In earlier blogs, we discussed how to survive and succeed on the road less traveled. The primary lesson from that investigation was that successful innovators seek out problems and then assemble the team to solve them.

Next, we established why a systematic approach to executing innovative ideas is more important than the ideas themselves. What makes innovation successful is NOT just great ideas. It takes a strategic approach that starts with an aligned vision, clear intent, flexibility and a defined goal. This creates an environment that supports innovation and disruption, which is critical in corporations as traditional roles and responsibilities will be challenged. A repeatable process for innovation separates market leaders from followers.

The first step in that systematic approach to practical innovation is motivating your team and uniting them around a singular vision. A unified team maximizes the probability of success. Today, I am going to lay out the nuts and bolts of how to make that happen. As team lead, you will unite your team around the innovative vision driving your next project. The goal is to give you a clear guide to the first step in corporate innovation breakthrough.

Alignment Vision with Senior Decision Maker

Any innovation project begins with goal alignment. It is nearly impossible to be successful without it. If your project is aligned with the goals of your business from the start, senior decision makers will act as de facto sponsors. They will back projects that are as committed as they are to the long-term viability of the enterprise. Without high-level buy-in, it’s unlikely there will be enough runway to see the project through. By “buy-in,” what I’m really saying is that senior management must be prepared for a commitment of sufficient time and money.

Recognize that all new ideas, no matter how good they are, inherently challenge the current order. This can be a source of conflict because possibilities for future business often appears to compete with the existing business. Growth means risk, and risk makes people nervous. If your innovative project seems to conflict with the company’s core business or if top managers are not incentivized to support these investments, the project will wither and die.

To prevent this, whoever is leading the greater innovation effort, should report to a senior decision maker in the C-Suite who is committed to the clearly defined purpose of the individual projects. Even the best innovations are unlikely to succeed without that high-level buy-in.

Core Ideology and Intention Defined

When looking for avenues for innovation, start from designs that complement your company’s core business model. Clearly define what is intended of the investments that are being made. Innovative projects are defined by time and risk. Ultimately, your team is investing in the future. Strategize for where you want the company to be in six months, two years, five years, etc. Otherwise, you could commit to innovative ideas that don’t align with the company’s future.

In many cases, an innovative project must be broken down into sub-projects handled by subject matter experts. If this is necessary, be aware that miscommunications between sub-groups are frequently at fault in project failures. The Project Management Institute reported that 56 percent of project failures are due to ineffective communications alone. Keep the lines of communication clear.

Innovation means different things to different groups. Define what it means to your team based on what opportunities are out there. Create your team’s intention around that. Ultimately, be clear on what a successful project will look like when it comes to fruition.

Identify Set of Assumptions to Experiment Against

Understand that there is a chance your innovation project may not succeed. That’s OK. There is wisdom and success in the “Fail Fast, Fail Often” strategy as long as you learn fast and often from it. Talk about the best practices and fall back on the intention to see why this project needs to be followed through on, whether it fails or not. Build in flexibility to make changes or pivots in the execution plan. Many times, other ideas or data will be revealed that can guide future development.

Customer feedback and data will help to direct the pace of change. Invest in increasing value for your consumers and base your decisions on that feedback. Treat an innovation project like a science experiment. Prove the hypothesis right with the set of assumptions and ability to execute.

Begin With the End in Mind for Success

After executives sign off, secure agreement on the end goal of this project. There will be twists and turns along the way, but the end goal must be clearly defined. You can recalibrate along the way and still keep your eyes on the road map to your destination.

Innovation is hard under the best of circumstances. It requires vision, intention, alignment, core ideologies, and more. Failure does not signal that your innovation process is broken. It may need to be adjusted with facts you learn on the way. Develop your company’s own set of best practices that are unique.

Keep your team concentrated on your end goal. Rely on your innovation process to keep everyone on the path to continuous improvement. Always remember: A clear vision, plus shared intention equals the framework of successful innovation.

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