Great list of innovation management tools

Blogging Innovation blog has a great list of tools to manage innovation and ideas.  Tools to manage ideation are important and the author has put in quite a bit of work to generate a pretty comprehensive list.  Please also check out his word document on desired functionality.

In my experience, idea management tools are a subset of processes, tools and metrics needed to ensure that innovation pays off.  Managers need to find ways to quickly evaluate, develop and monitor innovative ideas.  There also needs to be an efficient approach to kill innovation projects that do not pan out.

One of the companies I worked at had a great innovation generation machine.  They gave out $20-50k for small projects that looked outlandish enough.  However, there existed no way to catch all this innovation and develop it further into delivered products.

What is your experience?  How is innovation management working in your organization.

CEOs really want more creativity?

Here is an interesting article in Business Week penned by a Senior Vice President from IBM.  The article claims that CEO priorities are changing fundamentally:

There is compelling new evidence that CEOs’ priorities in this area are changing in important ways. According to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBM), CEOs identify “creativity” as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.

There are a couple of key take aways in the article. 

  1. CEOs have started valuing creativity and continuous innovation. 
  2. CEOs want to be disruptive: “Disrupt status quo, disrupt business models and disrupt organizational paralysis.” 

Clearly, all these things are very important to do – in any company, in any economy.  What the article does not explain is why the CEOs did not value creativity earlier!  Did they really believe that it was better to be unoriginal? Did they actually want organizational paralysis? 

The take aways are also very difficult to realize.  For one to disrupt status quo, one needs to understand what needs to be disrupted and what the desired end state should be.  To do that, an organization needs a good evaluation of its processes or a way to get that evaluation in the first place.  If you have that capability, then you probably do not have organizational paralysis to start with.  Driving innovation has always been a big challenge.

What do you think?  What are some examples of organizational paralysis that you have seen?  Are then any stories or challenges that you would like to share?

R&D spending does not guarantee profits

In an article that corroborates TI’s findings, here is a 2005 article in Management Issues suggesting that higher R&D spending does not necessarily result in better profits. In some ways the material is still relevant, especially if one wants to find savings in R&D budgets.

Companies which invest heavily in research and development may be wasting their money. According to a new study, there is no direct relationship between R&D investment and significant measures of corporate performance such as growth, profitability, and shareholder return.

The article has some useful data about the R&D spending on the top 1,000 global players:

According to consultants Booz Allen Hamilton, who analyzed the world’s top 1,000 corporate research and development spenders, innovation spending is still a growth business. This 2004 Global Innovation 1,000 spent $384 billion on R&D in 2004, representing 6.5 per cent annual growth since 1999.
And the pace is accelerating. Measured from 2002, the annual growth rate jumps to 11.0 per cent.
While the top 1,000 corporate R&D spenders invested $384 billion in 2004, the second 1,000 spent only $26 billion – only an additional 6.8 per cent beyond the top 1,000 spenders.

This article points out the need for coordinated processes R&D planning, project portfolio management and R&D investment management: “How you spend is more important than how much you spend.”
However, getting coordinated processes in place for planning, portfolio management and investment management is rather difficult. Add to it the complexity of aligning investments with changing market needs and project progress/delays, and the real task of guiding R&D and invention becomes rather difficult.

In other words, the study argues, it is the process, not the pocketbook that counts. For example, Apple’s 2004 R&D-to-sales ratio of 5.9 per cent trails the computer industry average of 7.6 per cent, while its $489 million spend is a fraction of its larger competitors.

What do you think? Do you have any stories to share about success or failure around project portfolio management? Or are there any challenges that you face that you would like to discuss?

Making Data Work For You

Here is an article from Forbes talking about how to make data work for you. The underlying presumption is that the data necessary to make management decisions is lying around in the company in different forms – the challenge is to mine it effectively and prepare the right kind of report.

The amount of data inside corporations is exploding. In fact, there has never been such a wealth of information available in the history of business, and there has never been the vast array of tools to dissect it.
CIOs are generating reports for business leaders that slice the data horizontally and vertically, project growth, calculate productivity and profitability, and compare all of this historically and competitively. They are even pulling out tidbits of data that may appear randomly and building models based upon recurrences that escaped notice by even the most astute teams of experts. But is all this stuff right?

The key challenge according to the article is to find the right kinds of skills that marry IT and business understanding to generate these reports. And that unfortunately, those skills are hard to come by.

You’re talking about creating a data model, but aren’t models inherently flawed? Look at what happened to Wall Street in 2007.
The problem with models is not so much that they’re difficult to create. It’s whether everyone involved agrees with the same semantics. If you want a revenue report or a profitability report, you need to figure out what should be included. Once you have clarity on that, the other steps are much easier.
Do these skills exist?
They’re not very common. We need a completely new skill set for the CIO and the IT department. They have to speak the language of requirements for the application as well as the business language of reports.

In my experience, getting hold of the right data to make effective R&D management decisions is a big challenge. The problem is not only that the data is fragmented across multiple tools and databases, but also the fact that the tools all use different jargon and structure. It is difficult, if not impossible to aggregate data across these fragments to generate meaningful reports.

For example, if one wants to generate project portfolio status reports automatically, one has to mine across project management, requirements management and financial management systems. Each one of these systems maintain their data at different, disconnected levels of abstraction. Even if it was possible to mine data from each one of them, effort needed to link them across each other would be cost prohibitive.

What do you think? Have you used automated data mining / report generation tools successfully? Are there any lessons learned that you can share?

R&D spending cuts sharpen vision?

A recent article in the Dallas News mentions that TI has cut its R&D budget by more than 25%. These cuts appear to be permanent.

Texas Instruments Inc., a legendary font of innovation, cut its budget for research and development by almost half a billion dollars in 2009. Those reductions are expected to stay in place this year as well. But the Dallas-based company, producer of landmark technology such as the integrated circuit and the pocket calculator, says the approximately 25 percent drop isn’t a sign of declining innovation. Rather, it’s a mark of a maturing, streamlined product portfolio.

TI believes that the cuts are actually helping it sharpen its vision on more important R&D and eliminate unnecessary efforts.
Instead, the company is focused on embedded processors and analog chips, the devices inside cellphones and other mobile goodies that crunch video and handle other complex tasks. 

“We’re looking at markets that were maturing or not developing the way we had anticipated” for cuts, said chief financial officer Kevin March.
One source of savings is that TI stopped doing much research into ways to mass-produce its products, leaving that work to manufacturers in Asia that crank out the chips. 
TI has also been extricating itself over the last few years from designing baseband chips that connect mobile phones to cellular networks.

The question here is the impact of sudden large changes in the R&D budgets on the overall health of the R&D project portfolio. An underlying theme is that organizations get complacent in their view of their R&D priorities. Or that unproductive projects are really difficult to kill once they have been funded for a while. A large discontinuity forces the organization to revaluate priorities and see how the R&D pipeline is aligned with the priorities.

A concern may be that a sudden large change may actually get rid of good projects along with the bad. One needs to have a good handle on what is in the project pipeline and what results those projects are targetting. If a good view of the pipeline exists, should there be a need for large changes? What is the need for large R&D direction changes if the organization has effective periodic R&D project portfolio reviews? Should not the weak projects be eliminated because their proejcted results would not meet requirements? If such a view of the pipeline does not exist, would not a large discontinuity be a difficult time to develop such a view?

What do you think? Has your organization successfully made large changes in R&D spending? If your organization has an efficient portfolio management process, do you think large changes such as this would be necessary or effective?