10 steps to effective Innovation Management using Aha

Thank you to Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash for the use of this photo.

Innovation is critical to the continuing success of any organisation. But did you know that often some of the best, game changing ideas come from your workforce and not your customers?

Defining a simple and consistent way of capturing and managing innovation can be challenging as well as an overhead on resource but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Fortunately, if you use Aha! you can create standards and efficiencies that mean even the most lean of companies can perform effective Innovation Management.

To be clear, this article isn’t about how to capture feature level product requests/ideas. Rather it is for proper blue sky thinking, art of the possible level concepts which can be nurtured and managed without being tied to your existing propositions or conventional ways of thinking.

The great ideas of today are the amazing products of tomorrow.

As always there are multiple ways to model things in Aha! and the right method is the one that works best for your organisation. However the Innovation Management approach I am about to outline is one of my favourites for the following reasons:

  1. Innovation should be agnostic of your existing propositions and therefore should be modelled completely separately from how your teams capture feature requests and manage their product work.

  2. It supports a stage gate process to ensure a consistent and repeatable method to test hypotheses. In addition it ensures only the minimum level of work and validation is performed to allow the concept to proceed to the next stage.

  3. Using a separate workspace for Innovation Management allows custom workflows, custom fields and record terminology to be used without impacting the rest of the Aha! hierarchy or implementation. Permissions and access can also be different as required.

  4. Innovation concepts can still be broken down into the tactical execution across teams within the production part of the hierarchy with full traceability.

Sound good? Here is how it works….

First of all we need an Innovation Management process or framework. Stage gates work well here to drive a consistent approach, to define clear actions that must be consistently performed and to ensure that we only plan and expend the bare minimum of effort to proceed to the next phase. 

A key performance indicator for an Innovation Management team is as much as about the number of concepts that were rejected (and therefore didn’t waste valuable resources) as those that were successful and delivered sexy new things to the business.

To show I’m not cheating, let’s take a simple Innovation Management process that I found online. Here is one by Arcus Innovation Management. I have no affiliation with them but I liked their approach and clear diagram.

As you can see, there are 4 columns (or stages) in this model, each with a number of key activities that must be performed. Often between these stages is a “gate” with clearly defined entry and exit criteria (not shown in this image).

These entry/exit criteria must be satisfied in order to pass through the gate and proceed to the next stage, hence where the Stage Gate process gets its name.

Implementing this in Aha! could manifest in the following way:

1. A new workspace is created in Aha! called “Innovation Management”. In this example I have given it its own Line in the hierarchy to sit under to better differentiate it from the rest of the product organisation.

2. A private idea portal to capture Innovation Management concepts is created, restricted to internal employees only and feeds the Innovation Management workspace.

3. A team of Innovation Champions triage, manage and own the Innovation Management concepts as they flow through the process.

4. On meeting some basic feasibility criteria and agreeing that the concept can proceed to the first phase, the idea is promoted to an initiative within the Innovation Management workspace. This initiative acts as the umbrella record, recording the status, notes, overall ownership and linkage back to the original idea.

The initiative record has a custom status workflow that matches the names of the phases: “Discover”, “Design”, ‘Develop”, “Deploy” and likely a few other statuses such as “Rejected” and “On hold”.

The purpose of the initiative record is to group together all Innovation Management activities as well as any real product work that may result in a concept being accepted into production (but more on that later).

5. The first phase of the process is represented by a Release with Features that correspond to the deliverables and artefacts that must be actioned. 

The release lives in the Innovation Management workspace and can be copied from a parking lot location that serves as a template.

The release also contains a number of pre-determined todos and approval records that represent the necessary exit criteria for this phase and the entry criteria for the next (not shown on the diagram).

6. The Initiative status is set to “Discover” for high level reporting purposes so we can look across all initiative and see the current status they are at in our Innovation Management pipeline.

7. On completion of all the deliverables in the Release we are then ready to ensure all exit criteria for the Discover phase and entry criteria for the Design phase have been met.

8. The Innovation Concept is then represented at a regular gate meeting for permission to proceed to the next phase. Any other Innovation Concepts ready to transition to their next gate in their lifecycle are also discussed.

If the IM champions decide the Innovation Concept is not worth pursuing at any stage, the Innovation Concept is set to a “rejected” status, further justification documented in the initiative and the idea is subsequently updated to a cancelled state as well. An additional benefit is that the Aha! Idea portal updates and informs portal subscribers as a result.

Should the gate be successfully passed, the initiative is updated with relevant notes, Initiative status set to “Design” and the next release with associated features is copied from the Parking Lot and associated with the overarching Initiative record. Again the deliverables can be allocated to owners and distributed in the timeline.

9. We continue this process for the remaining phases. As we get closer to concept maturity it may be necessary for actual product teams to start building some features in their product roadmaps as well as the Innovation Champions actioning their own deliverables. This can be done by creating features in the product team backlogs and associating the feature or release record with the Initiative at the Innovation Management level for full traceability.

10. The same may be true of for any subsequent Innovation Management phases as you can see below. In this example, the Deploy Release will support the launch of the initiative as well as the Product team building a second feature required to deliver the concept.

And that is it! Simple, elegant and effective.

I love how the stage gate process supports a lean Innovation Management process whilst Aha! helps different functions to manage an effective roadmap with full traceability from concept idea to product execution.

I hope this encourages more companies to consider using Aha! to power a culture of Innovation with their employees.

If you have any comments or feedback I’d love to hear them.

Happy Innovating!

Thank you to Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash for the use of this photo.

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