How to Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / paulbInnovation is a tricky thing for businesses. Sometimes it seems to arise spontaneously, and resist attempts to institutionalize it. Yet executives have come to realize that innovating is an essential part of keeping the business running. So what to do?

An article from the December Harvard Business Review outlines a 90-day framework for getting a flexible innovation structure in place to allow creativity to flow in a controlled, observable manner. The model below is based on the “innovation factory” put in place by Procter & Gamble in the early 2000s.

A crucial step before doing anything is assigning a captain to the effort and making sure he has sufficient resources and is empowered to get things done, and is not waiting for authorizations that will hold up what needs to be a fast-moving process.

Day 1 to Day 30: Define Your Innovation Buckets

  • Innovation Leader: Determine gap between growth goals and current operations
  • Top Leaders: Determine broad categories of innovation that could fill gap.

Day 20 to Day 50: Zero In on a Few Strategic Opportunity Areas

  • Innovation Leader & internal Advisors: Meet with at least a dozen customers to probe unmet needs
  • Innovation Leader & Top Leaders: Hold workshop to choose 2 to 3 opportunity areas

Day 20 to Day 70: Form a Small Team to Develop Innovations

  • Innovation Leader: Dedicate a handful of people to developing innovations
  • Innovation Leader, CEO & CFO: Find and eliminate “zombie” innovation projects

Day 45 to Day 90: Create a Mechanism to Shepherd Projects

  • Innovation Leader: Select and train senior leaders to oversee development team and establish oversight rules
  • Senior Shepherds & Development Team: Conduct first review of first innovation project

The authors of this model say that, while it uses the language of lean startups, this engine is flexible enough to operate in any size company. The 90-day time window might see extreme, but that is generally considered to constitute a product development cycle in the world of startups, which the innovation model seeks to help emulate.

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