Picking innovation winners early in the stages of the innovation process is like a stitch-in-time. In an earlier post we had talked about how top leaders are involved less in the early parts of the innovation process viz. idea generation, concept development and testing. They seem to realize only in the development,manufacturing and launch phases that a large commitment is being made. Is this a loser idea? is the thought that now plagues the top managers. Instead, of picking winner ideas in time, now management is almost like a bystander because the project has progressed too far ahead. Sort of like the too big to fail concept. Any glitches that surface now due to research or due to the insights of the now involved top managers are brushed aside by the NPD team and their sponsors who have been more involved right from the beginning.
If some top leaders are involved as sponsors and have not been really engaging with the decision making processes of the early stage, they find themselves as hapless advocates for the project– because they are too invested by time and reputation. It's hard to now admit that they were not giving the intense focused attention as sponsors of the project when the new product team used to do all those update reports.
How can organizations overcome this problem? Here are two suggestions:
- Early parts of the innovation process are not seen as an "imminent threat" by top managers who are not sponsors. Giving priority to regular review, say monthly, of all the new product activities by top managers can help overcome this fairly common blind spot.
- In addition, a multi-functional sponsor-steering group can help get folks more focussed, earlier. Thus, if the Head of Manufacturing is the primary sponsor having senior managers from later parts of the new product process can help. Normally accounting and finance want to know about the payback and cash flow of the project. Similarly Marketing can never be too early in putting together a draft marketing plan based on the concept thus far. By just having the CFO and CMO on the steering committee can produce not only buy-in but open the door for high quality inputs from these senior leaders.
In summary, organizations should keep trying to front load the knowledge inputs of its senior leaders to the innovation process. Contact StratoServe.