Innovation from Beginning to End: Generating Ideas, Working with People, and Managing Projects
Professor of Engineering
South Charleston, WV
This workshop focuses upon managing R&D projects from beginning to end. Beginning refers to mental picture of an idea whereas end refers to solving the customers need and in the process generating profit for the organization. Using a case study, the speakers will delineate challenges involved at every stage of R&D project from a mental image of an idea to a profit making product. The talk also compares old paradigm of innovation management with the new proposed paradigm. The probability of success can be significantly improved using the new paradigm.
Successful Innovation Management
We have seen many idea management flow sheets, gate management processes, and prioritization recommendations starting with an idea that already exists, but no discussion of where the idea came from or what was necessary to generate and frame it. Moreover attention is not paid to shaping and propagation of the idea. This has been especially true over the past decade when processes such as Six Sigma came into vogue whose main thrust was to eliminate deviation. New concepts and innovation are, by their very nature, deviant! In order to generate fresh and innovative ideas we must create a new thought pattern that may challenge the existing status quo in any number of ways. These can even include, at an extreme, replacing one’s current products and businesses with totally new approaches and models.
The key elements of successful commercial innovation include:
- 1. Continuous flow of unmet needs, both from current customers and related to core competencies of the organization (“outside in” as well as “inside out”
- 2. Using clear mental models of problems and potential solutions
- 3. Perseverance for idea propagation
- 4. Clear definition of the business opportunity
- 5. An appropriate product development and management team
- 6. Efficient process scale up and continued input from the market
- 7. Successful project management to insure implementation on schedule and within budget
We will look at each one and discuss the important issues.
1. Continuous Flow of Unmet Needs and Exploration of Uses for Core Competencies
An organization needs to have a process for how it decides what to work on. This may sound simplistic, when this is left to intuition or accident; it is unlikely that the “best” projects will be chosen.
Steps to make sure that an innovation effort is capturing the best opportunities:
- Talk to groups that are not your current customers but that might be able to use the functional capability that you have as a core competence. Customer competitors are another valuable source. The customers of your customers are another excellent source. This insures that you have awareness several levels above your product and customers and alerts you to potential long term needs and trends that may not be obvious to your direct customer or may not be readily disclosed by them.
Figure 1: Level Diagram
In these discussions we want to make sure that we have a clear definition of what the “ideal result” that our customers are desiring. We can also look at parallel universes of technology and markets to explore opportunities.
2. Using Clear Mental Models of Problems and Solutions
It is one thing to “invent” a new product, but another to make sure that we understand how a potential customer is going to use the product as well as how the customer’s customer is going to use their product. The days are gone when we can just make something, put it in a drum or tank car, and wait for the invoice to be paid. We must be intimately familiar with the product’s use, its limitations (including regulatory issues if appropriate). We must understand the details of the physical use of the product and how it affects a customer’s products and business.
It is also important to make sure that we do not have blinders on when thinking about use of our product. It is rare that there is only one way to accomplish a function. We must be constantly vigilant about competitive activities, not just from direct competitors, but from parallel approaches to meeting a customer’s needs.
3. The People Side
Ideas, innovation, and projects never happen in a vacuum. They are accomplished with teams of people, all of which have different personalities and styles. Recognizing and using these pro-actively is critical to a project’s success. How these are measure and used will be discussed.
4. The Business Opportunity
A new product is not a business unless we have a way of sustaining the product’s sales, expanding its utility, and developing and enforcing an intellectual property portfolio. As we commercialize a new product, we must be constantly aware of, and be willing to address with resources and commitment, issues such as change in product form, packaging and shipping issues, product purity, and shelf life/stability. These issues are most adequately addressed by constant and continuous communication with the customer.
5. Product Development Teams
We frequently choose product team members based on “who’s available”. While this may be expedient, it may not serve the best interests of the new business development. The obvious component of team selection is function—marketing R&D, manufacturing, legal, sales, etc. but we frequently ignore the human side of team functioning. If team members spend too much time dealing with personal issues relating to other team members, that energy is not applied to successful new product launch. Tools that can assist in this include measurements such as the Myers Briggs family of instruments, the Hermann Brain Dominance instrument (HBDI), and the Kirton KAI assessment. Knowledge of these personality profiles will not change natural behavior, but can make team members aware of others’ preferred styles and open discussion can eliminate hidden barriers to effective team functioning.
6. Efficient process scale up and continued input from the market
Often times, companies strive for launching the best product. It is important to realize that continued input from the market is critical in order to have that ‘best product’ in the market. It is necessary to efficiently scale up and launch a product sooner than later. It should be perfected using market feedback. Getting market feedback is the only way to close the R&D loop and serve your customers to the fullest.
7. Successful Project Implementation and Management
New product development does not end when the first semi-commercial sample has been OK’d by the customer. A new type of team is now required to oversee the details process design, plant construction (including all the sub issues of permitting, EPA regulations, etc.). Quick and efficient plant start up with appropriate contingency planning is also a part of this effort. Contingency planning, not only related to unforeseen plant construction and start up difficulties, but also to taking care of the customer’s needs in these situations must be part of the plan.
Three keys to successful project management lead to successful project completion. These keys involve
- · The importance of people
- · The importance of defining and setting good objectives
- · The importance of good planning
We will apply these three keys to successful project management. This is all about application, not just theory
See more of this Group/Topical: Management Division