Innovate Your Innovation Process

innovateAre you a small to mid-sized (SME) manufacturing company with a singular focus on understanding your customer needs, providing superior products to meet those needs and growing your revenue and earnings? It goes without saying that for every company, these goals should and do consume significant management bandwidth. The problem is that most organizations become too inwardly focused (1). They do not consider what might be happening outside their company, and even beyond their industry, and leverage that knowledge to create new customer value. This has driven the popularity of the concept of “open innovation”. Maybe we should extend the concept of open innovation to other important aspects of a business such as the innovation management process. Why not, in other words, “innovate your innovation process” by learning from others?

For many small companies and start-ups with revenue of about $10-50 M in revenue for instance, there may not even be any explicit process in place for managing innovation. The company is focusing all its attention on developing products and services, not worrying about the actual innovation process itself. If you are such a company, the following statements might resonate:

“We don’t have time for a process. We are too busy innovating and a process will slow us down.”

 “Having a process is only necessary for large companies. Small companies don’t need to worry about that.”

 “Having a process implies bureaucracy typical of big companies. We need to be more flexible.”

 “Our company is informal and we want to keep it that way. It is why we have been successful.”

All very rational thoughts, but whether you realize it or not, you do have a process. It just may not be explicit and will continue to grow, albeit haphazardly and without any forethought, as your business grows. At some point you will suddenly realize that something has to change and that the lack of any coherent process is leading to sub-optimum business performance. The question will be: is it already too late?

For mid-sized companies, say between about $50-200 M, you may in fact have a process, but at some point, it will hinder future growth unless the process grows in sophistication so that innovation is institutionalized. For many mid-sized companies, relying on one or two key persons severely limits effective decision making.

benefitsThere are many benefits to “innovating your innovation process” by looking outside the four walls of your business (2). A recent survey conducted by Planview points out that: “…operationalizing innovation does not crush creativity; rather it can encourage more calculated risk taking with a strong set of checks and balances based on data (and some gut).” (3) In another survey (4), companies who have a formalized innovation management system were almost twice as likely to say their innovation strategy delivers competitive advantage. And finally, in a survey conducted by the Product Development Management Association (5), companies considered “best” utilize formal processes to a higher degree than the “rest”.

While you might agree there are many benefits to innovating on your process, where do you start? What are the key elements that you should focus on? An excellent place to start is by reading Robert’s Rules of Innovation by Robert Brands (6). This is a 10-step program to help improve your innovation management system.

Want to learn more about how to “innovate your innovation process”? Join us for complimentary webinars where the critical elements of an innovation management system appropriate for small to mid-sized manufacturing companies, as illustrated in Robert’s Rules of Innovation will be explored, as well as resources for further learning.


  1. See this article: Looking Beyond Your “Four Walls” and Looking Beyond Your “Four Walls”: Revisited.
  2. See this whitepaper: Why Small Companies Need a New Product Development (NPD) Process.
  3. Fourth Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study. Commissioned by Planview and conducted by Appleseed Partners and OpenSky Research. 2013.
  4. Accenture Study: Innovation Efforts Falling Short Despite Increased Investment. May 2013.
  5. For a review of this survey, see: Markham, Stephen K. and Lee, Hyunjung. 2013. Product Development and Management Association’s 2012 Comparative Performance Assessment Study. Journal of Product Innovation Management 30(3):408-429
  6. Robert F. Brands, Robert’s Rules of Innovation. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010); also see

New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. We specialize in small to mid-sized companies that manufacture highly engineered products. Contact us today about how we might help you!

Specialties: NPD consultants, new product development consulting, developing new products, new product development seminars, small business consulting, new product development expert, product development process, new product development strategies, integrating NPD for mergers & acquisitions, organizing for innovation, management role in NPD, project risk analysis, innovation management

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