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Look no further for your Innovation silver bullet – it’s not there!

The article Three Critical Considerations for Reducing Cycle Time in the Fuzzy Front End (FFE) is about reducing cycle time in the Fuzzy Front End. The last consideration cited was the need for an infrastructure that supports innovation. This article discusses the issue in more detail.

Many of the organizations we visit have been found to be pursuing some kind of ‘silver bullet’ solution for their various innovation challenges. The truth is that there is no single solution. Instead, the development of an innovative organization is a complex and demanding process.

This is probably why so many organizations struggle with organic growth as their primary growth strategy. Many companies discover that cost- cutting and acquisition are easier than obtaining successful organic growth. It is not for the faint of heart – it takes a tough constitution to build an organization through sustainable innovation, as opposed to a series of one-off projects.

To begin with, before even starting along this road, your company’s executive team must be willing to support the culture and costs associated with sustainable innovation.

Once you have the executive team buy-in it is time to meet the challenge of developing and implementing your product development/innovation process to support sustainable innovation. So, this sounds fairly straightforward. This is when things get a bit challenging.

Elements of Infrastructure©

New product development is not merely a step-to- step process with one box of activities after another. Rather, it is a series of steps that can be iterative or linear, and is supported by important Elements of Infrastructure©. The infrastructure is what organizations usually leave out when developing their new product development process, which accounts for the unsustainably of their innovation efforts. Elements of Infrastructure© for a new product development process include strategy, organizational structure, technology, and culture.

Strategy

Your strategy should support your new product development process. For example, do your project criteria align with your corporate and innovation strategy? Are decisions being made based on criteria that are strategically driven at each decision point in your new product development process?

Product Innovation Charter (PIC) is an important tool to ensure strategic alignment. The PIC is a written document that represents the strategic innovation intent (Crawford and Di Benedetto, New Products Management). The beauty of a PIC is that the strategy is integrated throughout the entire new product development process, ensuring that no-one takes their eye off the ball.

Organizational Structure

Your organizational structure should support your new product development process. Do you have the right type of teams established to support your new product development efforts? For example, in the fuzzy front end (FFE) of your new product development process, is there a marketing research team that performs on-going research? This team is responsible for constantly feeding a pipeline of opportunities, so that marketing research efforts are independent of one-off projects.

Technology

Do you have appropriate technology to enable your new product development efforts? Does your technology support your cross-functional new product development processes? Does it allow for collaborative development across your organization? For example, a central repository provides a single environment to store and exchange all project and portfolio data, thereby supporting a more efficient new product development process.

Culture

The ‘softer’ dimensions that define the behavioral environment of the firm—the firm’s organizational culture and management commitment—can have an important impact on the outcome of complex and risky new product development efforts. Undervaluing the human side of innovation is a common mistake within organizations. It takes time to embrace collective goals, understand the strengths of other team members, and establish trust to develop truly great ideas.

MIT researchers found that for R&D team members to be truly productive, they have to have been on board for at least two years. For instance, a certain large food company realized that the average length of time needed to complete the new product development process was between 24-26 months. However, the average length of time team members actually spent on products teams was only 18 months. This resulted in the company falling behind in their innovation efforts (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Innovation: the Classic Traps, HBR, November 2006).

Based on the above observations, we can conclude that for new product innovation to be sustainable, organizations require a keen awareness of the multiple elements of infrastructure, and the realization that there is no silver bullet for innovation.

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