How to build an innovation framework: A Step-by-Step Guide

Innovation is how businesses stay relevant and stay ahead of their competition. As a result, innovation frameworks are crucial for businesses and every business that wants to be future-oriented and assured should have one in place.

But how do we go around building one? We’ve made a step-by-step guide to help you get started on making the perfect innovation framework to suit your organization.

What is an Innovation Framework?

Before we get into making a framework, we should first cover what it is.

Innovation frameworks are a strategic structure designed to give organizations the ability to tap into ideas, evaluate the strengths and weakness of each, make informed decisions and build strategies to turn ideas into value-generating opportunities for the business.

Without a clear innovation framework, businesses could be simply collecting ideas without realizing they were sitting on a goldmine of potential. These frameworks help you effectively gather all types of ideas from your organization and filter through them to find the gold nuggets that could radically change your business.

Whether you’re a locally based SME or a global enterprise, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not taping into the potential talent and idea within your organizations.

However, building an effective innovation framework isn’t as easy as copy-and-pasting someone else’s system. Gary Pisano from Harvard Business School explains this perfectly.

“There is no one system that fits all companies equally well or works under all circumstances. There is nothing wrong, of course, with learning from others, but it is a mistake to believe that what works for, say, Apple (today’s favorite innovator) is going to work for your organization. An explicit innovation strategy helps you design a system to match your specific competitive needs.”

The point of this guide is not to give you a one-size-fits-all model for innovation frameworks that we want you to follow to the T. Rather, we want to give you the basic tools, knowledge, and structure that you can use to adapt to your business’s unique context.

Starting your Innovation Framework: Identify the type of innovation

Before building your framework, it may be useful to first identify the type of innovation you want to pursue. This list, though not exhaustitive, comprises of the four most common types of innovations that can get you started.

Incremental Innovation

Incremental innovation utilizes existing technology to innovate through design changes to and enhancing features of existing products and market. It is one of the most widely used frameworks as it creates cases of minimal risk and resistance for both employees and customers.

Though revolutionary and ground-breaking innovation can be valuable and enticing, it is not always the best form of innovation if it leads your stakeholders becoming disconnecting due to the extreme changes. The sad truth is most people hate change. Slow and steady change gives people the time of learn, adapt, and grow with changes as they go.

Incremental innovation also gives organizations the opportunity to incrementally add unique features to their products and services while testing out the waters for their effectiveness and reception. Small improvements and updates not only add value but build expectation for customers. It also makes employees more receptive towards slower but constant change.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation aims to create a new value network through new products and services that disrupt already established markets or by creating completely new ones.

Disruptive innovation can often be costly and high risk as they usually do not directly appeal to the needs and preferences of mainstream customers in the beginning. However, once they have solidified their value to customers, they become the benchmark previously leading competitors must catch up with.

Established organizations often focus on already proven business models rather than disrupting the market as a whole. As a result, market disruptors are often new entrants to the market. This is a unique opportunity for businesses to overhaul the market order if they have an innovation strong enough to tackle the established norm. If you have a ground-breaking and market-shaking product or service, this might be the approach to use.

You’re definitely not alone in taking this approach either. We are in the age of disruption where ‘market disruptors’ is becoming common vocabulary. We’ve witnessed Uber and ride-sharing apps tackle the taxi industry. We’ve seen Airbnb change the definition of holiday accommodation. We’ve watched Amazon disrupt just about everyone. To avoid being disrupted, you might just have to become one yourself.

Architectural Innovation

Architectural innovation takes existing solutions from other markets and modifies them for a completely new market. This type of innovation produces a new product by rearranging current designs with existing products in new ways. However, instead of completely disrupting the market, it makes a product which is both innovative and fully supported by the market.

Architectural innovation has a lower risk than the disruptive innovation approach as it has less worries regarding profitability and capturing a completely new market. The trade-off falls in its inability to make new networks, its dependency on continual sustained innovation and its inevitable cap once products become too expensive for customers.

This approach is useful for shorter to medium term innovation and it mainly develops a way for a business to sustain their position in the market.

Radical Innovation

Radical innovation takes disruptive innovation a step further. While disruptive innovations still work within the existing logic of the current market, albeit with a different and unique position – radical innovation aims to create both a revolutionary product and business model at the same time.

This type of innovation aims to make solutions for problems we may not have known existed and can transform not only markets, but entire economies. These innovations are often met with much resistance in the beginning, but once they take off, form the foundations of a completely new era of innovation.

Radical innovations may be rare, but they are becoming more frequent in more recent times. Computers and the Internet were once radical innovations that now form the foundations of current everyday life. This current era has a whole wave of radical innovations on the horizon from artificial intelligence to blockchain technology. who knows if your innovation may be included in that wave.

6 steps to build a successful Innovation Framework

Once you’ve identified your innovation focus, it’s time to start building your innovation framework. Here’s the six steps you should be hitting to make sure you are building an effective innovation framework.

Step one: Set your framework’s goals

An innovation framework is all about coordinating resources, talent, tools and processes to harness ideas that align with the business strategies. But there’s no point in building a whole framework if you don’t have clear goals as the foundations.

There are three main goals for an innovation framework:

  • To positively impact organizational culture by fostering cultures of collaboration, innovation, and openness.
  • To increase employee engagement throughout the innovation process and build a future-oriented mindset.
  • To generate and evaluate a continual stream of ideas that have a positive impact on the business.

You can add on to or further refine these goals to suit your business context. However, as you build on the other steps, make sure to not loose sight of the foundational goals that should inform the innovation framework and strategy.

Step two: Get your employees on-board

Don’t get ahead of yourself and make a whole idea management platform to have no one actually use it. You could have the best platform but without proper incentives, encouragement, and organizational pushes to share and create ideas, it will simply stay as a pretty accessory.

This is the behind-the-scenes cultural tactics that must be applied before any structural features can be made.  Start building opportunities for people to slowly start sharing their ideas and show that those ideas are being valued. A company group chat or monthly gathering can start making employees more open to innovation and build the culture that will allow the framework to be as effective as possible.

Step three: Build an Idea Management Tool

An idea management tool is an interactive platform that effectively gathers, tracks, and gives feedback for ideas and their progress. An effective idea management tool must focus on transparency to increase participation and investment from employees.

All ideas should have equal opportunity to be reviewed and have the capacity for feedback. If an idea progresses further, the employee should be notified if any new comments are made or new input is required. The tool can also be a means for social collaboration where employees from different divisions and with different skillsets can help each other build on ideas. This tool helps filter the high-potential ideas and allows for the proper resources to be allocated to them.

Step four: Set an innovation focus

You don’t want all your employees to suddenly bombard you with ideas from every direction. You want to gather ideas that address a current or potential problem your business faces. To ensure both the employees and the reviewers time is not being wasted by filtering through endless ideas, having an innovation focus topic helps direct talent to the most critical problems first.

Innovation campaigns could be a useful tool as they can give a whole information package on the background, scope and duration of the problem to make sure ideas are focused and on the same page. Additionally, multiple campaigns can be made for multiple problems. Giving employees a clearer focus increases the probability of an idea being adopted.

Step five: Manage your innovation framework backends

You’ve managed to gather some amazing ideas from your employees, but not all of them are actionable right away. Be it a matter of timing, resources or further development, you want to make sure you don’t loose or forget any potential ground-breaking ideas.

Make sure there is a proper process that sorts, manages and constantly monitors already existing ideas so they are ready to hit the ground running when the opportunity calls for them.

Backend management is not limited to ideas that succeed. Giving feedback to unsuccessful ideas is important as it encourages employees to be constantly developing their ideas and fosters a positive culture that keeps employees generating more ideas.

Step six: Don’t forget to celebrate success

Make sure you take time to truly celebrate and acknowledge successful ideas. Innovation frameworks help make it easier to identify global contributions across all levels of the business. Letting people see how ideas are turned into successful tangible strategies builds a culture of innovation and accountability.

One of the greatest rewards of being an innovator is having your idea acknowledged and created. Make that feeling constant and addictive so the idea train keeps rolling!

Now you’ve got the foundations to get started on building an innovation framework for your business. If you want to go deeper, we made a post exploring the 10 types of innovation framework you should read.

As we mentioned, this guide is not meant to be your be-all and end-all for innovation frameworks and we encourage you to adapt these tips to suit your business and its context.

To help you out, we’ve made a free checklist guide filled with useful templates and questions that make these tips on building innovation frameworks directly applicable to your business. Be sure to check out our blog to get more useful insight on innovation management.

Bill Allars

Bill Allars

Bill is a PMO Consultant with over 20+ years experience.

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