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Built-in innovation trap

By October 25, 2016Article

JD Power’s latest research confirms that most drivers use their common sense and choose the best solution when they want to find their route. Yet most companies readily yield to the basic “built-in” idea capture tool that comes with their enterprise systems to choose their direction, which is leading to disastrous results. 

GPS imageBased on this latest research, 33 percent of new car owners give up on their car’s built-in GPS within two weeks, more than 50 percent never even give it a try and 66 percent use their smartphone sometimes. 

Unfortunately, many companies have not been as careful and still rely on a primitive or built-in solution to choose which ideas to develop and pursue as projects. These are both examples of technologies that have not evolved when compared to other alternatives on the market. In the case of capturing ideas, there are solutions available today that take this to the next level. Organizations are no longer interested in just capturing ideas; they want to innovate! 

statistics 1999 and today imageThese are all inherently the problems that are caused by using a primitive solution to collect ideas that form the basis of the new projects that will be executed:

  • In 1999, the statistics for project management success were dismal with 73 percent of projects identified as challenged or a failure altogether. But the needle has not moved all that much almost two decades later with that number down to just 61 percent according to the same source.
  • The top six causes for project failure have not changed in the last two decades either, with the most common causes including changing priorities within the organization, inaccurate requirements, change in project objectives, undefined risks/opportunities, poor communication and undefined project goals. 

Still, today organizations report that an average of 60 percent of projects are not aligned with business strategy. 

New ideas are the lifeblood of progress. At many organizations, however, the processes that are used to find the best ideas and turn them into commercially viable and successful projects (products and services) are haphazard and disconnected. Martin Luther King Jr. fittingly observed: “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” 

The main challenge lies in soliciting ideas that align with corporate strategy and having the right processes to further develop and evaluate which ones to prioritize, experiment and build on as concepts that can become winning projects. This is clearly evident when you consider the top six causes of project failure that show misalignment and a lack of development and understanding of the project at hand. 

Idea fit and your definition of innovation 

This thinking certainly applies to the rigor and thought process organizations apply before they formally attempt to transform an idea to a project they choose to initiate. The real challenge is not only a lack of ideas but also an inability to properly prioritize and execute the right ones in an efficient and consistent fashion. The first question any organization should ask is: “How does this idea fit with our definition of innovation?” 

innovation components diagram

 Innovation is not just about new products and services. It can include improving or better monetizing existing offerings, looking for new market opportunities, increasing employee engagement in creative ways or improving your customer’s or business partner’s experience. Disruptive innovation is about achieving multiple such outcomes by unlocking this value across all these areas, sometimes, with a single idea. 

Strategy alignment and idea development methodology 

Most organizations’ project-intake process (ideas that get submitted and can become projects) simply assumes a standard submission flow and a limited approval process. The reality is that this approach completely limits any serious vetting or review that could take place if companies actually took a shark tank, jam session or challenge-driven approach to seeking ideas that align with strategy and then allow more collaboration and a clear workflow to build out the idea. 

The question organizations need to answer each and every time when a new project is to be approved is: “How does this help us achieve our innovation objectives?” 

Innovation focus areas 

To be able to choose the right projects to invest in, organizations need to break down functional silos and communicate more freely internally as well as with external sources including suppliers, partners, thought leaders, customers as well as the broader community. 

silos diagram

The right conversation and process will address the top failure challenges outlined above by helping to ensure alignment with the business priorities, define more precise requirements and crystallize project objectives. 

Experimentation and proof of concept 

The remaining causes of failure can be overcome by taking an agile and iterative approach to concept development. This will help take risks head-on early and often throughout the experimentation process and by design ensure free and flowing communication leading to well-defined project goals for each iteration. This will either result in a final executed project or give rise to a more traditional waterfall project methodology only when you have clearly defined specifications that warrant such an approach. 

Agile idea collection is not innovation 

In short, organizations should do away with basic idea-capture mechanisms that are built in to feed their Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Project Portfolio Management (PPM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) systems, which inherently are the major cause of strategy misalignment and invariably cause the top six failures. 

Instead, companies should leverage best-of-breed innovation management software that allows them to cast a wider net for the right focus areas. This will result in ideas that align with strategy, leverage the right innovation activities to drive collaboration and develop the appropriate process to evaluate, prioritize and experiment and help avoid the six major causes of failure. 

Doing so will certainly help organizations shift a larger percentage of their budget to higher value strategic products that really move the needle on where the business should bet as much of its resources and time as possible. 

What does your organization project-intake process look like and how successful are you in avoiding the top six causes while delivering projects that align with your corporate strategy so you can head in the right direction? 

Ludwig Melik is CEO and founder of Planbox, a pioneering provider of cloud-based agile work innovation software solutions – from creative ideas to winning projects. We help organizations thrive by transforming the culture of agile work, continuous innovation and creativity across the entire organization. Products include collaborative innovation management, team decision making, and work management applications. Email Ludwig at