Thursday, September 30, 2010

The way out

Lets face it, the economy still stinks. And it's not going to get better unless we fix it.

At the onset of this economic downturn, most companies cut back on long-term investments in an effort to stay profitable and keep their stock price up. That's why the market looks good even though unemployment remains high.

What we need to get the economy going again isn't cheaper goods or more profitable companies. We need a new wave of innovation.

It's not just me saying that. In this recent survey from McKinsey, 84% of executives say that innovation is extremely important to the future of their companies. The good news is, most account for innovation at strategic planning time.

The problem comes in execution. Only 39% say they're good at bringing new products and services to market. They cite lack of a formal process and poor internal alignment as the major reasons for this. Exacerbating this is the fact that many companies reduced R&D investments over the past few years in order to improve their bottom lines, and most large companies have structures that make interdepartmental collaboration difficult if not impossible.

I've said it before, ideas are easy, execution is hard. Chances are most companies have the ideas they need to move forward with in house. Here are five ideas to help jump-start the innovation process.

  1. Give your team a mission with clearly articulated, aggressive, but realistic milestones. 
  2. No project ever succeeds without a clear champion who is authorized to make decisions. Make one person accountable for each program.
  3. Remove the barriers between departments. Take the people you need from engineering, programming, design, marketing, etc. and put them together not just on paper, but in the same room or area to create a new product development team. You solve problems faster when people communicate face-to-face rather than hiding behind email exchanges.
  4. Speed the process by having more frequent, but less onerous reviews. The stage/gate process is a good one, but in large organizations gate reviews tend to be major undertakings with days of unnecessary preparation and too many unnecessary people in the actual review.
  5. Don't wait until the end of the process to start the marketing. Build it right into the product. If you know a key point of differentiation is, for example, simplicity, design it in with obvious cues.  
Think about the greatest innovations in history – the wheel, the printing press, the automobile, the internet – they were created by small teams of committed individuals working closely together, not separate departments sending emails over the intranet of a multinational corporation.

It's time for corporations to act more like the Magnificent Seven and less like an entrenched bureaucracy.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Harvey. Perspective is on target. When I was in dotcom our CEO (appointed by the VC firm that funded us around $20M) said, "The world is awash with ideas. Execution is the hard part."

    He was and is right.