Traversing the Valley of Death: A practical guide for corporate innovation leaders

 

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TVoD_Book-Cover[1]For those who have struggled to cross that nebulous decision space known as the Valley of Death, the journey can be all too traumatic.  The Valley is what separates the activities for developing ideas from the activities needed to commercialize those ideas; it separates the people engaged in research and discovery from those tasked with commercializing new products and services.

Traversing the Valley of Death can be perilous—depending on how you define idea and commercialization; the survival rate can range from 1 idea in 11 to 1 in 100. Why so low? Because, as authors Stephen Markham and Paul Mugge assert in this new book Innovation Leaders — and their teams — are often ill-equipped for the journey.

Innovation Leaders set the research agenda; they are the ones who allocate the resources for the organization’s innovation management system (in this book organizations refer to the large B2B companies burdened with hierarchies and bureaucracies that separate them from their customers and so often inhibit invention and innovation). Teams include three players who play major roles in crossing the Valley of Death: Champions, Sponsors and Gatekeepers.

For these people and their organizations, Markham and Mugge prescribe a complete system that includes the process, tools, governance system, and metrics necessary for managing what they call Big Innovation. Unlike incremental innovation – the small design and feature changes companies make to their current product and service platforms – Big Innovation requires a system. Big Innovations create large-scale disruptions that affect the entire organization. Besides, isolated innovation projects rarely command attention in mature organizations, particularly those driven by operational efficiency (which seems to be the preferred business strategy of corporations since the market crash of 2008).

Importantly, this book contains a series of worksheets collectively called the System for industrial Innovation. Through a series of over 30 exercises and worksheets, the System helps organizations quickly develop ideas into legitimate, profitable business opportunities and capture these opportunities in a compelling business case (the stuff senior managers of these organizations want to see) in order to secure necessary resources. The worksheets are the jewels of the System, but they are not meant to be filled-in routinely in a “check-the-boxes exercise”. Rather they are meant to engender thinking, and discussion, around the critical factors facing the project. Although each worksheet builds on the worksheet before it, a project team that is confident about what it has accomplished –and confident about what it should do next–can go directly to whichever worksheet is most relevant.

The System doesn’t end with developing a business case.  As essential as a compelling business case is, it is just the start of the process of adopting and implementing the new business opportunity. The business case is a core requirement for selling decision-makers on the opportunity’s value to the company. Unfortunately, too many project teams see completing the business case as the end of the process when it is simply the tool for climbing out of the Valley of Death.

Implementing the project across the whole organization is actually a much bigger task, particularly when the organization likely views it as “risky”, maybe even “threatening.”

Too often, the act of getting a project adopted is left to chance, with little to no planning or effort exerted to encourage people to embrace a new idea or opportunity. Without a coordinated adoption plan, all innovation efforts are likely to go unrewarded. Fortunately adoption, like all innovation activities, is a manageable process and the System contains a host of adoption planning tools for this purpose.

In a very real sense, the System for Industrial Innovation helps “de-risk” breakthrough innovation. Applied in the manner the workbook prescribes, it can help organizations make the Big Bets that lead to Big Innovation.

The System for Industrial Innovation is not a theoretical construct or some academic exercise. It has already been put into practice at more than a dozen companies, Moreover, the book has been informed by 20 years of research and practice in managing technology development and innovation at N.C. State University as well as the authors combined 60-plus years in industry.

If this is your organization’s first attempt at crossing the Valley of Death, it will seem more like a high wire act. But if you follow the guidance put forward – with repeated application – it will begin to feel more like a four-lane highway bridge! More important, it can increase the rate at which you turn good ideas into profitable products and services. We know this because that’s been the experience of several companies that have already adopted the methodology of this book.

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