Measuring the "So What" of innovation

Innovators are under constant pressure of proving value.  Nothing does this more effectively than showing the tangible business value of your implemented innovations and innovation activities.

"But," you say, "that can take a long time, as in the case of new technologies, or not be immediately obvious with a serendipitous innovation like Post-It Notes."  I'd agree with you, so I would say we need to focus on what we can accomplish and what can be measured.  I think the most effective way to think of this is: "Where are you in the innovation cycle?"  Our goal here is to get your peers and leaders to say, "Wow, let's do more of this!" instead of "So what?"

If you're just starting to make the business case for innovation within your organization, focus on participation, cycle time and quick win metrics.  For example:

  • Number of employees actively participating in our innovation efforts
  • How did using new, innovation methods positively impact our cycle time
    • For example, do you no longer have to wait for the annual conference to innovate
    • Do you now have the ability to work with a larger group who have a greater diversity of life experiences
    • Can you more quickly innovate around customer pain points or business problems
  • Number of quick win concepts implemented
    • Focus on business issues you can impact within a short (3-6 month ) time period
    • Focus on strategic business issues where there are already resources available

If you've made the business case for a small innovation effort, and now you're looking to expand and mature your program, focus on spread, individual goals and your execution process.

  • Number of employees trained in innovation methodology and creative techniques
  • Individual innovation goals for leaders
    • Using innovation methods for solving strategic business issues, achieving growth and/or customer concerns
    • Sponsoring X number of innovation projects over the course of the year
    • Supporting and embedding an innovation culture within your business unit / department / etc.
  • Innovation execution process
    • Measure each step or stage in your process for how long (in time) it takes to make it through each step.  For example, if it takes 6 months to go through concept and business case development, you would know that is too long and you'll need to adjust either the process steps or the number of resources.
    • Measure how many concepts fall out of each stage.  Every idea that goes into your execution process, should not be implemented.  This metric can tell you how well decisions are being made.  If you find very few concepts are moving out of your pipeline process, this indicates a need to look at the decision making criteria and how well the criteria is understood and used.

If you're at the point where you have a fully embedded organizational process, congratulations! - you're in an elite crowd.  From here, you're most likely measuring your innovation process, your pipeline, your leaders and individual performers.  Innovation is now a way of life - "Whew! we're done, right?"  Not quite.  From here, let's consider adding (and of course measuring) external innovation, blue ocean innovation, business model disruption, etc.

  • How frequently are you innovating with external parties?  Customers, suppliers, partners, universities, etc.
  • How many blue ocean or new business model dreaming and discovery sessions do you have?
  • How many people in your organization are trained in breakthrough innovation methods?
  • How do you measure the execution of these new-to-the-company, new-to-the-market, new-to-the-world projects?

This is a lot of measurement to consider, and yet I'm sure it's just the tip of the iceberg.  Where do you think your team is at in the innovation maturity model?  What types of metrics would you add to this list?

Fernando Trias de Bes and

Fernando Trias de Bes and Philip Kotler just published Winning at Innovation: A to F Model (Palgrave, 2011). Our Chapter 9 shows a complete system for building the innovation plan. The end chapters discuss the measurement problem.

Philip Kotler

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