Know How

Setting up an Innovation Program

The desire for innovation is inherent in every company, yet very few follow methodical or proven paths to maximize their outcomes. More often, successful innovations (those that deliver incredible gains for the company) are the result of instinct, individual sacrifice, and well-coordinated team collaboration. Some leaders and businesses attempt to spur innovation by introducing motivation strategies such as cash incentives. Despite such attempts, employees struggle to produce great ideas and, even when great ideas do arise, they usually lack the properties required for a promising innovation.

In recent years, this conundrum has motivated many corporations to hire dedicated innovation experts. However, friction can arise because corporate directors tend to have more tactical traits, whereas companies often lean towards strategic planning and market analysis. This frequently results in a high turnover in innovation roles, as candidates are unable to find common ground with the leadership's expectations. To maximize success, best practices should be used to establish innovation programs in corporate settings.

Let's examine the following example: You joined an established market leader in a niche field in their first dedicated innovation role. Before jumping into the innovation procedure, you should consider stakeholder viewpoints and outline your strategy. You can do so by following these steps:

  1. Define your success criteria: What is your goal? Although it may seem like an obvious question, defining success will establish a clear destination that your plan will be directed towards. It provides you, and your stakeholders, a clear overview of the steps required for the project and inspires the corporation with a sense of confidence and ownership in the idea. Deciding on a goal also ensures that the team looks beyond their own convictions and finds ways to support each other’s unique contributions.

  2. Get leadership buy-in: Almost all great ideas rely on the support of sponsors. A great sponsor will respect your efforts in leading the project but also drive your success by providing rich resources and by building a flexible environment where employees feel empowered to communicate their concerns and express their ideas. Finding the right sponsor may prove to be a taxing task, but if you integrate with groups and committees aimed at encouraging innovation you will establish a repertoire of reliable people.

  3. Define the priorities: The effort driving the innovation needs to be intentional and balanced, otherwise the project risks becoming stagnated and may result in essential aspects required for its function being overlooked. Further, building a team that is skilled enough to achieve all of the defined stages and who can smoothly prioritize their workload, is key to successfully completing a profitable project.

  4. Understand collaboration: Large organizations rely on diversifying their human effort, meaning that different teams and individuals specialize in specific topics and activities. While this means you will likely have access to highly skilled experts, coordinating dispersed contributors can be complicated. The creation or adoption of a clear communication strategy is essential to organizing the collaboration between these groups and ensuring a common understanding of the timeline and plan.

  5. Measure your ideas: Evaluating the scope and impact that your innovations should have allows you to find a path to developing them. For instance, if you want to improve the packaging and delivery of products derived from your factory, you should first examine the current process at the lowest possible level and consider what changes could be made there. Once you have evaluated the current status, you can then build upon and iterate your ideas in an informed manner. This evaluation should be applied across the entire project, from the small and specific ideas to the project overview and pipeline.

  6. Define total input: Mapping out the team’s workforce allows you to manage and prioritize the efforts contributing to the project, and ultimately, define the ideal path.

  7. Structure activities: Every innovation project will be comprised of several activities and points of focus. Defining each individual or group’s contribution to the project will provide structure and enable a realistic assessment of costs, possible issues, scope of impact, and performance.

  8. Manage resources: Regardless of an organization's size, all innovative efforts should only count on receiving a limited amount of dedicated resources and assistance. Balancing these finite resources and allocating them thoughtfully prevents future inconveniences and provides a clear view of the most convenient path to completion.

  9. Define a long-term goal: A long-term strategy may sound unnecessary during the initial stages of an innovation project, but by setting goals for the future you can orientate the daily work and facilitate a positive progression.

  10. Specify the metrics: The more accurate your metrics are, the more likely it is that the project will experience smooth progression over time.

successful innovations (those that deliver incredible gains for the company) are the result of instinct, individual sacrifice, and well-coordinated team collaboration

Building a Minimum Viable Innovation System

There is an essential relationship between ad-hoc innovation and building a solid innovation process: Setting up a Minimum Viable Innovation System (MVIS).

In the world of startups and entrepreneurial ventures, the concept of "minimum viable product” is used to assess whether an idea deserves further iteration or validation. This process typically involves releasing a version of an early version of a product so that the team can collect validated feedback from their audience. Similarly, the MVIS standard allows innovative ideas to be addressed, managed, and developed.

By following a carefully designed four-step plan, it’s possible to establish an MVIS without requiring massive support from external sources. This system allows innovators to develop their projects in around 90 days whilst working within limited budgets.

Defining Your Buckets (First 30 days):

There are two “buckets” that innovations can fall under. The first refers to innovations that enhance business operations by supporting current products or by improving internal procedures and practices. The second bucket refers to innovations that orbit around the concept of growth, whether that means reaching new customers or adopting new business models. Understanding the characteristics of both and learning to differentiate between them is critical to navigating through the four-step MVIS model.

By following a path that incentivizes growth, the sources of revenue expand and the product offering can cater to a broader audience. This path can also lead to the evolution of new or complementary products that are completely innovative whilst still in line with your brand. Building a strong brand identity should always be a top priority of any entrepreneurial venture, as it both creates a loyal clientele and acts as a “free” form of marketing.

Having a basic sense of the amount of input that needs balancing between the act of innovation and the new-growth strategies allows you to better understand the project goals, possible profit, and revenue for the short-term and long-term vision.

If your growth initiatives are reasonably ambitious, subdividing and mapping up to three categories is advisable, as it created a more comprehensive and structured organization.

Focus on Strategic Opportunity Areas (Days 20-50):

An MVIS is also valuable because it can intertwine your company's goals with various innovation areas in a much simpler way. As aforementioned, innovation efforts function with limited resources. Having a clear plan promotes more efficient use of these resources and encourages focus on specific opportunity areas.

Another essential aspect of an MVIS is research. By researching and actively engaging with both executives and customers you can identify potential unmet needs or gaps that could be the foundation of new-growth innovation efforts. Further, welcoming ideas from non-senior employees and conducting thorough market analysis, including research into any industry-related innovations, are valuable avenues to consider.

As simple as it may sound, a practical approach is to gather senior team members and ask them to express their thoughts. Poor communication has proven time and time again to be a substantial threat to innovation efforts. Time and effort must be invested to ensure that insightful conversations and communication around all aspects of the intended innovation thrive.

By inviting the team to share their findings or issues, you should be able to identify areas for growth that fall under one of the following areas:

  • Something that is not being adequately addressed. For example, this could refer to a customer need that is not being satisfied, a corporate issue that has not been fixed, or anything else that presents itself as an opportunity for new growth.
  • A more convenient option or a change in dynamic that could help customers to complete a specific activity.
  • An advantage your company has over competitors that cannot be easily matched.

Having these strategic areas in mind can help you avoid everyday struggles by highlighting the most efficient path your venture should follow and the tools, advantages, and issues relevant to your project.

Forming a Specialized and Motivated Team (Days 20-70):

It may sound like a staggering statistic, but around seventy-five percent of startups fail to return their initial investments, and even more fail to generate profit for their sponsors. This happens despite the fact that most of these ventures consist of highly dedicated and specialized teams that make substantial investments of time and effort to meet the project's goals. So, if you think you can achieve innovation while relying on part-time employees, you are even less likely to be successful.

Most people assume successful, culturally relevant innovations arise from numerous teams of technical geniuses. But contrary to that belief, small groups tend to perform better than larger ones. If you are searching for new members to join your innovation efforts, try finding young entrepreneurs and startups willing to take the plunge in a corporate innovation structure. You can identify such compatible candidates by hosting hackathons or by inviting applicants to your facility and showing them around the strategic opportunity areas. You will likely find that they present fresh, outside perspectives on how to solve your problems.

Finally, apply the Lean Start-up Methodology to the rapid iteration of Build, Measure, and Learn cycles. Young, goal-oriented small teams tend to be more motivated, and therefore more successful in the act of innovation because they can easily focus and provide fresh perspectives.

Creating a Project Guiding Mechanism (Days 45-90):

Using your planning and budgeting systems should be at the core of your innovation efforts. Entrepreneurs that have received venture capitalist support usually operate with a budgeting system that works as well as traditional corporations’ budgeting systems. This is due, in part, to the fact that VC-backed entrepreneurs are required to operate within the margins of strategic ambiguity.

It’s advisable to begin your project by forming a group of executive leaders who will be given the authority to make decisions concerning new-growth innovation initiatives. This group should not be comprised of the same members as the executive committee or council, as it's likely their corporate-planning mindset may disrupt discussions regarding innovations.

Although an MVIS system can be incredibly beneficial in management, budgeting, and brainstorming, there is a downside to forming executive leader groups: Senior involvement often evolves into more extended than expected discussions, regardless of how well-coordinated the team is. Be prepared that authority figures will almost always push for their notions to be accepted.

Despite this, it remains true that frameworks and toolkits borrowed from the venture capital world can help navigate the inherent uncertainty involved with innovative projects much better than traditional organizational planning and budgeting tools.


Innovation cannot be achieved overnight, nor is it a temporary solution to ongoing issues. Rather, it is a long-term strategy that requires robust input in the forms of capital investment, time, and creative effort. Creating an MVIS does not guarantee your innovation will transform you into the next multinational success story (it doesn't even guarantee that you will achieve your goals) but it will prove to be a crucial tool in making tangible progress over time and enhancing your company's performance and future growth.

Successful organizations focus on establishing a foundation with the right people and empowering them to contribute innovative ideas for business growth. As organizations aim to prioritize the development of innovations that provide inventive solutions for customers and that help build a brand identity tied with progress, implementing the right strategies can create a path towards achieving corporate goals.