Category Archives: Innovation

Innovation & Cross-Functional Collaboration

Continuing with the theme of innovation, the breakthrough process innovations that achieve order-of-magnitude improvements almost always require cross-organizational collaboration.

So it’s not surprising that this level of innovation is difficult to achieve because, while cross-organizational improvement efforts present substantial opportunities, they also pose some formidable obstacles.

Three of the most common barriers to cross-functional success, along with some ideas on how to overcome them, are:

Too many people… One of the basic facts of accomplishing cross-organizational work is that we must involve more people.  This size factor alone can make the project more difficult to execute. The larger the group, the more effort is required to ensure that good working relationships develop among the team members.  Scheduling meetings becomes more difficult, and individuals may take less responsibility because with a large group it is easier to assume someone else will pick up the slack.

To better-manage larger project teams, leaders must pay close attention to organizational tools and methods, such as forming a proper charter, clearly-defining roles, maintaining consistent communication with top management, scheduling meetings well-in advance and on a regular time-table, distributing meeting agendas in advance to promote awareness and preparedness, and adhering to effective meeting management protocols.

Cumbersome logistics… Cross-organizational improvement projects frequently involve multiple locations, different time zones, and different cultures. Not only can these factors pose scheduling challenges, but also bring about issues with respect to team-building and communication.

To overcome or minimize these challenges, leaders can schedule the initial meeting in person and invest in intensive team-building up front.   For remote meetings, they can add interactive visual communication and employ a more interactive facilitation style; scheduling can “rotate” to accommodate different time zones as well.

Conflicting priorities… The biggest impediment to accomplishing cross-organizational improvements is the power of competing priorities, which can make it hard to form an overall consensus or gain buy-in to the overall mission and vision.  The danger of shifting priorities is many times larger with cross-organizational projects as well, making it more likely that new urgent demands will arise before the project is complete, and resources become overloaded and start missing meetings and skipping action items.

To address these challenges, leaders can begin by conducting a thorough analysis that highlights the enterprise-wide benefits that are at stake. Engaging top level sponsors is also a must. While sponsor engagement is essential to the success of most change efforts, it is more critical for a cross-organizational improvement project. It is also important for all parties to respect the inevitable differences in priorities and operation models, and to avoid the appearance of being judgmental or of telling others “how they should be doing their jobs.”

Finally, nothing succeeds more than success! Achieving some quick wins, and sharing the details, is a great way to start.  Successfully addressing chronic problems is especially great for keeping people engaged and ready to do more. Facilitators are also sales people for the facts, data, methods, and for getting buy-in for the team’s recommendations.  But be sure to leverage every success to encourage more participation.

 

5 Innovation Catalysts

Recent posts have focused on common barriers to innovation, so today we’ll share five catalysts or tools that can help an organization become more innovative.

  1. Capitalize on a need… It has often been said that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” One company observed that when their very survival was at risk, they began to implement a program of Continuous Improvement that called on everyone to contribute innovative implementable ideas. Because they had to develop new and better ways of operating, they did! Similarly, a start-up company with few resources must innovate or quickly wither away. However, it must be less scary to try something new and risk failure than it is to stay with the status quo, and people at all levels must have a sense of “amnesty” to reduce the risk of sharing new ideas.
  2. Involve outsiders… “It is easiest to think outside the box, when you are from outside the box.” Outsiders often come up with the best innovations, because they have no ties to the status quo. But outsiders often have a difficult time effecting real change because they are outsiders. A senior manager of a once innovative company wryly observed, “We say we like to bring in outsiders with fresh ideas, but when they share them we explain that’s not the way we do it here.”
  3. Know the marketplace…  Market instincts can sometimes be more valuable than technological know-how or financial heft. For example, when Xerox PARC created the mouse, it was simply amazing. But it cost $300 to build and only worked for a few weeks. To make the mouse truly innovative required something quite different: constraints. Steve Jobs had the vision and market insight to add the constraints: the mouse must cost less than $15 to make and operate reliably for two years.
  4. Imagine perfection… To foster true process innovation we must summon the courage to acknowledge the deep areas of waste that are part of our standard work. This might include inspection or rework or moving or waiting that is so intrinsically a part of the way we work that we cannot envision the work without it. Summon the courage to put that waste on the table, calling it what it is. Go ahead and imagine the process without the steps that add no real value — that just compensate for a flaw somewhere in the process — and then take the time to search for ways to get to that vision.
  5. Leadership… Nothing is more important than the right form of leadership to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy.  An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created.

Read the full article…

3 Big Barriers to Innovation

Our previous post referenced a common obstacle to major process innovation as being a reluctance to challenge the “status-quo.”

Three additional and significant barriers to innovation are:

  1. Time… Many organizations cite the lack of time and attention to innovation as a major barrier because people are simply too busy to think about innovation. “If my boss’s boss is too busy to think about new and better ways of doing something, I better be too.” This is a good recipe for keeping things exactly the way they are while the world passes by.
  2. Too much at stake… Innovation requires risk taking, and large, well-established organizations simply have a lot on the plate to risk. When a well established company with a broad customer base introduces a new product, expectations are quite high and risks must be carefully weighed. Each potential innovation must be considered and evaluated in light of the existing portfolio of products and commitments. Innovation becomes much more complicated and difficult.
  3. Too many ideas… While everyone realizes we cannot innovate with too few ideas, we also can’t get anywhere with too many. Innovation requires a well disciplined process as well as a fast flowing stream of ideas. An organization needs to have an effective way to pivot from idea creation to sifting, sorting, choosing, and doing. Ideas can get in the way of deeds, and effective innovation requires both.

Now that we’ve identified some of the most common challenges to innovation, our next post will focus on specific ways to overcome these obstacles and to develop a culture of innovation.

The Way Things Could or Should Be

Our previous post discussed various ways of identifying waste, which can be defined as the difference between the way things are and the way things could or should be.

Imagineering” is an ideal process for making this type of determination, and for goal-setting, developing the best project plans, and for putting improvement ideas into practice.

As you may know, Imagineering was popularized in the 1940s by Alcoa to describe its blending of imagination and engineering. It was also adopted by Walt Disney a decade later, and is often referenced as a means of achieving “blue sky speculation,” a process where people generate ideas with no limitations…, where they try to achieve what “could or should be.”

Over the years we have consistently found that well-executed Imagineering workshops help people unleash their organization’s true potential and achieve breakthrough improvements.  Much more than traditional or simple brainstorming, the process starts with a strategic approach for imagining perfection, and ends with engineering this ideal state back down to earth.

You might consider the use of Imagineering as a means of generating innovative ideas and applying the principles to set goals and achieve breakthrough improvements.

The Hidden Cost of Disengaged Workers?

wordleengage4A young, seemingly fast-rising junior executive had been working at a large bank for just over six years. When he was asked about his job and how he felt about it he said, “The job’s OK.” His lack of enthusiasm was evident.

When pressed to say more he added, “Well, I’m not really learning much any more… ”

When asked if he was fully-engaged he said probably not but went on to say that he still did a great job. “I still give 100% and consider myself to be a great employee,” he said. Then, after a short pause, he added,” But I don’t give them 110% and  there’s a big difference between 100% and 110% — at least for me.”

When asked if he was out looking he responded, “No…, but I’m listening.”

When asked whether he told his boss how he was feeling he said, “Yeah, but….”

How many people in how many organizations feel like he does? He is bright, skilled, and might be an ideal candidate for a senior leadership position…if he stays.

But is he being made to feel like an important part of the team? Does anyone realize that he could be giving more?

Is he being “engaged?”

Among the many documented advantages of an engaged worker is the “discretionary” effort that they put forth… going the extra mile; the above-and-beyond attitude… giving 110%!

How many innovative ideas might that extra 10% yield?  How much more productivity? What impact might it have on customers or coworkers?

What are the real, (or hidden!) costs associated with not getting that extra 10%?

Funding Engagement & Improvement Initiatives Through ROI

engagementroiEarlier this year a Deloitte research summary reported that 87 percent of business leaders “cite organizational culture and employee engagement as their top challenge.”

Fortunately we don’t need to create new budgets to engage people, as outlined in a recent article published by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. Instead, dollars can be spent more wisely by aligning engagement and improvement efforts to better-address all of the “levers of engagement,” and to improve both the work and workplace in measurable ways.

In many cases, organizations are already doing some of the fundamental work; the difference is to take a more strategic approach to these activities by applying proven engagement and continuous improvement best practices.

This approach will include:

  • Creating a formalized implementation plan and establishing performance measures so that progress can be tracked.
  • Developing realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Working with the leaders so that they can model the right behaviors and cascade the concepts to their reports and throughout the organization.
  • Identifying and quantifying opportunities for improvement and engagement.
  • Fostering an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, continuous improvement, and fun.
  • Making sure people have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
  • Maintaining open lines of communication, including the rewarding and recognizing of people so that they feel supported in their efforts.
  • Measuring return on investment.

 

Change Like a Green Tomato

changeThe ability to anticipate, lead and manage change is a critical indicator of organizational success.

As suggested in a recent post,  strong leadership is a key requirement when it comes to driving change and continuous improvement; and as noted in one of last year’s posts, it is much easier to change when you can rather than when forced to do so!

This is a critically-important reality… too many organizations slip into complacency when things are going “well,” and only contemplate change when their performance is unsatisfactory — when they’re forced into it!

There are countless examples of how this latter approach can quickly lead to disaster! Kodak, Polaroid, and Blockbuster, to name just a few…

Instead, change and continuous improvement must become the “cultural way.”

Possibly Jim Press, former President of Toyota Motor North America, summed-it-up best during an interview by saying, “Toyota wants to be a green tomato.”

His point was that green tomatoes are in a constant state of change; they know their futures are still ahead of them, while red tomatoes have stopped growing.

 

How Strong Leadership Drives Innovation

leadershipandinnovationAs a final component to our series of posts on the subject of innovation, today’s post focuses on the critically-important role of leadership. Given the challenges of creating a consistently effective innovative organization, nothing is more important than leadership, which is required to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy.

An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created. But empowerment, important as that is, is nowhere near enough. Leadership must also create a challenging vision around which to rally the organization’s creative energies. This vision must be grounded in a deep understanding of the market and of the daily struggles of the people who make up that market — i.e., the market’s needs.

In addition, understanding the market is much easier for a small company where everyone deals with real customer needs every day. But as organizations grow, they expand like a balloon — more mass and less surface area. The surface area has the chance to get close to the external customer’s needs, but leadership must maintain or create a mechanism that will ensure that an understanding of the customer’s needs can penetrate beyond the surface area into the heart of the organization.

The same is true of internal functions that work together like a chain of customers. As organizations grow, departments grow and they too develop ‘more mass and less surface area’ — creating the familiar silo phenomenon.

Finally, leadership of innovative organizations must, without stifling creativity, challenge the organization’s efforts with the necessary, market-driven constraints.

Without the right constraints, empowerment cannot succeed. It is too easy to become satisfied with a creative idea before it has been developed into something really workable. An organization that tries to empower innovation without creating the right market-driven constraints, can easily suffocate in an avalanche of incomplete or impractical ideas.

This is a tall order, and it becomes easy to see why innovation isn’t easier to come by despite all the human talent and energy brought to bear. But creating an innovative culture is, in itself, a creative challenge. By increasing our understanding of the challenges and constraints, we increase our ability to focus our own leadership talents on the right things to make it happen.

Read the full article…

Innovation Enablers!

boxSince our previous few posts have focused on barriers to innovation, it only seems right that we might also review some ideas for enabling it…

These methods require strong and empowering leadership to lay out the market constraints, make clear the threats from the changing environment and the opportunities that may arise, and provide the amnesty to take a risk to put ideas and observations on the table.

Necessity
When, in the 1950’s, Taiichi Ohno led a delegation to visit Ford to learn how to build automobiles, he was dismayed by the inventory, the huge warehouses and sprawling production facilities, the staggeringly large workforces. Toyota had nothing like those resources to emulate that system. They lacked the capital for all that inventory and they lacked the space for those sprawling production facilities. They needed a much leaner system, and so they invented one – because they had to!

Another  company observed that when their very survival was at risk, they began to implement a program of Continuous Improvement that called on everyone to contribute innovative implementable ideas. Because they had to develop new and better ways of operating, they did!

Similarly, a start-up company with few resources must innovate or quickly wither away. And it must be less scary to try something new and risk failure than it is to stay with the status quo. To create this condition, you must provide amnesty to reduce the risk of sharing new ideas; but it also helps if the status quo looks pretty untenable.

Outside the Box Thinking
Outsiders often come up with the best innovations, because they have no ties to the status quo. But outsiders often have a difficult time effecting real change because they are outsiders. A senior manager of a once innovative company wryly observed, “We say we like to bring in outsiders with fresh ideas, but when they share them we explain that’s not the way we do it here.”

Imagineering
To foster process innovation we must summon the courage to acknowledge the deep areas of waste that are part of our standard work. We all have this: inspection or rework or moving or waiting that is so intrinsically a part of the way we work that we cannot envision the work without it.

Because we cannot immediately think of any possible alternatives, we look the other way and thus we cannot innovate.

Summon the courage to put that waste on the table, calling it what it is. We have seen remarkable feats of innovation inspired by this simple act — recognizing waste for what it is. Go ahead and imagine the process without the steps that add no real value — that just compensate for a flaw somewhere in the process — and then take the time to search for ways to get to that vision.

Imagine perfection.

Lots of Ideas Can Be a Surprising Barrier to Innovation & Continuous Improvement!

People readily agree that we cannot innovate with too few ideas. Fortunately there are numerous methods for surfacing “innovative thought,” such as brain-storming, checklists, or the five W’s and 1 H.

But can’t get anywhere with too many ideas either!

toomanychoicesWhen too many ideas are generated by the above-listed methods, the risks of choosing the wrong idea or the complications associated with choosing the best idea can get in the way of deeds, and effective innovation requires both.  To be effectively innovative an organization must have a process for pivoting from idea creation to sifting, sorting, choosing, and doing.

It is no surprise that one of Bill Conway’s favorite sayings has always been, “The most important business decision people make every day, is deciding what to work on.”