I’ve recently been advising a range of leaders in how to start successful innovation programs. A couple are relaunches of efforts that were abandoned in the past, and others are starting from scratch in organizations (and sectors) that are more comfortable with the status quo.

So I thought that it made sense to revisit and update one of my most popular articles, with tips on how to drive success. This is a personal list, so take it or leave it. As always I’m happy to discuss or debate any points raised.

My underlying message is that it’s crucial to develop a robust, strategic innovation framework as a first step. When tasked with this role, or even just taking self-initiative, the temptation is to jump in and start working on new ideas, but trust me, do the planning first.

What perspectives and actions should be considered as part of an innovation strategy plan?

Define Success

At the very outset it’s important to discuss with colleagues and leaders what success looks like in 1, 2 and possibly 3-years? You will have your opinions on this, so will others. But by raising the question you will get a sense of what value others (and yourself) are looking for. Additionally, the conversation will flow to how success changes over time, what is involved in achieving those goals, what challenges will you face and how can they be addressed.

Define Innovation

There are plenty of definitions out there, so how hard can it be? Actually, it can be a nightmare, but it’s essential to decide and promote what innovation means to the organisation, and what it means to you as a leader with a mandate. I’ve been sucked into endless rounds of debate for specific definitions, so my advice is keep it simple, work with key individuals to get agreement, then promote the definition to stakeholders and present a take it or leave it attitude. It’s not a perfect approach, but can get you moving quickly.

  • Also, as a side note, it’s good to confirm an innovation methodology(s) that you are going to use. This helps focus on how you will be supporting the innovation definition and help others understand how you will add value.

Define Impact

As an innovation leader it’s important to consider how, where and when your efforts will impact the organisation. This includes considering the scope of ideas you will be developing, how they will align with current strategic priorities, and which parts of the organisations they will align with. By defining impact, you start to consider the types and scale of resources you will require.

Goals and Metrics

I have talked about this in the past, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of focusing on the development of specific metrics for any innovative activity. This aligns with the first point, but is perhaps more specific, and quite frankly is more painful to agree. While fuzzy metrics (participation, number of ideas generated) works for a while, you need harder metrics (generally dollars on the line) to gain credibility amongst leadership peers, and ensure their ongoing support.

Secure Sponsorship / Leadership Support

Whether you do or don’t already have executive sponsorship in place, you will need to define the role and expectations of a program Sponsor. By clearly defining what you need, you set expectations (if someone is already in place) or help focus on what you are looking for (if not). Aligned with securing a Sponsor, it’s also important to establish a governance process, where broader stakeholders can be kept aware of your innovative actions, feel a sense of ownership to innovative efforts, and direct resources that can support activities and / or new ideas.

Ecosystem Mapping and Support

Within large organizations it is rare that a single group or individual controls all innovative activity. As part of this planning process it is important to locate, understand, assess and possibly support the various innovation activities and actions already in operation. In the past, I’ve supported innovative activities that are already creating impact, as you want to make friends in this world given the ever-shifting leadership attention.

Activity Planning

There is an infinite variety of activities that innovation leaders can use to create, develop and execute new ideas. Including an outline of the various activities that your innovation program may support is essential. You should also include an honest assessment of expected impact, costs / resources, rollout timelines, stakeholder involvement and plans to improve and scale over time.

Resourcing Management

Most innovation efforts that I work with, whether in a large or small organizations, have limited direct resources. Including directions and thoughts around the sourcing and allocation of resources will help frame your strategy. Every innovation leader wants to start with a big team, but that’s often difficult to secure, and also creates expectations for immediate impact. My advice is to start relatively small, build wins and use that to justify additional resource investment over time.

This is clearly a lot of information, and the resulting strategy document can be as long or short as you want. In a previous life as a corporate strategist I found that every time I put together a detailed document, it was essentially for my own reference. I do have a great innovation program business plan template in PPT, so feel free to reach out to me directly if you want me to send you a copy (

About the author

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, entrepreneur, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation. He has worked with organisations in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia to develop effective innovation strategies that guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new products and solutions. Anthony has worked with organizations such as Transport for NSW (Australia), Department of Defence (Australia), Bristol-Myers Squibb (US), Fidelity Investments (US), Pfizer (US), Volkswagen (Sweden), Ergo Insurance (Germany), etc.. He currently leads innovation and commercialisation efforts at Swinburne University, and previously led The BNY Mellon global innovation program, as well as co-founding two successful tech-driven consultancies. He has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

Featured image via Pexels.