Important CHANGES to Innovation Engineering

Hello Innovation Pioneers,  

OK so this posting is a little long.  That's what happens when I write a blog post while flying from Cincinnati to Seattle to lead a Leadership Institute.  This post covers today's "best practices" for Implementing Innovation Engineering within your organization.  I think the issue is an important one – I hope it helps you.  Sorry for any typos – I’m not the best at editing on screen :)


BACKGROUND:  The changes to the system were sparked by hundreds of pieces of feedback.  For example, at a recent Innovation Engineering Training program there was a debate about what should come first DO versus STUDY.   That is – when it comes to implementing the Innovation Engineering Management System should an organization — Plan, Do, Study, Act?   Or should they Plan, Study, Do, Act?


Leading the "STUDY" then "DO" side of the debate was a pair of senior executives from an organization who urged caution.  To be clear – they weren't against Innovation Engineering – they just had a cautious mindset.   They proclaimed "changing the culture is something we should not rush into" and "before we DO we need to fully understand what we are "doing" and it's consequences."


Leading the "DO" then "STUDY" side of the debate were a diverse blend of old veterans and young people.  They proclaimed "That's our classic approach — study, study, study – let's try something different" and "what's the downside of just getting started?"


As I travel the county -  meeting every day in person or via the blog, idea requests or emails – I've developed some empathy for both mindsets.  I'm not going "soft" but rather I'm gaining understanding that  for many business leaders the idea of changing their culture is very scary.


To help reduce the stress they feel we've been testing a few changes.  Based on the success we're seeing I think it's time to "expand the learning" to the entire Innovation Engineering community.


The three changes are:


1. Start with ACCELERATING a small team of WILLING volunteers:  Instead of trying to change the entire organization start the transition with a small group of WILLING employees who have a passion for innovation.  The purpose of the small group is to accelerate quick wins AND to adapt and optimize the process so that it works for your specific culture.   It's important that the team members be WILLING volunteers so to leverage the power of intrinsic motivation.


Focus initial energy on accelerating existing projects and ideas that the team has but that have not been acted on. (see point #3 below for step by step method).


As confidence builds – we then move from the ACCELERATE phase to the EDUCATE Phase where we involve more employees and managers.   The success of the ACCELERATE stage pulls more volunteers into the innovation process.  Training includes Innovation Engineering Green Belt and Black Belt Training – plus having key employees attend Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute.


After: 1) ACCELERATE and 2) EDUCATE comes the sustaining stage 3) CULTURAL CHANGE.   Here we engage the entire culture (division, subsidiary and/or company).  It involves mass training – and deployment of tools to transform the culture:  a) private Innovation Social Networking Platform, b) Certification of one or more full time Innovation Engineering Black Belts to lead process, c) Systemic systems for continuous stimulus mining, breaking down silos and connecting with suppliers and customers who make up your Innovation Supply Chain.


2. Changes to the Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly Meetings:  In extreme cases we even label each of these meetings as  "study" sessions – to release tension – for those who have concerns about the changing of the culture.  Our latest "best practices" for these meetings are as follows:


Weekly Project Meetings:  The purpose of these meetings is to provide a disciplined structure for increasing speed and decreasing risk.  During the Discovery Stage – the first task of the meetings is to STUDY what has been learned and to make a conscious decision on 1) Should we kill the idea because we have learned something fatal?, 2) Should we recommend the idea for development because all Death Threats are mitigated?, or 3) Should we do a another week of learning?


We then document – PLAN/DO – what we are doing during the next week.


This is a change.  We we started with the Innovation Engineering Management System the deep thinking was once a month. Today we STUDY more deeply each week.  This dramatically REDUCES management stress factor.


ADDITION:  To maintain focus the weekly project meetings are kept focused on project management.   Separate from the project meetings we've added 1 to 4 hour CREATE sessions to problem solve solutions to Death Threats.  These use the complete Innovation Engineering Tool Kit (and Black Belt advanced tool kit) to Create, Communicate and Commercialize ideas.


Monthly Process Meetings:  With the yes/no/learn more decision moved to each week – the monthly meetings have become process improvement meetings.  The focus is on  "what have we learned" from a system/process standpoint during the previous month.  AND, to make adjustments to how we motivate, manage and implement the innovation system during the next month.  By stopping and THINKING we move the focus from the details to the bigger picture system.


Quarterly Growth Pipeline Meetings:  These meetings "connect the dots" between the projects we are working on and the longer term company plan for growth.  At these meetings the Growth Pipeline is compared versus the 3 year goal for profitable growth – in sales and profits – as well as growth in % of sales from New Customers/Markets and % of sales from New Products/Services.


These quarterly meetings reinforce a sense of purpose to the Innovation projects.  They give everyone – employees, managers, management, shareholders – a clear understanding of where we are and where we are going.


HINT: Don't SKIP Monthly and Quarterly Meetings. When you have a motivated project leader the project meetings have lots of energy behind them – and are rarely missed – at least in the beginning.  However, if you're not careful the Monthly and Quarterly meetings can be seen as not as urgent and as a result get skipped. And this is the reason why the Innovation efforts are abandoned – and soon weekly meetings are not held either.


The Monthly and Quarterly Meetings are critical for the sustainable success of the system.  The monthly meetings drive continuous improvement in the system within your organization.  This increases ownership and engagement.. The quarterly meetings move innovation from a "nice to do" to a critical driver of the company's future profitable growth.  They make it part of "what we do" to grow sales and profits.


Given the importance of the monthly and quarterly meetings making sure they happen is the responsibility of company Management.  Project leaders are focused on "doing" – only Management has the bigger picture system view and responsibility.


3. Start with a Focus on REAL Change – SYSTEMIC Change not "magical events": In the past we ran "Innovation Engineering Jump Starts" to spark company momentum.  Sadly, these Jump Starts rarely generated enough momentum to break free of the gravitational pull that exists in most organizations against innovation driven change.  One of two results occurred in 95% of Jump Starts:


a. Ugly Result:  Because most of the people attending the Jump Start were not "volunteers" and had negative attitudes (as shown via the company assessment) the session became a giant "bitch session" where employees complained and/or didn't engage.  At the end of the session they would declare with pride "see I told you so – we can't innovate." If the project was lead by a passionate coach and/or company leader – a project came out of it that was PUSHED through into a month or so of learning cycles. And that was the end of an organized innovation effort.


b. Best Case Result:  The participants were polite and used the session to gain visibility on an idea they were already working on or an existing idea they had not taken action on.  Working on existing ideas is  not a problem – however the fact that the CREATE session resulted in an existing idea being the idea we're working on -  tends to deflate organizational confidence in their ability to innovate.


Today, we no longer recommend starting with a JUMP START.  Instead we have found that it's most effective if we implement the system by ACCELERATING Success with a team of 3 to 8 volunteers over a 3 month trial of the system.  The process begins with a very disciplined 4 week program of meetings and homework:


Week 1 – Documenting Where We Are:  A two hour work session is held to review: 1) Our company Innovation readiness Assessment, 2) Our 3 year Growth goals (we make them up if we don't have them) and 3) The Innovation Engineering Process Coach (Black Belt) teaches everyone how to fill out a "Yellow Concept Card" on all of our existing projects as well as any ideas for growth that we've had but not acted on.   Homework for the week is to write 6 to 12 cards each.


Week 2 –  Thinking Deeper:  A two hour work session is held to review all of Yellow Cards.  Each team member then picks two projects or ideas that are both important for the organization AND that they have a passion for.   The Innovation Engineering Process Coach (Black Belt) then teaches how to fill in the Project Acceleration Portal of Innovation Engineering – Customer Concept, Math Game Plan and Learning Plan.  Homework for the week is for each person to DEFINE on Innovation Engineering Labs (or on paper using the Word Document template if your organization is not on the path to becoming an Innovation Engineering Black Belt company.)


Week 3 – Decision Point:  A two hour work session is held to review all of the DEFINE proposals – Concept, Math, Learning Plan.  Then have an honest conversation about the ideas based on the company's current cultural mindset, business situation and goals.   The Management Coach MUST facilitate this conversation . And, must be very Honest and Helpful.  The goal is to decide do we "have ideas" that are worth working on. Or, do we "need ideas" to work on.


If the team "has ideas" (which is usually the case) – then the Innovation Engineering Black Belt helps the team pick two to get started with and the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycles of learning begin.


If the team "needs ideas" – then the Innovation Engineering Black Belt sets up a CREATE project and team members are giving stimulus mining homework.


HINT: Having Ideas in DEFINE sparks continuous innovation and smarter decisions.  When you have a collection of good ideas that have been DEFINED – then you make smarter decisions during your weekly coaching.  You make smarter decisions because you have other options you can pursue if an idea is death threats turn out to be fatal.  Conversely, if you don't have other options – then you tend to force ideas forward by making fatal compromises in the promise, product or math.


Week 4 – Two Options & Monthly Process Meeting:  If we “have ideas” then Weekly Project meeting is held to increase project speed and decrease risk.  If we “need ideas” then a CREATE session is held.


In addition, the first Monthly Process meeting is held to review what have we learned as a team – and what should we do in the next week.  At this meeting one to two CREATE sessions are usually scheduled for the upcoming month – to help problem solve issues with the two lead projects.


The three changes outlined above have made a dramatic difference in the transformation of companies into Innovation Driven Organizations.  Government organizations, Non-Profits and For-Profits are seeing faster and smoother start ups – with less stress.


HOMEWORK:  What have we learned?


Your homework this week is to gather together the team that attended Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute with you and ask "what have we learned since we attended the institute?  What has worked? What hasn't worked?  Then, review the changes outlined above – and discuss if these changes would make it easier for you to be as successful as others have been.


DO IT YOURSELF or GET HELP:  You can do this yourself.  If you have questions or need help – post your questions in the comments to this blog post, or contact us via the feedback link at the bottom of the website.


Alternatively – you can get expert help from a nationwide network of certified Innovation Engineering Black Belts or Black Belt Candidates who work under the direction of a Master Black Belts (Maggie Slovonic, Renee Kelly, Maggie Nichols, and or myself).  If you need help connecting to a Black Belt call the Eureka! Ranch at 513-271-9911 and ask for Corie.


More important than HOW you do it is that you JUST DO IT.  In today's economy it's important that every company Increase Innovation Speed and Decrease Risk.  And, the way to do this is through systemic change lead by management not by "beating the workers."   Innovation Engineering is a system for achieving systemic change that works.