Innovation beyond improvement


The competitive environment never, ever gets easier. Just to stay as competitive as last year, we need to execute better this year.

In many cases, Continuous Improvement is necessary just to stay in the game! And to pull significantly ahead, an organization must make process innovations in addition to improvements.

Defining the Term
A process innovation is one that has the potential to change the competitive landscape. When an organization implements a process innovation, they produce, modify, and/or adopt a new value-added product, service, process, management system, or market.

More simply stated, a process innovation significantly changes at least one of the following aspects of a process or service:

  • Speed
  • Cost
  • Quality

For example, an insurance company overwhelmed the competition by shortening the time between claim filing and payment from weeks to hours. A small bank picked up market share through a process innovation reducing the number of days to approval by 80%.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for numerous process innovations as well; supermarkets instituted curb site pick-up, restaurants found ways to expand outdoor seating and delivery, businesses of all types quickly shifted into “remote” working modes, and the availability of fast or same day delivery of goods bought on-line has been significantly increased.

Operating Assumptions?
Every business operates under the constraints of operating assumptions, and each of the above-listed process innovations challenged and overcame powerful assumptions. People may not even think of them as assumptions, but rather as facts-of-life, because they are so ingrained in our organization’s paradigm.

But to achieve a significant breakthrough, we have to identify and overcome a significant operating assumption and rewrite the rules of the game.

Easier said than done, of course. We all want to achieve a process innovation that will remake the competitive landscape in our favor. And yet, it is hard enough to get our teams to accomplish continuous improvements when they are running hard just keeping up with the usual deliverables.

Consequently, game changing innovations are rare. If your organization is going to identify and execute process innovation, you have to have created both the right human conditions and the best methods to successfully identify, challenge, and reverse the constraining assumptions that are keeping you and your competition trapped in the status quo.