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Bringing Innovation to the Entire Organization

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When you consider innovation efforts in your organization do you struggle with creating solutions that go beyond problem-solving?

Do you have a hard time getting commitment and buy-in across the organization for new ideas and solutions? And, are your internal customers dictating requirements and desires to project leads without consideration of do-ability? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time for a new approach to Innovation.

Innovation at a Glance

The current paradigm for innovation has long focused on generating creative solutions that remove the external customer’s dissatisfaction with a current system. However, for organizations, this ‘system’ includes both internal and external products, services and processes and in today’s competitive economic world focus needs to be placed on both internal and external innovation to position the organization to grow competitively.

Go Beyond Problem-Solving


Problem-solving is bringing a system back to its original, “unbroken” state. Something is working, and then there is a “problem” with it and its no longer working as it did before. Problem-solving is reestablishing that initial working state. Innovation is taking the system into new, uncharted territory. Out of the ‘original state’ and ‘into the future’.

Innovation does not replace problem-solving. Problem-solving is a critical process for organizations and needed to do just what it is designed to do: return something to its working state to achieve the “expected state’. In short-term working situations, problem-solving ensures the day to day operations of the organization are running. Innovation takes that system and the organization past the ‘expected state’ to achieve what we call the ‘desired state’ that not only solves the originating issue (addresses the need) but incorporates future vision into the solution.

To ensure we focus on innovation at the right level, we break it down into four categories: minor and major improvements, inventions, and reinventions (such as re-engineering). When approaching each type of innovation, teams use different tool sets but the process is the same – starting with finding the best possible solution (a new future state) that can also be funded and adopted. (We consider adoption as part of the equation when determining the best possible solution, because innovation that sits on the shelf is, by definition, not an innovation at all.)

The MMI Innovation Process

innovation process

The MMI Innovation Process is a four-phase iterative process for defining solutions that are creative and adoptable. Since every innovation effort is a team effort – the process used must be a collaborative team-based process. When considering innovation as a process, we want to ensure we change how innovation leaders and customers work together to innovate solutions that are in the best interest of the organization. The four phases of this process are defined below.

Gap Analysis

The team works with customers and stakeholders to understand the need that is driving the innovation and gain an understanding of any potential causes if driven by a problem and build understanding about the current and future system.

Solution Definition

The team uses the information gathered during Gap Analysis to identify the best solution a customer can adopt. The tools used help teams creatively combine information and ideas to generate potential solutions for consideration.

Solution Development

The team creates the selected solution and focuses on the adoption of that solution.

Solution Implementation

The team launches the solution and completes the acceptance of the innovation.

The Innovation Adoption Factor

When innovating, the identified solution does not always match what a customer desired at that initial onset of the process. However, if the process is done right, the solution will always move the organization to a desired future state. Because of this, an innovation process must properly address two sides of the innovation equation: Creation and Adoption.

Consider this: An invention without adoption is simply a really good idea that doesn’t generate revenue or improve effectiveness or efficiency for an organization. An innovation though is a creative invention, re-invention or improvement that is adopted and used by an end customer, resulting in increased revenue or lower cost that translates to improved profits or market share.

It is critical then that the innovation method used by an organization places the right amount of focus on both sides of the equation – creativity and adoption through the gap analysis and collaborative solution selection process during the first two phases of the innovation process and then maintain a creative eye while driving home and finalizing the adoption of a selected solution through solution assessment and launch activities.

Innovation from the Top Down

When an organization is ready to bring innovation to the entire organization, three things need to happen:

  1. Buy-in and commitment from top leaders that teams need time to innovate solutions. Without this commitment, teams are consistently battling dictated solutions from customers that are often a problem solution. The stage of solution definition needs focus so that when development efforts begin, teams aren’t re-thinking their plans after wasting precious resources.
  2. Customer engagement throughout the innovation process. The old paradigms in play often place the customer on the “customer is always right” pedestal. However, when focusing on internal innovation this doesn’t work. All it does it give the customer the ‘right’ to dictate a solution that isn’t necessarily doable or the best option for the organization.
  3. A standardized innovation process. From business process management to project management to technical process execution, standardization improves execution and efficiency across an organization. Innovation is no different. By standardizing the process of innovation, the organization can ensure that the two sides of innovation needed for success are covered – Creation and Adoption.

Cathy Cassidy

As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.