Wednesday, May 20, 2009

General Mills 5-Step Innovation Program

Peter Erickson, Senior Vice President of Innovation, Technology and Quality for General Mills, gave a great presentation on his company's innovation processes. There's a good write-up of his talk here on the FEI blog.

For companies, the five steps in General Mills' innovation program are a good start for thinking about their own efforts:

  1. Find great ideas regularly
  2. Expand talent
  3. Get smarter sooner
  4. Save to grow
  5. Pave a new way
Focus on the front end of innovation, let's examine steps #1 and #2. They go hand-in-hand.

Two Focuses for Finding New Ideas

General Mills coordinates two programs for finding new ideas:
  1. G-WIN open innovation
  2. Innovation Squads
G-WIN: Perhaps most well-known is its G-WIN program. G-WIN taps a wide range of external sources for new ideas, including entrepreneurs, inventors, universities and other food companies. This open innovation program, now two years old, has generated hundreds of ideas for products and technologies.

And it represents quite a change in mindset for General Mills. Peter talked about the company's old "Policy 16", which said that no outside product suggestions would be accepted. Such a policy is a part of the corporate landscape, as this case with Apple from 2006 illustrates.

To make open innovation a reality, General Mills took a hard look at intellectual property issues. After setting up processes to address them, they got comfortable with the risk vs benefit calculation and moved forward.

General Mills' G-WIN is now an industry model of leveraging partners for open innovation. The company is highly engaged with its supplier partner network, with a very good feel for issues and opportunities. As Jim Collins discussed yesterday, they are a company with a culture of constant choice.

The open innovation process has also given General Mills a valuable network of talent for sounding out problems and ideas.

Innovation Squads: This is the second part of their innovation program. An Innovation Squad consists of 10-15 people, typically made up of long-tenured employees. These cross-functional teams leverage their internal employee networks to both assess ideas from G-WIN and to find ideas from employees.

One model for this approach is seen in the work to create products around the weight management category. A team worked over the course of 16 weeks to develop their understanding of the job these solutions had to satisfy. From this work, they worked to solve the problem through informed ideation.

Their work resulted in a number of successful products that have differentiated General Mills in the market, such as the Progresso Light soup line.

The General Mills Model

General Mills exemplifies the trend toward increased focus on innovation, and tapping a wider range of resources for ideas. The company has done the hard work of:
  1. Identifying its strategic innovation objectives
  2. Changing culturally
  3. Executing on innovations its program surfaces
Companies will do well to take lessons from their work. General Mills is a great example of a company benefiting from an ongoing, sustainable innovation program.

Hutch Carpenter is Director of Marketing for Spigit. Spigit provides the most comprehensive innovation management platform for the enterprise, integrating emergent social collaboration with traditional workflow and analytics in innovation communities of employees, customers and partners.

1 comment:

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