Friday, October 11, 2013

What Does Your Innovation Pipeline Look Like?

Chances are your innovation pipeline diagram looks like one of three things:  An Innovation Funnel, a Lifecycle Chart, or anything drawn with a PowerPoint SmartArt Graphic. 
The most common innovation pipeline shape appears to be the horizontal “Innovation Funnel” or stage-gate process.  Ideas are represented by freely floating “soap bubbles,” loads of them. These ideas are harnessed and stuffed into the wide end of the funnel so that they can be shaped into concepts. The concepts are then evaluated against corporate-specific criteria, and those that pass evaluation are moved along the pipeline to product/service planning, then development, then test, then launch. 

There are advantages to this model. It acknowledges that there are many potential ideas out there, but that only a subset can be worked on. It provides a mechanism to allocate limited resources for further research and development. It helps you visually depict your innovation portfolio.   But is this the way innovation really happens? Here are some challenges to the Innovation Funnel:

1) The funnel assumes that ideation happens at the beginning of the process, whereas there very well may be ideation anywhere along the pipeline, especially as a result of a snafu. Sometimes one of the abandoned soap bubbles can be combined with a developing concept to make it viable or stronger. 

2) You may have a false sense that you can predict success, that what gets launched at the end will, indeed, deliver the outcome you had projected because you’re following a methodical process.

3) While you are in process, the world is changing in any number of ways that may cause you to re-evaluate your approach or even your whole program. For example, 

    • An enabling technology becomes available
    • The economy shifts
    • A trend takes hold
    • Your company gets acquired, divided, merged—or has new leadership
    • A serendipitous something happens that turns your assumptions on their heads.

An emerging alternative is Agile Innovation, or Lean Innovation. In agile innovation, you iteratively design, build, measure with customers and end users. An agile innovation process allows for “pivoting,” that is, changing direction based on what you have discovered at each iteration.  You can’t go too far down the path without discovering that you’ve hit a snag.  And you have data to present to stakeholders that demonstrates your learning. This is, in my opinion, the best way to manage innovation. But is this the way innovation really happens?

Here’s an interesting diagram, posted by the Future of Flight Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Washington State whose mission is “to be the leading center of learning and innovation for science, technology and aviation.”  They credit Pinchot & Company of Bainbridge Island, Washington. (Pinchot & Company is owned by Gifford Pinchot III, who coined the term “Intrapreneur” back in 1978.)

                                                                                               Credit: Future of Flight Foundation website

Here’s what I love about this diagram:

    • Inspiration happens all over 
    • There are mistakes, fooling around, and failure
    • Failure leads to inspiration
    • Goals are driven by inspiration
    • Success is the result of some swirling around until you get it right.

Whether you use a traditional or agile method of managing your innovation pipeline, recognize that the actual path to innovation success is often filled with swirls, false starts, and failures, but never a loss of inspiration.

Ivy Eisenberg

Ivy Eisenberg is founder of Our IdeaWorks, an Innovation and Lean Customer Research™ consultancy that helps companies connect to customers and other stakeholders to discover business opportunities, accelerate growth, and build and deliver successful products and services.  Ivy has more than 25 years of experience in the Front End of Innovation, user interaction design, and software product and project management. She has worked in healthcare, financial services, B2B, consumer goods, and telecommunications sectors.  Ivy is also an award-winning humor writer and storyteller, with an MBA in Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation from NYU’s  Stern School of Business.


D Doinakis said...

Thomas Burdick said...

A good method, thank you for sharing. I liked the article and chart. Where are you taking the template for the chart? I have found similar here I will be glad if you share your template. Good luck.

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