Most often when people hear the word Innovation it springs to mind images of high tech gadgets like the iPhone and iPad. For a smaller group of people it may also trigger images of service innovations like NetFlix or Starbucks. A few really creative folks might even register images of business model innovation like Google Adwords or Zipcar. But how many people think about process innovation, procedure innovation, or project execution innovation.
Fancy gadgets and new services and business models get all the press and air time in business journals because their outcomes are sexy and well recognized, but the same approaches used to disrupt markets from a product, service, or business model perspective can also be used to disrupt your own internal processes, procedures, and projects.
Think about your own organization’s processes and procedures. Unless you work for an incredibly unique company you are likely laden with the legacy of scientific management and control frameworks with 12 templates for every document and a half dozen steps and forms to approve even a simple capital expense. If you are in software development or engineering you may find dozens of documents and forms related to ISO or CMMI process documentation that need to be completed for even the simplest of projects. What about the annual budget and planning exercise that spans almost the entire year on the assumption that somehow you know what the market will demand in September of next year by March of this year.
Likely we can all recognize and identify with some of these situations, but either we accept the process pain for what it is, or we work around the processes to do our little part in reducing the process overhead.
But what if we applied the same innovation practices we use to develop new products, services, and business models?
To be sure, internal innovation may require a different approach, particularly to the political management and change management of internal groups whose job it is to audit and maintain these processes and frameworks, but the benefits of addressing the legacy overhead given the increasing pace of business far outweigh the challenges. The trick (like most change management and persuasion opportunities) is to ensure that the groups who currently manage and maintain the legacy processes see their own benefits in innovating for efficiency.
Change may be hard, but in areas where Innovation comes rarely (or not at all) you may be surprised at the level of engagement you can get just on the basis of doing something new. Certainly organizations like Toyota have proven that the folks doing the most repeatable jobs in the organization can bring some of the best ideas to the table on how to improve internal processes and approaches in their jobs for the overall benefit of the organization.
Regardless of the where in the organization you play you should be bringing an Innovative lens to your work. While reducing the number of document templates or process steps by 60-70% may not make the headlines or the front page of the tech blogs, you can be sure that your organization will recognize the significant savings you have achieved and reward you for it.
Innovation isn’t just for products and services or even business models.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.