Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Your Innovation Maturity Journey

Innovation can be seen as a journey towards increasing levels of organizational innovation capability and maturity.

One of the best ways to understand the journey of innovation maturity is through first reviewing the Capability Maturity Model, originally developed to help manage software projects within organizations.

The Capability Maturity Model

At IBM in the 1980s, a number of different software development projects were achieving quite different outcomes. Some projects were racing ahead and achieving outstanding outcomes. Others were going nowhere, failing spectacularly with regards to criteria such as schedule, budget and quality outcome objectives.

A consultant named Watt's Humphrey was engaged to investigate. Humphrey visited various IBM projects, and reported back on why some projects were succeeding and others failing spectacularly. What were the key factors leading to success in some projects, and abject failure in others?

What Humphrey found was that different IBM projects were in very different situations with regards to project management capabilities. Some projects relied on talented 'heros', people with extraordinary technical and subject matter skills, to pull them through and save the day at the last minute, putting in extraordinary efforts to meet deadlines. Some used project management methodologies and best practices, others had no apparent methodology. Some teams collaborated, others didn't.

Humphrey's key insight was that different projects were at different levels of maturity. To achieve consistent and repeatable success, organisations or business areas needed to go through distinct stages of evolution, to gain different levels of capability or 'maturity'.

Humphrey's insights were articulated and widely published, and are now known as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). Initially the focus of the CMM was on managing projects, it has now been expanded to help develop capability in a wide range of areas of activity including general business processes.

The 5 levels of the Capability Maturity Model are

5 Optimized
4. Quantitatively Managed
3. Defined
2. Managed
1. Initial

Initially, a business area may not employ any process or methodology to manage projects. Projects work to the extent that talented heros emerge and save the day, or the project succeeds by blind luck. Project success rates are not high at this stage.

There is then a lot of pressure for the team or business area to move to the next stage, and utilise proven project management methodologies to gain repeatable business successes in managing projects and delivering valuable business outcomes. At the Managed stage, individual teams or business areas begin to experience repeatable successes.

However, at this stage different teams or business areas are doing things in different ways, and there may not be any sophisticated program management managing a portfolio of projects. The next step in project capability evolution is to develop consistent, organization-wide defined processes and systems for project management activities. This is the Defined stage.

Once processes are clearly defined and quantitative measures can be associated with them, organizations reach the Quantitatively Managed stage, where processes can be tightly managed using quantitative techniques.

Once this stage is reached, an organization's focus becomes continual learning and improvement, to optimize and improve the system.

The Innovation Maturity Journey

In the same way, organizations go through a journey in their progress towards innovation maturity.

Initially, innovation may not be on the corporate radar at all. Innovation is at the Ignored stage. Innovation is, so to speak, 'missing in action'.
The work that needs to be done is to raise awareness of the importance and high level of priority of innovation for the organization.

The next level in innovation maturity is when innovation is Declared. Innovation now appears in the corporate vision, in the mission statement, and in various corporate artefacts such as Annual Reports, but no one really knows exactly what it means or how to achieve it.

At some point after innovation is declared, initiatives are taken to introduce innovation in some form. This might for example include introducing proven creativity techniques, working towards improved collaboration and knowledge sharing, listening to the voice of the customer and incorporating customer perspectives in to product and service design, or initiatives to improve the organizational culture to make it more supportive towards creativity and innovation. At this Initiated stage, there may be a lot of exploration of options around innovation, and experimentation to find what produces sustained results.

One of the problems of the Initiated stage however is that there are no systematic processes to produce reliable, sustained innovation outcomes.
Great ideas may for example be produced from brainstorming sessions, but there might be no processes in place to make sure the ideas are assessed and evaluated and the best ones turned in to projects to deliver tangible business outcomes. At some stage in the innovation journey, organizations make a shift towards defining and embedding innovation systems and processes and improving and optimizing those processes. Innovation becomes Systematised.

At around the stage that an organization commits to and implements rigorous and effective innovation processes and systems, or as it develops effective creativity and innovation techniques in the Initiated stage, an organization naturally begins to focus on embedding these effective creativity and innovation processes in to the 'organizational DNA,' to embed innovation into 'how things are done around here.' Innovation becomes Embedded as part of the organizational way of doing things, it becomes part of the culture that new hires need to be socialised in to.

But embedding innovation isn't the end of the journey. At some point, from Initiated through to Embedded, innovation activity will need to begin challenging embedded patterns of thinking. Old patterns of thinking may have been terrific when people learnt them in MBA school 20 years ago, or the way of thinking in an organization might have been formed out of market circumstances and a competitive landscape that no longer exists. Old embedded patterns of thinking can be costing the organization, and closing down exciting new opportunities. The organization now needs to be Challenged at all levels about its beliefs, assumptions, and thinking. The leadership team, senior management, and all staff need to question existing ways of thinking. At this level, we embark on innovation in the way we think.

As an organization gains the sustained capacity to challenge existing patterns of thinking - and innovate and embed new ones - an organization gains a capacity for continuous evolution in the way it thinks. The best of the old ways of thinking are retained but new ways of thinking, acting and being are innovated and introduced. An organization maintains the ability to evolve and respond to a changing environment in an agile and effective way. The organization has reached the Evolved stage of the innovation maturity journey. This is not an end to innovation or to innovation maturity as, by definition, the evolved organization must keep innovating and adapting to evolve to meet changing market circumstances.

Clearly, Idea Management Systems are critical in the transition from the Initiated to Systematised stages, and they play a significant role in the Embedded stage.

Idea Management Systems on their own though are by no means all of the innovation maturity journey. Indeed, both the initiatives that can be commenced in the Initiated stage, and the 'idea management' of thinking patterns within the organization including in the board room and in the executive leadership team, can commence before or after the introduction of an Idea Management System or run in parallel with it.

At which stage is your organization in the Innovation Maturity Journey?

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