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Innovation Workflow: Guiding Teams through the Innovation Lifecycle

While creating with unlimited time and resources sounds like an inventor’s dream, constraints are actually good for creativity. Moving through the innovation lifecycle with a structured workflow keeps teams engaged and accountable. Your innovation workflow should closely mirror the cyclical nature of your company’s innovation lifecycle with steps that guide researchers, engineers, and scientists, as well as other stakeholders, through measurable milestones. 

1. Define the Problem

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t really know what it is. Having a clear understanding of what product, process, or customer behavior you’re looking to improve is key to actually improving it. Depending on the scope of the problem, the results of this step may impact who is involved throughout the entire innovation process.

Defining the problem also allows AI to play a role in the coming steps. Artificial intelligence works best within a set of relevant rules. 

2. Identify Solutions

Unfortunately, “72 percent of companies allow innovations to languish because there is no formalized process or organizational home for such initiatives.” A formal ideation process can be extremely helpful when gathering potential solutions to the problem at hand. This ensures all of the right people and tools are involved, and that any and all promising ideas are shared with people who can move them through the innovation lifecycle. 

Finding the right ideation framework can take time. Once it’s developed and proven, ensure everyone knows how to implement it. 

Once there are promising concepts to consider, elaborate on them with clear documentation. This can be informal at first, as you gather information from the original creator, relevant research, other similar ideas, and supporting figures. The information will later be presented more formally in an invention disclosure.

3. Evaluate and Develop Ideas

Not every idea that seems viable during the ideation phase will be a usable solution. This part of the innovation workflow is used to evaluate ideas and prioritize them based on a number of factors your business finds valuable, including novelty, available resources, and return on investment. Depending on how your business operates and allocates funds for research, you may need to gain support from additional stakeholders at this point for further R&D on a specific idea.

4. Implement a Solution

Once your most promising idea is selected and fully developed, it’s time to use it to solve the problem you defined in the very first step of the innovation workflow. At this point, you’ll want to protect your new intellectual property with a patent or other method of IP protection. It’s also time to involve other business functions, including manufacturing, logistics, and sales and marketing. These teams will take your novel solution to market for monetization.

5. Scale and Streamline

Very few products or processes are perfect on the day they hit the market. There will likely be room for incremental improvements in order to maximize the ROI your company sees from your innovation. As technology and consumer behavior change, it will again be time for disruptive innovation. Both of these situations will send you back to the beginning of the innovation lifecycle, and it will be time to start your innovation workflow again.