Definitions of the Innovation Engineering Management System Roles & Responsibilities

Hello Innovation Engineering Leaders,

This responds to a recent request from an Innovation Leader for a more detailed description of each of the Innovation Engineering Management System roles.

Innovation Engineering Management System Project Roles

Project Leader:  The “Energy Source” & Leader of the Innovation Project.

Project Leader is the role that is both the most fun and the most work in the process.   They provide the energy, vision and direction for the project.  The project leader is the “hub of the wheel” connecting to all of the departments, team members and resources (inside and outside the organization).  The role is modeled after the P&G Brand Manager role of the 70’s and 80’s and Toyota’s Chief Engineer role for new vehicle development. Project Leaders lead the project and are responsible for making the multitude of technical and business tradeoffs.

Among the tasks for the Project Leader are:

1.  Keeping the Focus on the Purpose:  With the mountain of changes, issues, adjustments necessary to take an innovation to market it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of the project.  This purpose is generally embodied in the customer problem that the innovation addresses.  Great Project Leaders keep the focus on the purpose by getting and staying personally close to the work and close to the problem.

2.  Managing Tradeoffs to Maximize Meaningful Uniqueness:   For innovations to be successful there are inevitable tradeoffs that are required.  Tradeoffs need to be made on the customer/problem, the promise, the product/service.   The tradeoffs are often driven by feasibility or financial issues.   It’s the Project Leader’s job to manage these tradeoffs in a manner that maximizes meaningful uniqueness rather than compromising to mediocrity.

3.  Be the Energy Source For Action:   Projects start with great excitement.  As challenges arise it’s common for projects to stall and energy to die.  It’s the role of the Project Leader to be the energy source for pushing the project team and the project forward.  Project leaders rejuvenate energy by having a bias for action and learning.  They are the one who is driving something to be learned each week, every week.

 

Traits of Great Project Leaders

Passion for the Project and/or the Innovation Process:  Innovation projects experience lots of ups and downs.  To maintain momentum the project leader must have a personal, intrinsic passion for the idea.  We’ve also seen success with Project Leaders who though they don’t have a particular passion for the idea itself - they have a deep love for the process of turning innovations into reality.

Multi-Tasking of Project Details & People:  Innovation projects that succeed require an ability to manage multiple details and people.  The rapid changes and tradeoffs require an ability to deal with multiple inputs in a calm yet focused manner.

Willingness to Confront Reality & Know when to Let Go:   The Project Leader needs to be one part cheerleader and one part truth teller.   They must be willing to confront the facts - learn from them - and adapt the innovation in a productive manner.  Importantly, they need to be willing to let go of ideas, concepts and approaches when they are not in the best interest of the achievement of the purpose of the project.

Management Coach:  The “Reality Check” for the Innovation Project.

Management Coach is the hardest and most important role in the Innovation Engineering process.  The role is hard because of the responsibility to bring truth and reality to the dreams of the Project Leader.   The role is important because without the Management coach providing guidance and perspective the project will often run into a challenge in the future - when it’s too late to make changes to adapt for it.

Among the tasks for the Management Coach are:

1.   Be Honest:  It’s the Management Coach’s job to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about the death threats that the project faces. It’s about identifying the critical issues that - if not resolved - could result in the project failing.  The truth must be told with clarity and without ego or personal attack.   Being honest means saying you “don’t know” when you don’t.  Honestly is not always easy to hear or give.  However, “tough love on death threats”  -- early in the process -- when the team still has the time, energy and money to adapt their idea - prevents many failures & increases odds of success.

2.   Be Helpful: Great Management Coaches are “coaches” not ‘judges.”  They encourage and nurture instead of judging and deciding.  They frame their ideas and advice in a way that empowers Project Leaders to come to the right decision themselves instead of dictating decisions. The Management Coach has a responsibility to use his or her wisdom, experience, contacts and influence to help the Project Leader.  It doesn’t mean doing the work - rather it’s about providing advice and assistance to increase odds of success.

Traits of Great Management Coaches

A True Understanding and Appreciation for “Reality”:  Management Coaches need to have a true understanding of what is possible and not possible for the organization.   This includes an understanding of strategic, financial and executional capabilities plus constraints.

They Can Balance Both Left Brain DISCIPLINE with Right Brain CURIOSITY.  Great Management coaches provide an honest, ego free “Reality Check.”    Great Management coaches have a genuine curiosity about people, projects, ideas, technology and customers.

They Know...“They Don’t Know”, “They Need Help” and “They Fail A Lot”:  With Great Management Coaches, the more they learn the less they believe that they know all the answers.   They are not bothered by making mistakes.  Where others become defensive and emotional - great Management Coaches bring calm by encouraging the participants to step back and look at the broader systemic realities.

 

Process Coach:  The Process Navigator for the Innovation Project.

The Process Coach provides guidance and advice to the Project Leader AND the Management Coach as they lead the innovation project.  The Process Coach remains emotionally independent from the project.  He or she is responsible for keeping the Innovation Engineering Labs project acceleration portal up to date.  When possible - Process Coaches are Certified Innovation Engineering Black Belts - with advanced training and tools.

Among the tasks for the Process Coach are:

1.  Hands On Help With Ideas, Writing, Math & Experimentation:  The Process Coach is responsible for helping the team translate their ideas into a tangible form.  They are relentless in using writing, math and experiments as a way to think deeper about ideas.   Great Process Coaches have a bias for action.   Even when they don’t know what to write - or how to do the math - or how to run an experiment, they have a bias for trying and learning - instead of being crippled and frozen by fear.

2.  Drive For Meaningful Uniqueness:  As projects proceed -- and the participants get tired - it can be easy to lower standards and accept “good enough.”  The Process Coach’s job is to keep a relentless focus on Meaningful Uniqueness of the customer promise and the product/service/process offering.   To do this, they ask honest questions like “Why should I care?”  --- “What facts do we have that back up this decision” --- “How can we learn more?”  --- “What can we do fast and cheap to get smarter?”

3.  Be the Bridge Between Management Coach and Project Leader:  The Process Coach will at times need to act as translator between the Project Leader and Management Coach.  The best Process coaches spend 50% of their time coaching the Management Coach and 50% coaching the Project Leader/Team.

Traits of Great Process Coaches

They see PROCESS as a Means for Accelerating - Not Constraining - Action:  Process Coaches are deep into process - documentation, methods, systems - as a tool for accelerating not constraining action.  They trust the Innovation Engineering process. They know that 5 minutes of documenting today - pays triple digit dividends later.  They know that doing the math and the writing is the fastest, cheapest form of prototyping on earth.

They Can Balance Both Left Brain DISCIPLINE with Right Brain CURIOSITY.  Great Process coaches provide an honest, ego free “Reality Check.”    Great Process coaches have a genuine curiosity about people, projects, ideas, technology and customers.

They Know...“They Don’t Know”, “They Need Help” and “They Fail A Lot”:  With Great Process Coaches, the more they learn the less they believe that they know all the answers.   They are not bothered by making mistakes.  Where others become defensive and emotional - great Process coaches bring calm by encouraging the participants to step back and look at the broader systemic realities.