Even if someone in the group comes up with the most ridiculous, idiotic contribution you have had to suffer, which is an affront to your intelligence, just SHUT UP!

That crazy idea might provoke a truly creative and usable idea from someone else, so don’t kill off suggestions at this stage. Encourage people to write down their ideas before sharing with the group and use a good facilitator to make sure all of those ideas are drawn out.

Step 5. Solution finding

Now we use Red Light Thinking. We become judicial, we make decisions about which among competing ideas is best and we now focus on the quality of each idea.

There are many ways to arrive at this process, be it consensus, voting, criteria method (absolutes versus desirables) or directing. The method chosen will vary from issue to issue, and company culture will play a role.

Step 6. Acceptance finding

Ideas are free, but their execution is usually attached to a cost, and this is when we need to get the decision makers involved. An idea may require a pilot programme or simply jumping in with both feet. Regardless, don’t bother doing any more work unless senior management is with you on this.

Step 7. Implementation

Now we put the ideas into action as the execution stage to get from “as is” to “should be”. This requires a planning process. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to be written down, have names attached to tasks and have very firm timelines.

Step 8. Follow up

Monitoring that people are doing what they say they are doing is always insightful. Good intentions don’t cut it. People must be held accountable for their role or the project begins to drift. Set up follow-up meetings at 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals.

Step 9. Evaluation

If we had a precise starting point and a clear goal, and we have executed the project well, then we are in a good position to make judgements about identifying and assessing the end results.

It sounds simplistic when we read this but sometimes the fuzziness and lack of clarity at the start comes back to haunt us at the end. Constantly ask: Do we continue as is or do we need to modify for further success?

These nine steps provide a complete framework for innovation and will tap the full power of the team, leaving your competitors wondering what happened. Good luck besting the competition through your power of innovation!