Let’s say you have a proposal for an idea program that you know will be valuable to the company if it is successful. You have a clear strategy and concrete goals. Now how will the organization best accomplish this direction, given existing resources and other constraints? How can you best implement a structure and governing system to manage the innovation process? Let’s start with the people involved…
Roles and Responsibilities
Idea programs require key staff to take new roles and responsibilities to ensure that your initiative is a success. A major challenge faced by employees working on an innovation program is that there is much room for role confusion. Tasks then remain undone, and the project gets off schedule. Often, employees are willing and eager to contribute to project success, but they simply do not know how they fit into the program. Before starting any innovation initiative, pause and ask if everyone knows what his or her role is in the idea program? This includes key staff who are driving the project and employees who may not be directly involved in implementation, but who play an important role in idea generation and evaluation. Do employees know how to submit their ideas for consideration (e.g., through an idea management system)? Are there factors within the organization that may prevent employees from generating ideas (e.g., a climate of distrust? A rigid or hierarchical organizational structure?) Does upper management know that you are counting on their support for particular resources, to champion the program, or to remove specific obstacles that you may already anticipate? Consider using personnel mapping charts to manage roles and responsibilities (e.g., RACI charts).
Timelines and Action Plans
Once key staff and other members of the organization known their roles and responsibilities, do they have a clear timeline and steps for taking an idea through to execution? Most idea programs come with a degree of uncertainty. A preliminary timeline will help, even if you must revise it and communicate changes later. Then, accompany timelines and action steps with points of contact (e.g., coordinators) who can monitor progress and alert the innovation team of potential issues. These structural steps are crucial to staying on track.
Another key consideration is whether you have clear indicators to tell you whether you are on track. What indicators will you monitor that would give insight into progress towards goals? Will you measure return on innovation? What metrics will you use? How will you monitor these? Who is responsible for monitoring these? How will those responsible for monitoring success communicate the progress to management and others who need to know? These are key questions to help you stay on progress and make changes when needed. Establishing roles and responsibilities, timelines, action steps, and a proper assessment plan help to remove some of the risks and unknowns of starting an idea program. They provide the structure and governance that facilitate success. There are plenty of unknowns when dealing with innovation, so take control of the areas that you can shape and remove obstacles to innovation success.