The four principles of Agile Innovation

The increasing pace of change and its disruptive impact on businesses is now common knowledge.  Gone is the time when products had a lengthy lifecycle, and a single R&D investment generated a revenue stream for years to come. Today, the market is being flooded with new products and services by large organizations and start-ups. This is a clear indication of the need for them to be agile and responsive in order to maintain their competitive position. In his new blog  Ram Sarvepalli, Leader Advisory Services- defines Agility (at the organizational level) relates to an enterprise’s ability to rapidly adapt to changes in the business environment and its key principles.

In this backdrop, the innovation landscape is also undergoing significant changes. Traditional innovation models no longer suffice, and businesses need to adopt a culture of innovation agility. This is because they have to be adequately prepared and equipped to cope with continuous improvement and achieve enhanced “speed to market.”



Business Process Management (BPM) tools

In this dynamic environment, businesses need to look at innovation opportunities beyond products and processes. Their innovation portfolios should cover business models, consumer experiences and brand engagement. Use of BPM tools will be useful in this context, since they include metrics, management practices and software tools that can help organizations optimize their activities and core processes. These tools integrate intelligent rules in software to trigger automatic responses to changes in the business environment. Similarly, collaborative tools enhance the timeliness and quality of decision-making by eliminating departmental boundaries.

Furthermore, a structured workflow facilitates flexibility in enterprises. For instance, the popular BPM tool Suppliers, Input, Processes, Outputs and Customers (SIPOC) documents entire process maps. It facilitates discussion and helps teams develop a common language and understanding of the process for achieving continuous improvement. Other devices businesses can use include process flows, the Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and informed (RACI) matrix and the Critical to Quality) (CTQ) mind tool.

Innovation champions and centers of excellence

Collaboration and information flow within an organization creates numerous avenues for agile innovation. Enterprises can create “knowledge” milieus or innovation centers of excellence to encourage people from their varied departments to discuss their ideas. Businesses can also recognize super heroes in the field of innovation, e.g., those who have expertise in different disciplines such as a particular technology or business function.

Organizations can also set aside a specific time for generation of ideas and “hit and trial” techniques. This implies that managements will have to be more tolerance of mistakes and failures when employees undertake new activities. Companies that create such a culture of experimentation and inquisitiveness are able to innovate at a faster pace than those that do not have such a mind-set.

A company’s growth is typically accompanied by the risk of its losing its agility. Consequently, the “corporate innovation time-to-market” is long. This implies that there is a time lag between an innovative idea and its commercialization. A solution to this problem is organizations having dedicated mentors and innovation-related guides to advise them on how they can swiftly convert their ideas into profitable market propositions.  At the same time, businesses will have to be mindful of eliminating wastage by constantly reviewing their innovation portfolios, encouraging diversity and abandoning unproductive investments.

Alliance with external partners

Companies are increasingly looking outside their businesses for new ideas. They are collaborating with external partners, especially small entrepreneurs, to identify and develop innovation-related opportunities. In our recent report, Delivering agile innovation, the majority of executives in the consumer product (49%) and retail (32%) domains revealed their plans to increase the proportion of product innovation sourced from external parties in their organizations over the next three years. In addition, large enterprises are increasingly turning to small ones that can afford to be creative and radical in their solutions. A prominent example is P&G. Under its open innovation program, Connect & Develop (C&D), it has forged more than 2, 000 partnerships with individuals and companies to develop innovative ideas and products around the world. P&G has a dedicated C&D global team that scouts for ideas and works with prospective partners to steer innovations to market.

Businesses can also leverage the cloud platform to implement open innovation. Cloud reduces complexity by offloading a number of business tasks through various forms such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). However, to derive value, these partnerships should be timed and aligned on the basis of broad strategic goals. Companies will also be required to set in place a rationale to determine whether specific innovative ideas should be developed internally or externally.

Another point that requires consideration includes variances in companies’ styles of working. The cultures, processes and speed of working of large companies often differ from those of start-ups. To bridge this gap, both the parties need to establish clarity on different roles, and ensure open and frequent communication. It is imperative for enterprises to have in place holistic innovation strategies to define their clear collaboration-related objectives.

Abolition of bureaucratic hurdles and empowerment of frontline staff

In order to survive and flourish in today’s dynamic environment, organizations need to be flexible and offer products and services that meet changing consumer needs. This requires them to take and implement actionable decisions and eliminate latency in communication. This can be achieved by setting up internal timelines for decision-making and implementation. Businesses also need to empower their frontline staff, since they are their “face” in the market and need to be very responsive.

Companies are creating a “stand-up” meeting culture to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. All attendees are required to attend stand-up or “scrum” meetings to catch up on current developments in their organizations. The discomfort of standing up during such meetings ensures that these are short and focused, and attendees are alert and engaged. In addition, this makes meetings more productive, and eventually, helps to increase responsiveness in enterprises.

Organizations are struggling to adapt and respond to incessant changes in the marketplace. This has created the need for agile innovation systems that boost their productivity and shorten their time to market.

Adoption of an agile approach to innovation necessitates efficient use of BPM tools, setting up of innovation centers of excellence, empowerment of frontline staff and removal of bureaucratic hurdles.  Moreover, it is a good idea for businesses to collaborate with external partners to tap the latter’s disruptive capabilities to unlock their own innovation potential.


3 thoughts on “The four principles of Agile Innovation

  1. We thank you P G Subramanian for your valuable opinion The innovation models need to be much more clear and value-oriented.

  2. The word innovation by itself denotes doing something new. This has become more relevant in today’s scenario. Only companies who are nimble footed and agile can hope to survive. All your points are extremely important. Among-st all, empowering the front line is most critical since they are the one’s who execute and deliver.

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