Innovation matters

5 Strategic Tips to Help You Rescue Innovation in 2021

The story is being written, and you can be the innovation hero. Use these 5 tips to make the difference.
Rescue Innovation

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The past year has been a rollercoaster. Except that most of us have experienced it from the comfort of our homes. People will remember the year in different ways, but one way that I will remember it is as the year that project management went out of the window!  I’d go as far as to say, anyone who was able to successfully manage a project through not 1, not 2, but 3 lockdowns, should be given super-chartership by APM, Axelos, or whichever other project management body they’re registered with.

Many of my friends have described the situations of their innovation projects to me, and to be honest, they feel a sense of despair. For some it’s much worse, because a lot of what they have worked towards for years has come tumbling down, and it’s a very difficult situation to be in. I really feel for anyone in this kind of situation, particularly because it has dragged on for so long.

Although we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, I actually think it’s a good time to look forward. We have had plenty of time to figure out what’s happened, and how we can adapt, and we’ve got used to a new way of working and living. And as many of us are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I think that it’s time to start picking up the dominoes and laying them out in a better way. In this article, I’ve laid out some key advice to help get your innovation projects back on track. There are some subtle points throughout, and you may need to read it multiple times to get the most of it.

Here are 5 strategic tips to help you rescue your innovation projects:

1. Review your project plans intelligently

Innovation decisions

If you haven’t already done so, it would be well worth your time to visualise all of the innovation programmes and projects that you are currently running, or plan to run.  Anything that you include is likely to be valuable, but that doesn’t mean that you should be progressing it, at least not now.  At the same time, it’s easy to ruthlessly strike off great ideas, projects, and other initiatives, and many have done so in recent months.  The goal is not to arrive at an acceptable number of projects or level of workload.  The goal should be to achieve the ROI, or results that your department or your business needs to achieve.  This is the primary criteria that you should use to filter out programmes and projects.  It is also important to recognise the need to focus on non-financial metrics and results.  Knowledge, technologies, and breaking boundaries can in many cases be far superior results than short-term profits.

2. Build interest and buy-in from business leaders

Innovation Senior Management

Once you have arrived at a central list of programmes and projects, which both deliver the results you need and align with your organisation’s strategy, you need to ensure that you have the necessary support to move forward.  It is good practice to map out the names of business leaders and sponsors whose support you will need. This can be done informally or via a structured stakeholder analysis activity. To get things moving faster than usual, you are likely to need extra support, so don’t underestimate the importance of this piece of work.

3. Speed up your innovation processes

Accelerate Innovation

One of the common ways to get projects back on track is to encourage or force staff to do overtime.  Although, overtime can be very useful during intense periods, it is generally something to be avoided when planning.  An alternative is to set up your programmes and projects to run at lightning speed and with intensity, particularly at the start.  This creates an environment full of energy, and does not demand expensive additional hours of low productivity.

There are plenty of ways to speed up innovation projects and design processes, but it is essential that you do not compromise your ROI.  Making quick decisions without the necessary knowledge, for example, creates unnecessary work which compromises key financials.  Some of the strategies, which we encourage at Enhance, include more concurrency and process overlap, reduced bureaucracy so you can jump the queues, and more upfront testing and exploration.

4. Outsource non-competency tasks

Export innovation button

In many engineering organisations, the time of engineers and other staff is not utilised well.  Engineers, for example, are made to be unproductive because of unnecessary levels of admin work, and being spread thin across multiple projects.  Before looking to outsource work, it is important to review the productivity of your own people.

You may find that you are lacking resources and it makes business sense to outsource tasks that you need to be done fast.  This is particularly important when you have to make a lot of progress in a short amount of time, and you don’t want to hire additional (permanent) staff.

There are also many skills and capabilities, which you need, that do not fall within your business’ core competency.  It would be wise to outsource tasks that involve “not-core-competency” tasks.

5. Seek help (don’t continue to struggle alone!)

Seek help innovation

If you are in a position where you are unsure about what to do, the easiest way out is to ask a question.  It opens your mind to other possibilities and helps you to realise new ways of doing things.  The world has changed a lot in recent years, and today opportunities for improvement are endless.  You may need some help to get you started, or to guide you through a transformation, but a lot of the time it would be well worth the investment. A good coach and expert will help you to cut out a lot of the noise and get straight to business. At Enhance, we always make time to answer challenging innovation questions. You can ask questions by commenting below, or by contacting us in another way.

The five tips in this article will help you rescue innovation in 2021, and enable you to have a fantastic year. But as you know, it will only happen if you act. Before you move on to the rest of your day, think about what you will do to rescue innovation this year.

Do you want to experience what you and your team may be doing wrong in NPD? Join one of our coaches for a free online Lego game session and see if you can deliver a good NPD solution. To find out more, click the link below.

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Dr Muhammad Khan

Dr Muhammad Khan

Dr Muhammad Khan is a British engineer, innovation strategist, educator, and writer. His PhD investigated the application of Lean thinking to engineering innovation and new product development. He is also the T&C Director at Enhance Ltd.

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