It’s fourth quarter and in conference rooms worldwide, plans are being locked in for new growth programs. Even as this activity takes place, one of the most frequently asked questions in my workshops and coaching sessions is:
How do you go about diagnosing the reasons for a stalled innovation team?
To answer this question, let’s flip it over and use the Right Project, Right Team and Right Plan tools as a prequel diagnostic tool. By looking at issues I frequently help untangle, we can develop a checklist to avoid tomorrow’s problems by taking specific actions today.
Choosing the Right Project
- Does it make use of something the parent organization is already good at? It is very important to give your project a head start based on the firm’s underlying competencies. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to do a pure start up without any leverage, which when done with the new product tools of a typical firm, has a very low probability of success.
- Is it based on solid insight? Make sure your team has done the work to develop a unique and meaningful insight to provide the product or service with some level of differentiation. If the project doesn’t have a strong element that is new or unique, it will be very hard to achieve breakout traction.
- Does it serve a specific customer’s specific need? Ensure the customer profile is both specific and a customer you have a path to serve. Have you validated that your new service is something that adds real value to their world?
- Does the financial math work? It is surprising how much fiction you can pass through the above three filters that just don’t add up financially. One big example of this that I had a front row seat for was the Iridium Program.
Identifying the Right Team
- Does the team have a sponsor on the senior leadership team? Lack of line of sight sponsorship impacts the progress of a growth initiative both directly and indirectly. If it’s not important enough to gather senior management calendar time, it sends a message to the firm at large.
- Does the team have demonstrated expertise in building cross-organizational support? One of the common issues is that the day-to-day lead is a super subject matter expert, when what is really called for is a coalition builder. When in doubt, put the priority on demonstrated people skills and solid subject area expertise.
- Are the team members subject matter experts and “T” People? On a lean and fast-moving team, harmony is very important. For a great resource in this area, do some reading on the Shackleton Voyage to see how he specifically built his teams.
- Have you taken advantage of the curmudgeons in your firm? One of the most underutilized resources in every firm is those who have “been there and done that” for decades. I always make it a point to talk to the person who has the office out of the traffic flow to get their best insight. Yes, you need to have a good filter for whining vs. great content, but there is always much to be learned.
Assembling the Right Plan
- Have you assembled a plan that works the risk points first? One of the most subtle traps in many projects is that success in solving the risk items is assumed at the outset. This has two edges – it diverts great resources who should be put to work on the main items and it usually increases the spend because additional scale is built that may later need to be changed.
- Do you have a mini BOD that overviews the program regularly? This is the secret sauce for keeping you program on track. Having a small group of senior leaders who are accountable for the full scope of the program, and who regularly contribute and clear road blocks, is magic.
- Is your plan set up to deliver only the most basic version of the product or service that meets the customer’s needs? Another super secret tip: almost every team has scope creep and delivers an upmarket version of what they set out to do. Having rigorous scrubs to assure that you are only putting effort on things that directly tie to the customer value is the key to keeping this from holding you hostage.
- Is the plan simple enough that the whole firm understands it? One thing many people miss is that the rest of the firm is a major stakeholder in the success of the effort, and it is very easy to lose the backing of the firm due to overly complex plans that don’t pass the common sense test. Having a crisp communication plan to bring the firm at large from neutral to advocate is a great way to provide tailwinds for the group.
These twelve questions will go a long way toward helping you avoid the energy drains that the issues above quickly become; consuming time, cash and customer goodwill.
My work takes me all over the world to apply the Right Project, Right Team, Right Plan Framework to help firms make strong plans for growth. If you’d like to do a focused individual or team session with me on your particular project or program, please reach out to me at 847-651-1014 or send me an email.
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