IESE Insight
Innovation: Inspiration Plus Hard Work
Vilà, Joaquim; Muñoz-Najar J. A.
Editor: IESE
Artículo basado en: Innovación como dirección de iniciativas estratégicas
Año: 2007
Idioma: Spanish

Innovation is a necessity. Even though most companies are aware of this, they struggle to implement processes that are truly efficient in order to become more competitive. According to IESE Professor Joaquim Vilà and PhD José Antonio Muñoz-Nájar, implementing a system for generating strategic proposals consists of several fundamental elements. The innovation committee is the ruling party in this environment, and must define the various stages of the process. The stages must include an evaluation of the starting point, making resolutions, generating ideas and proposals, as well as making selections and turning them into projects. The committee also determines who should be involved in each stage, and what specific progress should be made. It also decides which proposals to undertake and which members will make up the teams for each innovation project. The latter constitute the basic operating unit. They depend on a project manager and include representatives from the departments that are most crucial for their implementation. These teams require autonomy and should basically answer to the innovation committee.

These are just some of the guidelines outlined in the paper "Innovación como dirección de iniciativas estratégicas" ("Innovation as Management of Strategic Proposals") by Joaquim Vilà and José Antonio Muñoz-Nájar. To systematize and improve any process, there are certain factors that must be present, as these determine whether or not it will function properly. Thus, if the goal is to manage innovation, one must begin with a diagnosis of the starting point. This makes it possible to detect potential areas for improvement, stimulates internal debate as to the company's capabilities, and helps prepare its members for the change.

Innovation is not in itself an end, but rather a means for reaching a set of strategic objectives. As such, it should be at the heart of corporate development and be tailored to the direction in which the company wishes to move. Therefore, it is important to create the strategic framework, a clear guide that will steer the idea-creation process. The company must ask itself, for example, what constitutes value for the customers in the target market, and what can be done to attract them. From there, depending on the circumstances, purpose statements can arise, such as: "to be the reference point for the more advanced customers by seeking out excellence in our relationship with them" or "to provide specific, complete solutions for major accounts."
Generating such groundbreaking objectives requires a deductive approach. One must start with a strategy that is free of conditioning factors and then go about adding restrictions until finally coming up with a feasible strategy. In other words, move from "what we'd like to do" to "what we're capable of doing."

The next stage involves generating proposals and requires bringing a number of the company's managers and key personnel into the fold. They will nurture the project teams so that they can contribute ideas that tie into the goals. The formulation process can be carried out through techniques such as brainstorming, brainwriting or attribute listing. It is also wise to listen to customers, providers, technical centers and basically any other source of inspiration (See "The Innovation System: Organizational and Managerial Competencies to Enable Innovation"). It is about teamwork, and not hierarchies, where what counts is the quality and quantity of ideas.

When it comes to selection time, logically the inverse criteria is applied. This is when one must identify which proposals are the most interesting, in order to convert them into projects and assign them to a specific team. In each case, a simple description should be written up, in order to facilitate communication between the committee and those responsible for the proposals. The selection criteria should be geared toward results ? i.e., impact on the strategic objectives ? as well as viability. The proposals that get past the selection process become projects, which should be properly defined to ensure that they are carried out in a quality manner. Furthermore, no project should be started without clearly specifying the requirements. These should be put into a document that includes, among other things, the objectives, the person in charge, the members of the team, the scope and evaluation criteria.

To put the plan into action, the roles of the innovation committee, teams and support units must be defined. It is important to know that getting the teams to coalesce with day-to-day operations is complicated and takes time; some companies even opt for defining what good operations mean for everyone involved. Meanwhile, the projects should be monitored at each phase. It is essential to evaluate the degree to which goals are being achieved and implement corrective measures where necessary.

It?s also important to always keep in mind that when we make a push for innovation, we are dragging the company into unknown waters. The management models used in operational processes are not valid here, and one of the keys to success is institutionalizing the innovation practices being used. Such systematization should likewise be subject to constant improvement. The company must constantly learn and make corrections. It?s a necessary step to successfully implement, over the long term, an organizational culture that encourages change. And this is far more an issue of work than one of inspiration.

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