How to Plan Your Innovation Strategy for 2020

It’s that time of year when our customers are considering an innovation strategy by planning projects they would like to accomplish throughout the next year.  We assist our customers by facilitating an innovation assessment and planning process. I thought I would lay out our general 5-step process so that others can use this in their organization to help better plan their innovation pipeline.

1. Reflect & Align.

Exercises: Mission/Vision Review, SWOT
This first step is critical in planning: to reflect on the past. It is important to review the organization’s larger mission/vision, but also the mission/vision of the innovation team and how that supports the broader organization. If it does not support the organization’s mission/vision, conversations should be had to determine if a change is needed.

Once the mission/vision has been reviewed, it naturally leads to the question: did we fulfill this over the previous year? A SWOT analysis can determine if hit expectations. This exercise should analyze Strengths/Weaknesses (Internal) and Opportunities/Threats (External) of your organization in the light of innovation. This should set the tone for the next year to know how best to improve.

2. Visualize & Focus.

Exercises: Visualize Your Future, North Star Metric
These exercises are pivotal with executive leadership to garner support and alignment for the innovation strategy.  A key question to ask is: “What does success look like for our innovation team?” This should go back to your mission/vision conversation but in much more detail.  This involves writing out a paragraph or two describing what the organization looks like in one, three, and five years from now through the lens of innovation. Following frameworks like McKinsey’s 3 Horizons of Innovation can be helpful.

This should lead to common themes that ultimately point to a North Star Metric. While there are many metrics and goals to set, setting a singular North Star Metric is pivotal to get everyone on the same page and creating your innovation strategy.  An example of a North Star Metric might be: the number of insights/learnings validated or if you’re an action-oriented organization, the number of prototypes built.  Either of these examples would require defining the terms: insight, learning, validated, or prototype.

3. Define Problems & Describe the Opportunities.

Exercises: When/I Want To/So That/But, How Might We
After spending some time Reflecting/Aligning and Visualizing/Focusing, a strategy should become clear. The SWOT analysis should also help uncover some problems within the organization. Furthermore, these exercises will help build out and enhance the SWOT as you are moving along. This naturally leads to asking the question “What are our actual problems here?” We utilize the “When… I Want To… So That… But…” syntax to describe problems. An example of this might be “When we are trying to find customers, I want to find the right ones so that we can spend our time focused in the right place, but right now we are spending time on unqualified leads”.

Out of this problem statement, there could be many “How Might We” statements that would describe the opportunity. For example: “How might we find the right customer quickly?”, “How might we qualify leads better?”, “How might we better optimize our time in marketing and business development?” All of these are different opportunities and ways of looking at solving the problem that was presented. It is important to first frame these problems and opportunities so that when brainstorming solutions, there is focus and clarity around what is trying to be solved. Too often organizations move to a solution-first approach but don’t understand what problem they are solving.

4. Solutions & Experiment Creation

Exercises: Design Document Creation, Hypothesis Creation, Experiment Creation
Once problems and opportunities have been clearly defined, it is time to start brainstorming and hypothesizing potential solutions.  You heard that correct: hypothesizing. Everything should be treated as an experiment and not as THE solution. Generate several different hypotheses to solve the same problem and run them in parallel to A/B test the best approach. Everything should be treated as an opportunity to learn quickly– this is key to developing an innovation strategy.

At CIL, we have many templates to assist in the Design Document, Hypothesis, and Experiment creation process.  For example, it is crucial that each experiment has a very clear definition of success/failure. You never want to “guess” or use “gut feeling” to determine if an experiment was successful.  The goal here is to run many in parallel quickly to solve the problem in the best way possible, get feedback, and iterate.

5. Roadmap & Execute 

Exercises: Innovation Strategy Creation, Agile/Scrum Planning
Once you have created a backlog of problems to solve and potential solutions, place the problems to solve on a roadmap. This will timebox you into solving a particular problem within a reasonable amount of time.  You can plan for your experiments to be run during this time and know in the end your team will have solved the problem at hand. To keep the team accountable, utilize Agile/Scrum planning techniques and run experiments using Agile/Scrum in one or two-week sprints.  The idea is to value speed, validation, and learnings over perfectionism.

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