Working smarter — Your innovation planning checklist
If you're like most entrepreneurs, you've got some innovative ideas brewing but you're wondering how to bring them to fruition in your business. Although there's no one formula for success, it helps t...
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ve got some innovative ideas brewing but you’re wondering how to bring them to fruition in your business. Although there’s no one formula for success, it helps to see if all the necessary pieces are in place before getting a project off the ground.
The first essential step is to stimulate innovative thinking and, without cramping your team’s creativity, keep employees focused on ideas that will add value to the organization. Ask employees to look at ways to improve customer responsiveness, reduce waste and downtime, reach more customers or tackle a new market. At the same time, give staff a means to bring their innovative ideas to the table, whether it’s a suggestion box, an employee forum or a face-to-face brainstorming meeting.
With every 10 ideas, there may be only one that will bring a return on investment. Once you’ve taken stock of potential innovation projects, take the time to narrow them down and determine which ones are worthy of your company’s resources. The project will have to have pay-off, such as improved customer service, increased revenues or long-term growth.
ASSESS IMPACT & FEASIBILITY
Carefully assess the impact of the innovation project for all stakeholders: employees, customers and the community. Entrepreneurs expanding their products and services may require a full market analysis to make sure they’re going in the right direction. Before changing an internal process, consider the impact it will have on employee needs. A green-friendly initiative will have a positive impact on the community, so you want to be sure to take it into consideration.
GET YOUR TEAM IN PLACE
Whatever the scale of a business project, entrepreneurs need to do some sound planning in order to make the initiative a success. It’s important to clearly understand the project challenges, outline the results you want to achieve and establish realistic deadlines. Plan for appropriate financing and the best strategy to use human resources. Implementing basic project management mechanisms such as ongoing monitoring and working within an allotted budget will help entrepreneurs achieve business objectives. The innovation team should include a leader who can be fully accountable for the project.
TEST IT, ROLL IT OUT, MONITOR IT
Entrepreneurs can build a prototype, or working model in order to determine whether the innovation will actually work and deliver what it promises.
A commonly used practice, particularly in product development, is to build a prototype or working model.
This gives business owners a chance to make improvements before running full production.
You can test an internal process with customers using pilot studies, for example. This allows you to gather real client feedback and refine the process before full implementation.
Entrepreneurs should ensure they clearly outlined how the initiative will be rolled out with measurable targets and milestones. These are essential in the process so that employees involved can see any progress along the way. The innovation team leader can report how the project is evolving and convene any necessary meetings to adapt the plan.
It may take some time to see if the investment is paying off, yet be sure to have a way to monitor project progress. If you’re launching a new product or service, you may see a positive impact in your sales figures. An improvement in a production process might be measured by your production output or customer satisfaction. Any innovation initiative should show measurable results, even if it’s an intangible such as improved employee satisfaction.
As a follow-up to innovation projects, entrepreneurs can also conduct surveys or focus groups with all stakeholders involved.
Mary Gagliardi is vice president and district manager for Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). BDC is a financial institution wholly owned by the Government of Canada that actively supports the development and growth of Canadian small and medium-size businesses through its complementary financing, investment and consulting solutions. For more information, visit www.bdc.ca.