Innovation — How to Effectively Manage, Scale, and Accelerate your Efforts
CableLabs is chartered to deliver innovative technologies for our industry. Our ability to do this relies on how effectively we manage, scale, and accelerate how we innovate. “Innovate the way we innovate” is a phrase we often use internally. It summarizes our core belief that to be successful in the long term as an innovation center we must be innovative about how we innovate.
Building a sustainable innovative organization isn’t easy and requires a long-term, holistic effort. Our workflows and systems need to be integrated and we need to enable the engagement of all our employees and our external partners (e.g. members, vendors, academic institutions, and thought leaders outside our industry). Over the past few years, we’ve continuously tuned our innovation approach, making progress on this goal.
The latest example of this is the deployment of an Innovation Management System (IMS). This tool’s purpose is to enhance the effectiveness of our work by improving our ability to measure, scale, and manage our innovations throughout the life cycle. Below, I’ll explain how we utilize our IMS to decrease risk, improve the success of the ideas we put into development and nurture an innovative culture.
Why and how we measure innovation
Our success is a function of asking the right questions and measuring the results. Peter Drucker, the founder of modern business management once wrote: “What we measure and how we measure determine what will be considered relevant, and determine, thereby, not just what we see, but what we — and others — do.” If we apply this to innovation, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
The issue for organizations is understanding which elements are important to measure their innovation and how to integrate them into the organizational structure and decision processes. That means looking beyond inputs and outputs and measuring how the business as a whole benefit from innovation.
Our IMS helps us better understand the results of our innovation efforts by clearly showing us the scale and state of our Innovation Funnel (e.g. ideas being considered) and Innovation Portfolio (e.g. innovation projects being pursued), as well as their relevance to our strategic areas of interest. It also provides insight on how our efforts are progressing, and the level of engagement in developing our ideas and projects. Examples of the types of questions we ask ourselves and measure are:
- What is our run-rate for generating ideas?
- How many of the projects we are investing in address areas we believe to have a strategic impact on the industry?
- What methods of inspiration are the most successful at generating impactful ideas?
- At what rate are ideas and projects maturing and progressing towards fulfilling our innovation objectives?
Not all measurements are valuable, and not all improvements come from measurement insight
Martial arts masters say that there is no such thing as a white belt form (or kata) because those forms are for all ranks and belt levels and are executed with different skills. Similarly, getting to the basics of measurement and improving execution is a task for organizations of all maturity levels. No matter where one sits on the innovation maturity curve, there is some set of measurements that are valuable to improvement.
However, a focused phrase like “what gets measured gets done in innovation” does come with a certain set of risks to be aware of. If you are innovating the way you innovate, gains coming from a broad set of actions and measurement are only one dimension. For many reasons, access to interesting information doesn’t necessarily mean that sharing that information will be valuable and helpful. Here’s why:
- The risk of too much information — low-value data obscuring high-value data.
- The interpretation gap where various audiences can interpret the information differently depending on context, perspectives, and beliefs.
- The risk that sharing some information causes unintended consequences of being used in ways that detract from engagement or collaboration.
- Not all improvements come from measurement alone.
To address these and related risks, begin by developing a communication plan for the metrics which include:
- The audience for the metrics
- The delivery channel
- Frequency of sharing/reporting
- A plan to add any additional analysis or commentary as part of the delivery to help with interpretation
Our Innovation Management System is much more than just a measurement tool
Adding measurements to the innovation funnel and portfolio doesn’t just give us insight to answer our questions and improve how we innovate in the future, it also serves as a powerful way to inspire, inform, and boost social engagement. This is because our system provides a centralized home for all ideas and patent invention disclosures. It also automates many of the activities to share and evaluate ideas, communicate related decisions and manage workflows throughout their life-cycle.
Centralized accessibility provides transparency and potential inspiration for new ideas. The system also provides a legal record of IP for any future need. Beyond employees and internal innovation, the system is a channel for engagement and idea sourcing from external partners, members, vendors, customers, thought leaders and the open source community.
If we are serious about innovation, then we need to care about the value of the innovation we create
Thinking through what questions you want to answer about your innovation practices is a good place to start to prioritize your measurements. Improved measurement practices and other ancillary benefits of an Innovation Management System will help you identify the sources, practices, and process by which impactful innovation is occurring and create insights to help you take your innovation game to the next level.
Don’t forget to look out for my next post to learn more about how CableLabs has sustained a culture of innovation.
For information and opportunities to build your innovation skills, click here to learn more about our Innovation Boot Camp.