A couple months ago I laid out the framework for the most common challenges companies face as they get started with their social product innovation initiatives. The most common challenges fall into five main buckets – strategy, people and culture, business processes, technology and sustainability. So let’s take a deeper look at typical sustainability challenges and some ideas for overcoming them.

When applying social models and tools to the innovation and product development processes, sustainability issues often center around keeping the organization and collaboration partners engaged and supportive throughout the journey. On a tactical level, as some of the supporting technologies mature, they are offering more options for incentivizing participation. On a more strategic level, companies that do this well work to maintain the support of the executive team by connecting social product innovation results to business results.

Social product innovation must be considered evolutionary, not revolutionary.

I’ve talked a lot about developing a comprehensive strategy, but it’s not enough to just have a strategy. Social product innovation must be considered evolutionary, not revolutionary. To be sustainable and maintain internal and executive support, it’s important not to overwhelm your organization. Build incrementally by demonstrating a clear ROI for the selected starting point and don’t shy away from hyping results. Use your successes as an opportunity for internal education to help alleviate lingering challenges around from people and culture. Communication throughout the effort needs to be a true, two-way dialog so that managers can learn what is working sooner and adjust what is not. This feedback helps create a self-sustaining effort.

Another big part of creating sustainability is making sure that the innovation communities and collaboration partners you tap during the process – whether internal, external or both – are properly incentivized to continue to participate. As I mentioned in my last post, this really comes down to content, acknowledgement and demonstrating member impact.

Just as we would with any enterprise-wide innovation process transformation or software implementations, creating and sustaining organizational adoption is an important – and often deal-breaking – challenge.

According to the 2009 Prosci Change Management Benchmarking Report, projects with excellent change management enjoy higher levels of success than projects with poor change management effectiveness. Initiatives with the support of people from all levels and impacted business units, including executives, achieve better business value, and are:

6 times more likely to achieve project objectives
4.5 times more likely to meet project time frames
2 times more likely to stay on budget.

Applying the same change management rigor to social product innovation as you would to a large-scale process transformation or a product lifecycle management (PLM) software implementation, for example, will help your initiative succeed in the near and long term.

To build a sustainable, profitable strategy that will bring value for years to come, it’s important to remember that this is a journey. Leading companies throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks, then pick the best ideas and grow them.

Throughout the journey, it’s easy for companies to get stuck worrying about more tactical challenges, like security concerns, intellectual property (IP) protection and software features. It’s important to refocus efforts on addressing the more strategic issues and identify how social product innovation can impact the way your company innovates and brings products and services to market. Market leaders are already beginning to learn, experiment, and develop organizational knowledge and experience. These are the companies that will lead the way and create sustainable initiatives that will grow and provide value to the organization.

What is your experience with creating sustainable processes in your company? Have you applied change management techniques to your social product innovation initiatives?

By Amy Kenly

About the author:

Amy Kenly has over 14 years professional experience in innovation, product development and PLM. Kenly, a regular speaker and blogger on social product innovation, has been selected by PDMA to author a chapter on “Social Media and New Product Development” for the upcoming third edition of the PDMA Handbook on New Product Development. Kenly leads Kalypso’s Social Product Innovation practice, which has recently published the white paper “Social Media and Product Development: Early Adopters Reaping Benefits amidst Challenge and Uncertainty.” To access the white paper and research findings, visit