Rapid innovation requires an effective innovation process. “The process of innovation is a rhythm of search and selection, exploration and synthesis, cycles of divergent thinking followed by convergence”.3
There are many parts of the whole field of innovation: strategy innovation, new product development, creative approaches to problem solving, idea management, suggestion systems, etc. All of these components are important. “Yet approaching them piecemeal will bring piecemeal results… These seemingly disparate issues must be integrated into a single overarching strategy if they are to be mobilized in the quest for growth.”6 In this new era of systemic innovation, you must design your firm’s innovation process holistically.
The Traditional Phase-Gate Model
Born in heavy manufacturing, the phase-gate approach is the oldest and by far the most common innovation paradigm in the world. It breaks innovation into a series of sequential phases, with gates that must be cleared before you can proceed to the next phase. Ideally, the criteria for passing through each gate and the person (“gatekeeper”) who decides whether the criteria have been met are clearly defined beforehand. The project progressively gains maturity, which is tested at each gate until completion. The gates provide a clear and distinct mechanism to ask and answer the question, should we continue? Driven by the need to reduce the risk of change when ordering expensive tools with long lead times, the phase-gate model’s hallmark is an early “design freeze” that creates a stable target for the reminder of the innovation process
The traditional phase-gate model has many weaknesses
and works well only when:
- the time required to innovate is shorter than the rate of change in the business environment
- the quality, reliability, and safety requirements are critical
- a company has never had a defined innovation process and can use the phase-gate paradigm as a good first step to stabilize innovation before trying to speed it up.
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