An introduction to innovation

Microsoft Project Server helps capture, rank end execute on new business ideas and initiatives. The latest release of Microsoft Project Server (2013) is the strongest tool to deliver the engine behind these portfolio management processes. Obviously other tools are on the market, but Microsoft allows for the greatest flexibility allowing you to grow and mature your organization accordingly.

However, from past experience I see a strong tendency to companies not having a uniform approach to what innovation actually is. This leads to some confusion when defining what and how to use the implemented PPM tool. For this reason, I would like to share some thougts around the topic of Innovation, while referring to some of the key researchers and authors within that specific area.

An introduction to Innovation

With innovation comes change. This is broadly known, as the Latin word for innovation is “innovates” which is the noun form of “innovare” – to renew or change. According to Porter and Christian (2003) ´innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas‘. West (1997) describes innovation as ‘…the introduction of new and improved ways of doing things at work‘. Porter (2003) specifically use the word “successful” and West (1997) uses the word “improved”. Both words create the statement that innovation is not only about research, but also delivering new and greater results when compared to yesterday. Today, the world´s organizations are in constant need of doing things greater than they used to, or perhaps doing the work better than their competitors are. The greatest managers, in the most successful companies, are often the ones who are best at handling the need for constant innovation and thereby reltated change actions.

To be innovative, as an organization, forces the people to be creative in their work and thoughts. West (1997) believed that allowing for a high level of flexibility would give a greater return of creativity from their employees. According to West (1997) a flat structure, decentralized decision-making, low job specialization and a cross line functions tends to stimulate creativity and lead to innovation. If one were to compare these factors to organizational types, a matrix, or even better, project organization, with few steps to top management, would be perfect to generate innovative thinking and realization. Also the detailed specification of one’s job, would be highly depend on the characteristics of the future projects or clients, meaning there can be no constant and repeatable work behavior that would last very long. In these project-like scenarios, acting creatively and innovative, is enforced as a factor of success within the job or role one has.

However, creating an innovative organization also has its downsides if not managed properly. Allowing for creativity on all levels in an organization requires a certain amount of bureaucracy to support that only the strongest ideas survive. Goffin and Mitchell (2010) introduces us to the “Innovative Pentathlon Framework” which has evolved from the widely used Stage-Gate approach. This approach in general allows for all ideas to be recognized, evaluated, prioritized and then finally implemented or executed upon. Unfortunately, streamlining innovation only works in reality, if the organization has a clear strategy, and some supporting business drivers, that are measurable. If not, what Goffin and Mitchell (2010) describes as the “Idea Generation Phase”, would become a regular subjective approach from senior management. This kind of behavior would destroy the motivation for those who didn’t have their ideas approved, simply because they can´t get an objective explanation as to why. To avoid this, the organization must have a clear set of business drivers or priorities, scored against each other. This would enable all new ideas to be scored subjectively by their creators before getting send for approval for instance wrapped in a business case document.

Managing innovation is in general an act of balancing innovative freedom and bureaucracy. One should not exist without the other. The problem is that the balancing varies depending on the type of innovation or idea the organization is looking at. Technically speaking, the higher the risk for the business, the higher the amount of bureaucracy should be. This approach requires categorizing the ideas and projects into different types. Tidd and Bessant (2009) introduces the 4P approach, which is useful when trying to determine the business risks associated with a new idea. Having 4 types of innovation, and separating them into being either “Incremental” or “Radical”, could be a great starting point for an organization to define which stage-gate model should be used, and how detailed the business case around the idea should actually be. By business case I am referring to the planning of communication, organization, stakeholder analysis and other key factors that will support the actual change process later during the actual implementation.

I hope this introduction gave you some new insights and some referrals to which authors and frameworks that you and your organization can dive into in order to improve your innovation maturity.

Sources and litterature

Goffin, K. & Mitchell, R., 2010. Innovation management : strategy and implementation using the pentathlon framework. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Porter, M. & Christian, H., 2003. Moving to the Next Stage. UK Competitiveness, Issue 3.
Tidd, J. & Bessant, J., 2009. Managing innovation: integrating technological, market and organizational change. 4th ed. Chichester: Wiley.
West, M., 1997. Developing Creativity in Organizations. Leicester: BPS Books.


Leave a Reply