How to overcome internal innovation hurdles
Innovation projects are not only slowed down by external influences, but also internal obstacles to innovation pose difficult challenges for innovation managers.
We present the five most important internal hurdles to innovation as well as their solution.
1. Personnel damage in the innovation team
Imagine that as an innovation manager in a group company you are responsible for the development of an innovation. The employee who initiated and commissioned the innovation project is on the 4th management level. You put together an innovation team at the 5th and 6th management level and start the project motivated.
Everything is going fine, but then the client of the project (4th level) is suddenly dismissed. As a result, the project manager of the innovation project changes jobs internally and receives other tasks. It is no longer responsible for innovation, but for a completely different product. Now you only have the employees of the 6th management level in the team. The engineers are also extremely creative and develop an innovative product.
But how high is the chance that this innovation will really be passed on in the company? In the meantime, a successor to the position of the client has been appointed, who does not identify with the innovation project or the procedure - after all, he has not decided on all of this. In this respect, the successor is not very motivated to continue the initiative of his predecessor. The innovation ends up in the drawer and is no longer being pursued.
This is the horror scenario - both for us as consultants and for the internal innovation manager who is to develop innovations. How do you overcome these barriers to innovation?
Solution: Getting new managers on board quickly
The behaviour of the successor corresponds to the so-called "Not invented here syndrome". This can only be overcome if the successor is involved in the decision-making process as early as possible and is included in the creative process in such a way that the innovation project becomes a "baby".
Initiate a joint meeting with the supervisor of the new person in charge (3rd level) as early as possible and pick up the YES that the project is in order and strategically important. In this way, you can increase your commitment to the new manager. It gives him the opportunity to participate in the design process. It is only when the successor participates that it becomes his or her baby.
The same phenomenon can also be found among consumers. If the consumer feels that he or she has been involved in the design process, then involvement is higher. On the website of established car manufacturers, for example, configurators make it possible to assemble the car according to one's own ideas. Extreme forms of this costumizing can be found at Nike and other sneaker manufacturers, where customers can put together online colors, upholstery, fabric and design of the sneaker. It is therefore the same psychological phenomenon: those who help to shape it have a higher level of commitment.
In an innovation project, this phenomenon occurs in the same way. It is therefore the task of the innovation manager to overcome this internal innovation hurdle in such a way that the new person in charge is brought on board as early as possible.
Funding problems that arise during an innovation project are one of the biggest obstacles to innovation. Financing of the next innovation phases is no longer guaranteed.
This can be avoided by pitching the innovation project as quickly as possible. Prepare a 3-minute pitch and present the attractiveness of the innovation project on the highest possible hierarchy level to convince sponsors and get fresh money into the innovation project.
An innovation project should in principle be budgeted for at least 12 months. For innovation projects with a high degree of innovation, however, it is usually possible to budget a maximum of 12 months in advance, since many parameters are still open.
You don't know whether you have to buy new machines, need a new sales channel or enter a new market. These are all open parameters that can only be decided once the innovation has been fully developed. Therefore, you can always budget up to a maximum of 12 months in advance, and the obstacle to innovation Funding problems can be overcome by pitching.
3. Technical feasibility reaches its limits
If the original idea for an innovation proves not to be technically feasible, you have to look for an alternative technology. This is best achieved with analogue sectors or analogue industries that have to cope with a similar challenge.
Solution: Overcoming innovation hurdles through analogies
If, for example, it is not technically possible to make a car 50 percent lighter with the current technology in automotive engineering, you can look around the aircraft industry to see how light-weight construction is used there. Innovation hurdles due to technological boundaries can be overcome by transferring technologies from analogue fields into your own innovation project. Problems with innovative ideas that are not technically feasible can thus be solved by analogies.
4. Innovation hurdles due to wrong timing
Then there is the problem that timing is wrong. You are too early with an idea when the market is still ready for the idea. Or you're just too late.
Solution "too soon":
If you are too early, you should deal intensively with trends with regard to the innovation project. If trends that have triggered the innovation project are already effective in pioneer markets earlier, the market launch in this test market can be started.
If there is no market that already feels the trend or the need for this innovation today, then it is better not to start with the innovation project - to postpone it and to prioritize other innovation projects.
Example: Innovation construction machine
A company has invented a new feature that increases the safety of a construction machine. As soon as the excavator driver leaves the cab, the construction machine switches off immediately.
The company's core market is Germany. However, the safety regulations in Germany are not yet so high - the market's need for this innovation is therefore relatively low. In France, on the other hand, standards are much higher. If this feature can be introduced in France, the contractor who buys the construction machine saves insurance fees. Insurance companies in France reward the purchase of safe construction machinery. The "too early" innovation hurdle can be overcome by introducing the product not in the core market, but in a market that is already following the trend towards higher safety regulations for construction machinery.
If this security feature is not in demand in France, the best thing to do is not to introduce the product and wait. After all, an innovation that runs dead on the market, does not sell and becomes a flop is very difficult to revive after 5 years. When the market for innovation is really ripe, it is much more difficult to bring innovation back to life than to introduce it as a market innovation.
Solution "too late":
If competition with an innovation succeeds more quickly on the market, it is a strategic decision whether to leave the entire business to the competition or whether to create a copy product and follow the market. If you introduce the product, you can't use the "First Mover Advantage", but you are still an "Early Follower". It's better to be an early follower than not taking part in sales and the market at all and leaving 100 percent to the competition.
5. Business model is outdated
If the innovative product becomes so expensive that it is considered too expensive by existing customers, then one has to think about a business model innovation.
Solution: Reinventing the business model
A rental model, financing model or sharing model may be more suitable for bringing the product to market. There are several innovation methods for developing a new business model. Read more in our article "Business model innovation: Which method is the right one?".
Conclusion: How to overcome internal innovation hurdles
The best way to deal with personnel damage in the innovation team as an innovation manager is to involve new managers in the project as early as possible. Pitches are the means of choice for overcoming innovation hurdles through tight budgets. If the idea is not technically feasible, analogies can be used to solve the technological problem. Pioneer markets offer a test market for innovations that are ahead of their time on the home market. As an "early follower" you can still gain a share of the market if you are too late in timing. Finally, it is important to think about business model innovation when innovation becomes too expensive for the customer.
Born and raised in Vienna. Since 2012 she has been in charge of Business Development at LEAD Innovation with the functions marketing, sales and communication.