Innovation Process – Oops, I Said the P Word…

Posted by David Stokes on 15/05/2017 10:07:06 AM

Why the hell do we use a process for innovation? Isn't that the worst idea ever?! No, and let me tell you why. 

Our definition of innovation is:

“Changing or creating more effective processes, products and ideas, to increase the likelihood of a business succeeding.”


While there are rare examples of innovation which resulted from lucky accidents, successful companies who continually innovate most often have a disciplined process.

When a company has an effective, validated process for managing innovation, they dramatically increase their likelihood of being able to commercialise a winning idea. It starts with being able to sort through many ideas and putting a structure around validating them. And, an innovative idea is not helpful to an organisation unless it can be executed on.

In order to protect innovative ideas, companies need to create a forum for the innovation process.

We work with a number of medium and large New Zealand companies, in such diverse industries as chemicals, telecommunications, medical products, agriculture, and food. It's doesn't really matter what industry they're operating in, they all benefit from a process when it comes to commercialising the right new ideas.


Let's get excited about the "P" word

The word "process" has been around for a long time, but over the years it has gained some baggage in it's misuse.

So, what does Wikipedia have to say? (because Wikipedia is always right):

“A set of interrelated activities that interact to achieve a result.”

Most things humans do follows some sort of process, from making a cup of tea to washing the car. We just normally don't need to write the steps down. With experience, we get to test and refine our processes over time to make them better, building up our individual knowledge.

Some things however, we don't do regularly and we often forget what we learnt from last time.

Also, if we want to share the knowledge so other people can benefit form our learnings (and more importantly, our failures), we need to sit them down and talk them through it, or write it down.

For example, baking a cake for your daughters birthday would likely require a recipe and you'd likely follow it closely. This would greatly reduce the likelihood of getting it wrong, and you could also pass this recipe onto others.

Make sense?

Processes which need writing down include:

  • More complicated ones, with more facets
  • Things not done every day, where steps and learnings can be forgotten
  • Things which require more than one person (potentially from different areas) to work together to achieve the desired result
  • Things which, if not done right the first time, could have significant impact to the company, e.g. delivery date missed, rework costs, impact on the customer

'Innovation' needs a process, just like a recipe.

Read blog: Business Reflection - Are You 'Making Progress' or 'Mistaking Motion for Progress'?

What makes a good innovation process?


If a process isn't simple and easy to follow, then it won't get used.

When writing it down, it becomes difficult to capture and even harder for other people to follow, then odds are it's too complicated.  Ask yourself, what can be done to simplify it?  Are all the steps necessary and what value do they add?

Designing processes isn't easy (especially for innovation) and it takes time.  I'm reminded of the quote "If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter", except I replace the words "shorter letter" with "simpler process" (hehe).



It's also important that processes are flexible - sometimes the process needs to be more detailed for larger, more complicated projects, and less detailed for the smaller, less complicated projects.

Also, often the situation that the process should be used for isn't identical, so it should be flexible for the different situations.



Regular retrospectives provide constant opportunities to review and continually improve processes. Retrospectives are one of the backbones of Agile Methodology, and consist of time specifically put aside to reflect how something is performing and what can be done to improve.

Finding, updating and capturing processes

A process isn't very useful if you can't easily find it.  And if you find that a process is outdated or needs to be corrected and it's difficult and time consuming to update, then odds are that it will be left as it is.  And if you identify an opportunity to capture a process and it's to difficult to create, then you won't bother.

There are tools we can use that make finding, updating and capturing of processes easy.  Many of our customers use a wiki, such as Atlassian's Confluence. This turns what might have been a Word document on a network server (or even worse, a printout gathering dust on a shelf) into a repository of processes that are browsable, searchable, usable, updatable, etc.

This blog post is by David Stokes, who is a business coach at The Icehouse. Working with companies in a range of industries, David builds their internal innovation systems, processes and capabilities. 

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Topics: Business Coaching