Innovation Failure Points: Evaluation, Selection and Prototyping
Today I'm focusing on another failure point in the innovation cycle - evaluating, selecting and prototyping ideas. You'd think that by this phase in the innovation cycle the momentum for good ideas would be irresistible. You'd be surprised how frequently innovation breaks down at this phase. There are a number of reasons for the failure.
First, it's amazing to me how many firms generate ideas but have no means or methods for evaluating ideas. Nothing is more frustrating that facing down a large number of ideas generated in a brainstorming session with no clear evaluation criteria. In any innovation project, care must be taken to determine how ideas that are generated will be evaluated, otherwise it appears to the team that ideas were selected based on the preference of the sponsor. Or worse, since there is no clear evaluation criteria, it's difficult if not impossible to select the "best" ideas at all. This happens far more frequently than you might think.
An innovation program is meant to generate new ideas to solve an existing problem or address a new opportunity. If there is a failure to link innovation to strategy, or if the problem or challenge is not adequately scoped, or if the "right" people aren't brought on board, it can be difficult or politically dangerous to evaluate and select ideas that challenge existing orthodoxies or introduce concepts in conflict with existing management priorities. So, the only ideas that can be selected in the absence of a communicated evaluation criteria are very incremental ideas.
A second reason for failure at this phase in the innovation process is the difficulty in arranging appropriate tests for ideas before they are fully fleshed out. Companies with strong innovative capabilities understand that prototyping and piloting ideas leads to new learning and insights. They are willing to "fail" a little to gain a lot. Many firms, however, consider the prototype sacrosanct and work for months to get the prototype "just right" seeking acceptance rather than feedback. That's a fatal mistake. Prototyping and piloting should be focused on getting insight, feedback and corrections, so that the ultimate product is not just innovative but meets customer needs. Too often prototyping and piloting is used as a test launch, and any feedback other than positive acceptance is understood as failure.We advocate prototyping like Chicago-style voting -early and often.
At this step in the innovation cycle, good ideas can be held up or shot down for the lack of a documented evaluation criteria or a misguided prototyping approach. Innovators are often very frustrated at this point in the cycle because they have good ideas in hand, but can't move them quickly enough or efficiently enough to launch, lacking a documented process and criteria and a receptive prototyping approach.