While many people believe that process and structure stifle creativity – the center of gravity for sourcing and inspiring innovation – this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, planning ahead streamlines the process and surfaces any potential bottlenecks ahead of time, resulting in a program that is more apt to produce meaningful outcomes and return on investment for organizations.

According to a recent Accenture study, “Enterprises that are able to successfully innovate at a breakthrough level can increase the likelihood that they will dominate and prosper in new markets that they create.” Successful innovation is mission critical to corporate survival and longevity in today’s rapidly changing markets. The following interview with Kristen Jordan Fotter, Brightidea’s Innovation Expert and Professional Services Consultant, provides great tips for structuring innovation program processes that ensure success.

1. What is the mindset that managers should have when establishing a new innovation program?

Without ROI from the venture, what’s the point?

Innovation Project Managers should approach any innovation challenge with an eye toward implementing ideas and creating positive impact to the business. To ascertain value from the process, the program must be considered an end-to-end venture moving from (1) ideation and collaboration to (2) evaluation and exploration with (3) implementation and commercialization. Without ROI from the venture, what’s the point?

2. What’s the best way to establish credibility for new programs within an organization?

When you’re starting out, it’s a great idea to identify campaigns that have a high likelihood of success – perhaps focusing on a specific topic or challenge that can be tackled fairly easily. Having a short implementation period is helpful as well because the faster you can get to an outcome the sooner you have actual results and ROI metrics to report back out to the business. As you refine your processes and execution, you’ll likely identify more challenging topics and be confident when tackling those aggressive ventures.

3. How can program managers increase the likelihood of winning outcomes?

At the end of the day, if your idea generators don’t know what that picture of success looks like, how can they deliver it to you?

While it is fairly obvious that you should clearly communicate the topic of your challenge, many people overlook the need to think through and communicate a vision of success. Creating this vision of the end goal informs key factors like evaluation and prioritization criteria, which is exactly the sort of information that you should share with your challenge participants up front. By doing so, you’re narrowing the funnel on the front end and preventing ideas that don’t match your key criteria (like time to implement, cost or expected ROI). Why waste your time looking at ideas that won’t make your campaign a success?

At the end of the day, if your idea generators don’t know what that picture of success looks like, how can they deliver it to you?

4. What are some of the key elements in establishing a workflow process?

Ensuring that you have a realistic workflow with committed resources that will support each step can eliminate bottlenecks or black holes in your path to creating solutions. In addition to the major steps like ideation, business case development and evaluation, you should identify the individuals who will support each step, the level of effort to complete the necessary tasks, and the schedule everyone must follow.

Get commitments! Ensure ahead of time that resources you identify are willing to take the time to follow through on their obligations. Likewise, it helps to loop into the plan the leaders who will be allocating those resources.

Another great tip is to take your communications plan and lay it over your process flow to ensure that you are following up with your stakeholders and participants at each key juncture.

5. How should the program manager address resource planning?

If that sponsor doesn’t have both dollars and people to take an idea all the way through to results, they aren’t ready for a campaign.

Project resourcing needs to be comprehensive and include not only fulltime employee resources, but financial planning as well. There are quite a few tools and sources of information available. For example, utilizing product portfolio management solutions that support the ideation through launch process, such as the technology offered by our partner, Planview, can help with FTE allocation, financial resourcing and capacity planning. Internally, your HR group may also be able to support by adding new or temporary resources to scale up capacity once the needs are identified.

When a potential sponsor approaches the Innovation Program Manager about hosting a campaign, one of the first questions to the sponsor should be about the resources they have allocated to support implementation. If that sponsor doesn’t have both dollars and people to take an idea all the way through to results, they aren’t ready for a campaign.

6. What is the best way to establish actionable goals for a program?

I recommend that you address goal planning at two levels. First of all, identify the purpose, intent and objectives for the program overall. These should align with the corporate strategy and, if you have one, your innovation strategy. Are you tasked with facilitating innovation projects across the organization? Are you responsible for shifting your culture to one of creativity and innovation? Your goals should reflect those mandates.

Separately, prior to every campaign, you and the business sponsor should sit down together and identify what the expectations are for participation and content. For example, is there a heavy emphasis on collaboration? If so, the goals for voting and commenting should be on the high side. Do you have a very specific, technical challenge? In that case, your goal for content might be simply one successful idea.

Wherever you land, these goals should be shared with your community of idea generators.

7. Why is it important to target and market to audiences during a campaign? Why should an IPM consider offering incentives?

Innovation is often a new concept and a new type of task for those participating in challenges. Additionally, there can be new tools and platforms to facilitate the process. All of that newness can potentially stymie participation due to a lack of understanding, interest or even trust in the process. For this reason, building a dynamic engagement plan is essential.

The key elements are communication and incentives.

  • Communication: This drives quick bursts of activity at the campaign level and is necessary to sustain participation.
  • Rewards: These incent people to participate in a campaign, but will not contribute to a long-term commitment to innovation. They could actually cause a negative impact in the effort to make innovation an accepted element of the organization – so use with discretion.
  • Recognition: Research shows that this truly incents people, drives commitment to an innovation program, and contributes to long-term culture change.

Your plan should incorporate some combination of the above, but most importantly, reflect your culture and employees. Utilize the channels that people already using and be mindful of what sort of incentives fit your environment. As validated in this McKinsey & Company research report, in most instances, positive recognition and access to leadership can be the most tremendous motivators.

These are just some of the key elements to keep in mind as you are planning your innovation campaign. Additionally, with the right type of planning in advance, you’ll be more likely to develop a process that allows creativity to flourish and will take you from idea to impact.

About the author

Kristen Jordan Fotter brings over a decade of experience managing clients and innovation projects for Fortune 500 companies to her role as an innovation consulting leader with Brightidea. At Brightidea, Kristen manages innovation program strategy and implementation for clients including Johnson & Johnson, Tyco, Time and Walgreens. Brightidea launched the first-ever online innovation platform in 2005, designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of any organization’s innovation process. Today, Brightidea’s complete product suite covers the entire idea lifecycle from initial collection through execution.

Photo: Many small ideas equal a big one from