STRUCTURE AND INNOVATION TEAM
To make innovation a core capacity of the company, it is necessary to systematize efforts so they can be repeated, standardized and reliable. What happens is that many people misinterpret the word innovation, as if it needed a touch of disorganization and lack of structure and processes to let creativity emerge.
In practice, the opposite happens. Creative projects and successful innovations have structured processes that reduce risk. Governance gives legitimacy to innovation efforts because the areas involved can understand what leadership support should be and who is responsible for the project. Besides, evaluation metrics make project success objective and measurable.
That is why I insist that the innovation process has to be rooted in the company's structure. It is necessary to define which projects will be distributed for which business areas, which will be the temporary and permanent teams. It is required to form an innovation council. These are some relevant points for innovation to be part of the company's day-to-day operations.
Next, I will suggest a format for you to visualize the design of the structure and innovation team, regardless of your company's size. This structure can become more sophisticated as the results start appearing.
The first point to be evaluated is the focus of the innovation program and its scope. Decision-makers need to decide what size the program will be, what strategic objectives it should achieve, and what financial and human resources will be available.
It is crucial that decision-makers are informed about technological trends and movements of competitors, among other essential points that, when aligned with the company's mission and vision, should culminate in concrete strategic objectives with real earning potential for the corporation.
The second point to be evaluated is the organizational structure. Often the responsibility of innovation projects is given to people who are already busy with their current work. These people then start to establish their own priorities to deliver a surreal amount of tasks.
When the innovation project has appropriate resources, hierarchy structure, and strong leadership, each person involved can deliver his part, without letting the routine stole its priority.
The third point is the relationship between innovations and other areas of the company. All parties involved in innovation projects need to understand and agree on what will be demanded and what will be delivered.
The fourth point is to understand that all the areas involved need to have access to an innovation platform that allows an exploratory process of external innovations, in addition to sharing and collaboration tools for all professionals of the company.
The fifth point is performance metrics – and we have an entire chapter dedicated to them. I would like to point out that innovation projects, which are usually long-term, need activity and performance monitoring from the start to ensure that their results are achieved, avoid delays, and lower leadership anxiety for quick results.
The sixth point is the leadership itself. It is necessary to create a structure so that those involved in the project know who is responsible for each activity and how they can contact the innovation program. It is also necessary to have transparency in the decision-making model.
With the above points, it is necessary to form an innovation team capable of executing and evaluating the activities, integrating innovation into the company.
The structure I will suggest below can accomplish this task. It is composed of an Innovation Board, the innovation leader, an innovation committee, and, finally, teams allocated for projects.
The central role of the Innovation Board is to determine how much innovation activities will be separated from the other activities of the company and ensure a format that allows the integration of the results.
The board has permanent and temporary members, intending to gain the flexibility to start and stop projects. It also has the responsibility to act as a network of connections to raise resources and connect stakeholders.
On the board, it is created a definition of innovation that aligns everyone around what the organization wants to achieve. Establishing how the company will transform its industry, add a radical change in value to customers, and make a significant difference.
It is also on the board that the appetite for risk is defined. The biggest obstacle to innovation is the lack of risk. To achieve business growth, the board needs to be prepared to approve strategic investments and accept failures without handing out blame. While holding the CEO accountable for long-term performance goals, he also plays a key role in giving the CEO the permission and mandate to pursue new opportunities that introduce the culture of taking risks into the company.
The board also has a great responsibility concerning hiring innovation professionals. Innovation in today's turbulent world requires everyone to feel comfortable with ambiguity, tolerate different points of view, and demonstrate self-awareness. The board's role is to distinguish technical skills from social skills and recruit candidates who match the company's culture and focus on innovation.
The board is responsible for aligning the structure and goals of the leader and the innovation committee with strategic and organizational goals.
Without intentionally integrating innovation into the organization's DNA, companies stagnate and run the risk of disruption. When the board plays a leading role focusing on strategic growth, it can set a tone, create momentum and shape culture.
While councils are responsible for protecting the organization from undue risks, failing to support a culture of innovation can be the most significant risk of all.
The title of this position varies considerably, being Innovation Leader or Head of Innovation the most common. This professional should be passionate about bringing improvements to the company.
Typically, he is an executive who has leadership and influence in business areas and easy access to decision-makers.
Innovation happens both bottom-up and top-down, but these professionals are responsible for bringing the board's vision of innovation to the rest of the company, so they are more focused on top-down.
From their experience in the company's business and relationship, the innovation leader can easily navigate between areas and has a unique ability to recognize opportunities as well as expand the product offering.
People who occupy this position have as main characteristic to be team players and understand who are the stakeholders of the company needed for each project.
The innovation leader is the one who decides to sequence or cancel the project. He has the authority to devote resources, give legitimacy and choose people to work with.
Therefore, the innovation leader does not need to be the most creative person or the most innovative person in the organization. There are many more important qualities to be a good leader in innovation.
It takes him natural curiosity to discover and learn new things, always be interested in surprises, and takedown hypotheses with facts.
Finally, his job is to find elegant solutions to complex problems. The innovation leader is a permanent position.
Under the direction of the innovation leader, innovation committees get resources from the rest of the organization and form project teams to manage each opportunity raised.
Committees incorporate a minimal amount of structure and resources while maintaining maximum flexibility to handle a wide variety of innovation projects.
The committee's activities include stimulating and evaluating new ideas with:
- obtaining funding;
- providing business coaching;
- planning for adoption;
- maintenance of an innovation database;
- commissioning and training of innovation project teams.
The committee consists of several areas of the company, such as finance, production, R&D, and marketing, that must make joint decisions and facilitate projects' implementation. The multidisciplinarity of the committee reduces risk and ensures engagement.
For the committee to be better used, it is interesting that 30% of its members are fixed, and the other 70% are rotating, changing according to the projects on the agenda and ensuring that experts are always present.
The innovation committee is the one who manages the progress of projects and KPIs and the whole process, from the promotion of ideas to the adoption plan. It is also he who starts awards and recognition programs for innovative collaborators.
Innovation Project Teams
Innovation project teams are usually composed of the person who suggested the idea along with other people who are experts in the subject related to the idea. These teams are explicitly assembled to evaluate the project.
The dedicated time varies from a few hours per month to full time. This will depend a lot on its relevance and urgency. Typically, when the project is tied to a board, all steps tend to be accelerated.
In all other cases, what usually happens is the members start to have full-time dedication according to evolution. The more elaborate the project gets, the less risk it poses to the corporation and the more resources it can raise. Typically, the part-time team becomes full-time when the project has a strong business case.
When the project ends - that is, when it reaches maturity for commercialization - the project team people return to their original areas with a lot of synergy to successfully integrate the project into its structure.