Innovation: How To Know What To Do

If you have the right mandate, working in Digital Innovation you should have a pretty broad range of products, technologies, and projects you can do. But this can lead to paralysis-by-options, where what can do keeps you from figuring out what you should do. But there’s a fix.

Knowing how to prioritize any new proposal is key for the innovation team and manager. There will always be too many new technologies, too many new products, and too many new ideas to get around them all. And while it can be tempting to just go for the ones you think will be more fun (or the ones that have the best conferences) can be tempting, you’ll need a more disciplined approach.

Throughout the roles I’ve had, I’ve always used something like the list that follows, sometimes with slight variations, but more or less it goes like this:

  1. Business impact – we’re not here to make art, we’re here to solve people’s problems, as Don Draper said. The problem we as innovators try to solve is business impact. So any project with a higher ROI or some other measurable expression of business impact will be prioritized over those that don’t have that.
  2. Strategic fit for the team – the problem with innovation is that it can be somewhat fuzzy what we do, at least for people far removed from the area. So sometimes, proposals will end up on our desks that don’t belong there, but are a better fit elsewhere. Don’t sell out your team on busy-work, focus on what your role in the company is.
  3. Strategic fit with the company strategy – while we need to be bold enough to explore outside the well-throdden path, we still need to support the overall vision of the company (while sometimes challenging that vision). So a proposal that is a mismatch to that strategy should always be prioritized lower.
  4. Clarity of scope – are the details of the proposal, including purpose, needs met, and requirements, clearly fleshed out? The murkier they are, the more difficult it will be to deliver on it, and to successfully hand over the project when finished.
  5. Feasibility and expediency – we shoot for the moon, but we don’t ignore the roof on the way there. And no matter how innovative we are, and how special we feel, we exist within an organization, so when someone comes to us with a need or a problem that we can solve quickly and easily, we do that. It creates a quick win, a happy, internal customer (and potential ambassador), and keeps us in touch with our internal market’s needs. I call it they “f*ck it, ship it” doctrine.

The list is prioritized, so 1) is more important than 5). I usuually have my teams score any new proposal with points from 1 through 5 on each, and whichever project has the highest score, gets done first. So you don’t need to score maximum in all five categories, but you do need an overall high score.

And I use this list for both proposals coming from our colleagues outside the team and for our own ideas and proposals. We should always eat our own dogfood.

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