The Best Mix When Building a Digital Innovation Team
To become innovative, companies need the right mix of people at different levels, disciplines, and functions, not only on the digital innovation teams themselves, but also in the departments that interface with them and the executive roles that set the corporate strategy. Corporate innovation requires a synthesis of communicators, technologists, and strategists that will lead the digital transformation. While the objectives of the innovation team will change based on the type, size, and industry of the company, what doesn’t change is the core ingredients that will together become the driving force of innovation.
The Innovation Mix
According to the Harvard Business Review, “High-performing teams spend over 25% more time focusing the enterprise than their lower-performing peers. That time is spent establishing financial and operational metrics, aligning goals with the overarching strategy, allocating resources, and reviewing key metrics.”
Strategic thinking is crucial to innovation teams. Ideally, innovation will come down from the executive realm with ample support and resources. Even better, the corporate will hire strategists with exposure to innovation programs and a deep understanding of your industry and competitors. They may not exist, in which case you will have to cultivate your own.
When it comes to innovation, it is important to have product experts on board who intimately understand your offering and already have a clear vision for how to improve it, whether it’s an iteration on an existing product or an entirely new way to solve a customer problem and create a competitive advantage. The product experts on your innovation team will be the practical team members with real-world experience who can identify gaps and opportunities and be the voice of your customer.
Of course, no innovation team is complete without technologists who have technical expertise of architecture, product lifecycles, and innovation methodologies and advocate best practices. They can bring unprecedented efficiencies to the corporate by advancing techniques such as agile development while introducing data-driven decision making and rapid experimentation. Whether they’re Senior Architects or Engineers, you should look for extensive prototyping or agile development experience.
Any innovation team needs senior program managers who can drive projects forward, lead multiple initiates simultaneously, and facilitate digital transformation. The first program manager we’re talking about, of course, is the CEO, who mind as well be the company’s Chief Innovation Officer, followed by the executive team and managerial roles in the innovation team.
Say you come across patentable solutions with high potential, who do you look to? Your team’s IP experts. It is best if they’re internal to your company but if you’re not quite there, make sure to have a IP expert on retainer who can help you spot patentability and potential competitive advantages.
Don’t forget that your innovation team needs innovation advocates who are at heart excellent communicators who can identify success stories, build morale, and maintain confidence in the innovation program itself and its strategic momentum. Of course, it’s best if the innovation advocate and the program manager are one and the same, but innovation advocates throughout the ranks of the innovation team can have a hugely positive effect on overall achievement.
Innovation Process Experts
Innovation Process Experts are specialists in development frameworks, methodologies and tools. They can educate your teams about agile engineering, rapid prototyping, experimentation, design thinking, and related methodologies and practices; they will facilitate and drive workshops, ideation sessions and the practical aspects of day-to-day innovation. If it outside your budget to hire internally, innovation process experts can also be hired as consultants.
Some companies build multi-disciplinary, flex innovation teams from existing employees. Others build standalone teams that collaborate with outside departments. Either way, it is important that innovation teams are exposed to the entirety of the company, not to mention outside service providers and consultants, to maximize information and expertise sharing. According to a Nielsen study, concepts created by a combination of teams and collaborators resulted in 18% better performance than those generated by teams with three or fewer functions represented. It reduces the risk of the innovation team isolating itself while increasing the innovation IQ of the rest of the company. It’s all the more reason why communication is key.
Synthesis of the Team
While the size and synthesis of your innovation team will depend on your industry, size, and strategic mission, it will ultimately need to right balance of three elements: strategy, execution, and communication. Unlike other departments, it will be multidisciplinary and it will need top performers. That’s because the work of the innovation team isn’t easy. It involves connecting theoretical notions of innovation with practical, commercial results.
Your ‘innovation team’ will need a core of technologists who are able to rapidly execute and build prototypes and proof of concepts while measuring the success and properly packaging the results. But, to get it done, what it really comes down to is creative people who are passionate about delivering unique solutions to challenging problems. No matter what, you’ll need risk-takers and self-starters who are ambitious professionals that combine technical and commercial acumen.
Melika Nouri is the Marketing & Communications Manager at Kloeckner Metals. Melika holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing from Kennesaw State University. She previously worked in the technology industry at Hewlett Packard Enterprise as part of their global MarCom team but is very eager to take on steel!