Pulse of Innovation: Tips for Effective Innovation Governance

April 14, 2020

Every so often we ask our community to sound off on popular topics in innovation and share their best tips, tricks, and advice in hopes that their answers may inspire others in the field. We’ve gathered these insights by email, over phone calls, at events and roundtables, and catching up with clients and colleagues.

Process and organization are essential components of managing innovation at any organization, but often times rules and discipline alone are not enough. Governance provides an extra layer of oversight by allowing leadership to help define the mission and support the high-level and long-term strategy. Executive support is critical for organization-wide adoption, especially with large initiatives. Guidance from a steering committee (or similar mechanism) ensures that innovation efforts are given the chance to drive a meaningful impact for the organization.

However, having a governance structure in place doesn’t necessarily make innovation activities effective. Even experienced steering committees sometimes struggle to play the right role. Problems arise when differences of opinion at the executive level cause gridlock, timidity, or lack of clear direction. When it comes to speculative future-oriented topics, it is not unusual for governance bodies to succumb to decision paralysis, or to become distracted by fire-fighting in the core business.

For these reasons and more, strong portfolio management requires a shared commitment to the innovation mission across the organization, especially at the institutional leadership level. Here are some of the best practices we’ve seen for instituting effective oversight and governance:

  • Stop Seeing Double - The siloed nature of some organizations will inevitably lead to multiple business units working to solve the same problem. These groups may be unaware of overlapping initiatives and duplicative work. Concept and product development teams need to be transparent with leadership and provide accurate reporting on all of their projects. When necessary, it becomes the responsibility of leadership to intervene and determine which group is better equipped to solve said problem.

  • Attend Graduation Ceremonies - There is a high “drop-out” rate for projects that are born from concept teams and small specific research groups, so it’s a big deal when these ideas graduate into real programs within an existing business unit. Oversight committees should consider personally attending the handoff meetings when important projects are mature enough to transition into the big leagues.

  • Break Out the Gardening Tools - Big-picture, visionary types are creative, resourceful, and clever - which is great for dreaming up disruptive ideas. But sometimes concept teams become too attached to an idea. High-level oversight plays an important role in assisting with “gardening and landscaping.” Although it might be difficult, concept teams need to accept the support for funneling and pruning their ideas.

  • Assemble Dream Teams - While separate product-line or brand-specific R&D teams exist for a reason, there are some innovations that require wider coordination of resources, knowledge, or leverage. In these scenarios, advisory boards need to encourage and guide cross-department collaboration. This will yield “better” results - the efforts will be more cost-effective, with more robust technology development and a better-defined market fit.

  • Take Off the Rose-Colored Glasses - Steering committees should be used as a resource for concept development and to advocate/champion great ideas. But before a review of concepts or projects can take place, teams need to self-assess their work through a critical lens. Project owners need to evaluate how feasible, scalable, and viable their ideas are and be prepared to validate their assumptions to the board. Leadership should be briefed on market needs, tech capabilities, and resources on hand - and should push back when a project or initiative is not well enough vetted for them to get involved.

  • Master the Balancing Act - When too many ideas “graduate” at once, some high-potential options may get dropped altogether. R&D teams should involve their product line counterparts in concept development to make sure they can “accept” new tech, and to be sure that everyone has bought into the market logic driving the bet. Guidance from leadership is instrumental in balancing the overall portfolio with the right mix of short and long-term bets.

  • Insist on Thoughtful Accountability - Building a strong relationship with good communication between the “front line” and “advanced” teams is necessary to transition and scale developed technology and projects into preexisting business models. To support this teamwork, strategic leaders need to hold teams accountable throughout the innovation lifecycle, from start to finish. This means thinking carefully about incentives that respect the need for strong execution today, while reserving some capacity to deliver future successes.

Governance shouldn’t mean more red tape. The goal is to streamline operations and involve leadership in high-level decision making and strategy, without getting in the way of detailed execution. When an organization has the right process and guidance to navigate innovation’s complexities, everyone wins.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. For more tips, check out our growing collection of Pulse of Innovation posts!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay



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