“The Innovation Sandwich” by Jim Connolly

Ensuring a culture of innovation as companies grow has become an increasingly important focus for executives. Jim Connolly, SVP of Technology at Zynx Health, provides insight into the unique challenge of building a company structure that breeds creativity and ideas.

“The Innovation Sandwich”, by Jim Connolly

In many organizations there are processes in place to corral and organize ideation and follow-through activities.  These processes are often centralized using internal R&D and/or Product Management teams.  Some companies may adhere to activities such as those taught in the Pragmatic Marketing Framework.  These outside-in activities are useful because they take a market driven, ROI based approach for product planning.

There are downsides of such centralized and rigid processes that could actually diminish the latent innovation potential of company employees. For example, game changing opportunities may be lost because ideation requiring creativity, inspiration, and suspension of belief are slowed down, gated and filtered too early by the very processes put into place to encourage and manage them.

Finding ways to work alongside rigid annual and product plans is what Hearst CTO Phil Wiser referred to when he said, “…Of all our challenges, that’s been our single biggest challenge–to operate our businesses in a way that really supports this real-time innovation.”

How can both a market/strategy driven (top-down) and a real-time employee (bottom-up) approach to innovation co-exist?  One approach could be to add a second process that gives responsibility for ideation follow-up activities to the people that come up with product ideas or new ways to leverage technology.

Here is how to get started.  First, create a time boxed process for idea exploration and follow-through using contemporary methodologies such as Design Thinking or Lean Startup.

Second, form partnerships which cross multiple functional boundaries in order to build additional domain and customer knowledge. These partnerships should include sales teams, account managers, product teams and other company domain experts and thought leaders. Build a culture of communication that makes it safe for people with diverse viewpoints to interact without filters and the loss of information that can occur when functional boundaries exist.

Next, provide access to readily available resources such as contemporary prototyping tools, APIs, cheap computing power, and inexpensive engineering support.  Establish a service center to provide mentorship in such areas as prototyping, design thinking and lean startup techniques.

Finally, create a culture of learning and give technology employees a mandate to stay current with technical skills, processes, and emerging standards and to find innovative uses of technology that could contribute to business growth and competitive advantage.

By following these steps, in combination with market driven approaches, businesses can achieve real-time innovation.  The key to success is to provide the organizational and technical support necessary to allow passionate and creative people to directly follow through and vet their ideas and solutions.

Jim Connolly is the SVP of Technology for Zynx Health.  For more management and leadership ideas, please visit http://www.theagilelife.org.

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