Innovation needs process change

change aheadJeffrey Philips currently wrote a nice piece titled “Innovate your processes before innovating your products” over on his excellent Innovate on Purpose blog. In that article, Jeffrey argues that before a company can innovate its products/services, it must innovate its processes if it hopes to build a sustainable edge via innovation over its competition.

When I read Jeffrey’s post, I found myself nodding at everything he wrote. While the need to focus on innovation in your product / service line is a real one, many organizations completely miss the need to look at process change to support these innovations.

Jeffrey provides a good example in his article on why process change is needed. He writes:

..most product development processes do a poor job allocating resources and establishing priorities, and are bogged down with poorly defined projects and inadequate staffing levels.  It’s exceptionally rare for products to exit the process on time and on budget.

Anyone that has been involved in an type of project management or product management role will immediately agree with the above statement. Heck..anyone in IT will immediately agree with this statement.   There’s never enough people or resources to do everything, yet it feels like everyone is asked to do everything…and do it now.

In addition to the resource issue, there are many organizations with outdated and ill-informed processes for getting things done.

I recall an IT group in the not too distant past (we are talking 2008-2009 time-frame) that required a change request to be manually filled out with pen/paper and then handed to a secretary. This secretary would then take the change request form around to get signatures from the necessary people and then FAX the change request to the change management team.  Mind you…this team was located in the same building, yet they required a faxed copy of the change request.

The above example might seem like an outlier (and maybe it is) but I’ve run across many outliers like this in my career. Companies are so focused on the new and innovative that they forget to look internally at their own processes.

In order to truly innovate your product and/or service line, you need to look at your own processes first. It may not be as ‘sexy’ as building that new product, but its just as important (or maybe even more important) than that new product.

Back to the example I provided earlier. That company could not have delivered an innovative product or service and sustained that product/service.. In fact, they tried a few different things and even started an ‘innovation group’ to focus on innovation but the majority of ideas that came from this group where stonewalled by the arcane processes found within the company. It wasn’t just the IT group that had out of date processes…every part of the organization needed to have some process re-engineering done. Ultimately, this organization had to step back and rethink many of their internal and back-end processes before they could focus on innovation.

Processes are the lifeblood of an organization. If you don’t step back and take a look at your processes, your innovative ideas might just suffer.

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