The innovation process within a company is often chaotic and uncoordinated under the pretext of creativity. However, many companies shy away from taking the step towards a structured process. However, dealing with internal processes and structures within the company offers an opportunity to secure the company's ability to innovate in the long term and to establish an independent innovation management system.
What is the innovation process?
The innovation process refers to the systematic implementation of existing and/or new findings into marketable solutions - from the generation of ideas and the evaluation of ideas to their realization and successful market launch. It is also important to discard ideas with little potential for the future in good time in order to use R&D resources in a targeted manner and to focus innovation activities on promising innovations. A well-founded innovation process should therefore have the following characteristics in particular:
- Systematic: Project-oriented combination of various innovation methods (e. g. funnel or search field method)
- Future-oriented: Integration of trends from the market, technology, industry and society
- User-integrated: Involving customers, suppliers or suppliers.
- Holistic: coordination of process, methods, structure and culture.
A holistic innovation process that goes beyond short-term solutions must also take into account a company's innovation structure and culture. The innovation process thus includes not only the process in the narrower sense but also the innovation structure and culture. These three areas are closely interlinked and require appropriate coordination when it comes to the consistent design of a sustainable innovation process within the company.
Innovation structure as a vessel of the innovation process
The innovation structure anchors the innovation process in the internal organizational structure. Personnel responsibilities, team composition and critical management tasks are adapted to the innovation process on the basis of the following questions:
- Who is looking for ideas?
- Who decides on the follow-up?
- Who develops ideas further?
- Which ideas are pursued within the established R&D structures and which ideas need a different development team, based on the type of innovation or the degree of innovation
- Which hierarchical levels must be included in the different stages of development?
A well-thought-out innovation structure is an essential component of the successful innovation process. However, this does not mean that a completely new structure has to be created. A new procedure or a new team composition can already be sufficient.
Innovation culture as a foundation for successful ideation
An innovation culture is a corporate culture that promotes innovation. Employees are the most important source for generating ideas, so the culture of innovation is decisive for innovation productivity and success. Three essential factors create the preconditions for an innovation culture in which employees drive innovation:
- Can: Competence development in the field of innovation methods
- May: Created free space and structures for employees
- Want to: Intrinsic motivation through specific stimuli
What are the advantages of a structured innovation process?
The advantages of a deliberately designed innovation process can be summarized as follows:
- Systematization and structuring of the mostly chaotic development process
- Shorter development time for innovative solutions (reduction of time to market)
- Early detection of flops
- Increasing the success rate by selecting projects
- Improvement of internal cooperation and communication by involving different departments and know-how providers
- Reduction of rework and other forms of waste
- Overview of current projects
- Efficient use of R&D resources
- Guarantees the completeness of the innovation process, since critical steps are not forgotten or neglected.
Combating symptoms versus a holistic innovation process
Every successful company has an innovation process at its disposal in some way that influences the ability to innovate and thus the maturity of innovation management. In many companies, innovation processes are reduced to short-term solutions or individual projects, which bring an immediate return on investment but can only be regarded as a symptom relief.
However, if you want to increase the company's ability to innovate in the long term, you have to look at the company's internal innovation process and establish a holistic innovation process that involves more than just listing innovation projects and innovation development. It is only when you fundamentally think about the existing innovation process, the innovation structure and innovation culture in the company that you create the prerequisites for a holistic innovation process that exploits the creative potential in the company and increases the company's ability to innovate in the long term.
In concrete terms, this would mean, for example, that the company would set clear innovation goals and then define and coordinate the innovation process and the appropriate strategies and methods - from the idea generation phase to market launch. Individual methods in this holistic process can of course also be a roadmap or a Lead user project.
The Stage-Gate Model
The best-known form of a systematic innovation process is the Stage-Gate process according to Cooper and Kleinschmidt. The model can be used as a basis for imposing a certain discipline and systematics on the innovation process, which is often lacking in many companies. However, it is important to take into account the characteristics of each company and to adapt the process individually.
The model works very well for innovation levels and types of innovation that are manageable. For innovations with a very high degree of innovation, the process usually has to be adapted, since the rigid structure of the Stage-Gate model is counterproductive in a complex innovation project. In these cases, however, orientation to the rough stages is also recommended in order to define the necessary framework for the innovation process.
The Stage-Gate model divides the innovation process into precisely defined stages and gates. Each phase contains cross-divisional activities from the range of tasks of different functional areas or departments of a company. At the end of each phase, the Gates review projects against relevant decision criteria in a milestone analysis (gates) to determine whether or not they will enter the next phase.
Within the innovation process, the following aspects are highlighted in particular:
- Idea generation (funnel or search field method incl. integration of external partners)
- Evaluation of ideas (in the sense of Go/NoGo decisions, but also in the sense of the degree of innovation and type of innovation, in order to be able to determine the further procedure)
- Early involvement of external partners for feedback
- Different strategies (process steps) for pursuing ideas according to innovation type and degree of innovation
- Methods for the respective process stages, so that employees do not have to reinvent the wheel every time
Thus, from the wealth of ideas, those that promise success are gradually filtered out. Different methods are used for each phase, which, in contrast to individual measures, are coordinated with each other.
Conclusion: Clear structure improves ideation
In principle, innovation processes in companies are all about creating a clear framework that defines how ideas are introduced into the company, how they are pursued and how they are put on the market. A structured process, which also incorporates the innovation culture and innovation structure, opens up opportunities to break down barriers to innovation and at the same time creates efficient innovation management. This does not in any way mean that the foundations of the company need to be shaken. Rather, it is important to analyze the current state of the existing innovation process, identify the necessary changes and make targeted changes where they are needed.