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Innovation in my organization? No, thank you!

Ford Factory California lean thinking
Lean Thinking for Business Analysis
1 March 2017

Q: Does your organization innovate?

A: What do you mean by that? Over here, the innovation is seen as related to research and all that difficult stuff. We rely on research certainly, but not that often.

Q: So what do you do to perform better than your competitors?

A: We just continuously improve our products.

This is a conversation I had last week with a colleague of mine on how the organization he works for thinks about innovation. The common perception is that innovation is the same thing as research.  Certainly that inventions done by research are an important input for a business to develop commercially relevant products and services. But is it the only way? Organizations also produce innovative products and services through their own innovation efforts by solving their existing or future problems. All of them do that: consciously or unconsciously. The statement “we just continuously improve our products” confirms this point. Perhaps this confusion is just a matter of getting the definitions right?

What about these bikes?

Its old, rusted, and therefore expensive. Mustache sold separately.  versus

Invention uses knowledge to create novel ideas for products and services. However, an invention may or may not be commercialised. This is where the innovation steps in. Innovation means that we take this novel idea and develop a product out of it. It means we combine new and already well-known ideas and apply them to improve, or significantly contribute to, something that already exists.  Innovation has a natural focus on (business) outcomes, growth and sustainability.

Innovation cannot exist without creativity

Creativity is needed to be able to create and communicate new meaningful insights. Innovation transforms these creative insights into something that matters, something of value to the marketplace. The idea discovered during a creativity session may only develop towards a solution after confronting it with real-world restrictions/constraints. Being creative is simply not enough. Innovation and creativity go hand-in-hand to deliver valuable solutions to present and future business problems. At the same time the innovation is successful only when aligned with the strategic objectives and business models of the organization.

Creativity scares organizations

Creativity is associated with uncertainty. Organizations work hard all the time to limit the uncertainty, to be in control. Being creative means being vulnerable. The ideas generated by organizations are untested – perhaps nobody has done it before, it could be potentially embarrassing, high risk and they might end up unsuccessful. The temptation to choose a ‘play-safe’ option is big, isn’t it? Setting up the first steps towards creativity is an uneasy option too. How to come up with new ideas, when you have already been doing something for a long time? Many organizations are on the edge of insanity: “Doing the same thing all over again and expecting different results”.

To take advantage of the creativity, it has to be unlocked, not only in employees, but also in the management teams. Certainly there are differences in how all the different groups contribute to the creativity process. Nonetheless everybody should participate.

Innovation through business analysis

Ideas and potential solutions to business problems are conceived during business analysis activities. Sometimes even original problems are redefined. My colleague said clearly that his organization uses the requirements elicitation phase to shape the improvements to their products. This is done through brainstorming sessions, workshops, rapid prototyping, scenarios building and other techniques. Business analysts are those who identify the stakeholders needed in the solution-finding process. Business analysts facilitate the process with stakeholders that deliver solutions options.

Innovation is about doing things differently

We can change the way business analysis is done, if we succeed in introducing new ways of thinking. Changing the focus on the business analysis activities to become more discovery-alike instead of administrative, showing empathy with the environment, co-creating ideas with the customers and prototyping are just examples of what you could try. Introduction of these practices during business analysis activities can bring lots of benefits. We then stop rushing through the requirements phase. We are all familiar with statements like “Hurry up, we know what we need to do” or “Let’s write some code and based on feedback we’ll see whether we are on the right track”. In next month’s post I will share my thoughts on how this could be implemented in projects.