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How to start an innovation program?
Innovation program

How to start an innovation program?

Hugo’s take on why it is much harder to start an innovation program than starting an agile or digital transformation. 

The past months, I’ve been talking to many large enterprises about innovation. As Ekipa, we’ve started helping people with our ‘agile innovation’ programs.I started Ekipa 3 years ago in Indonesia. Our first focus was on Agile. The past years we’ve trained and coached thousands of people in Jakarta. The natural evolution of our service is Innovation. Here’s how I see the relationship between agile and innovation:

Agile aims mainly at ‘changing the way people work’. Mostly ‘BAU’ (business as usual) processes are changed from a traditional waterfall approach to iterative, cross functional ways of working. Usually this starts in the IT department. The second pillar is a digital roadmap. This is usually created top down: companies hire one of the big consultancies to define what digital products are needed in the upcoming years. For the execution of these roadmaps, we can build on the agile teams we’ve already set up. 

The third pillar is innovation. This can come from many sources: bottom up improvement of processes/services, from outside startup collaboration, by launching internal startup programs, etc. Once we have agile teams and we’ve managed to spread the agile way of working across departments, we have a strong basis to stimulate innovation. 

One thing I have learned the past months is this: it is much harder to start an innovation program than starting an agile or digital transformation. 

The agile transformation is normally started in the IT department. People there all see the need to work in iterations and producing value every 2-3 weeks. The driver can be an IT head or the CIO. 

A digital transformation is also clear: nobody in a traditional organisation today would dispute the need to become digital. It’s relatively easy to get support for ‘going digital’. Usually the same CIO or another C-level driver will be the captain for this transformation. The IT department builds these new digital products. 

But Innovation is much more intangible. What is Innovation is the first question. It can mean improving what we’re doing today (process). Or improving our products and services. It could also mean investing in startups. Or starting a corporate startup program. It can mean ‘gradual improvement’ or ‘breakthrough innovation’. 

Any new program or transformation starts with a driver. But where do we find that driver? Is it the CEO? The transformation office? The CIO? Because starting such program is a massive effort, we normally need a team. But who assembles the team and who will be in the team?

Once we have a team together, they need to learn what the program will do. What areas will the program include? How do we get everything in place to run a corporate innovation program

What I have also observed is: even if you find some people who can drive the innovation efforts, the whole organisation starts working against him. People already doing innovation in their department see it as a threat. His boss sees it as a problem, because he wants the guy to do what he was hired for. The legal department starts complaining because we need to change contracts. The HR department doesn’t want to add more training programs to their curriculum (unless their boss gets convinced or ordered from above first). 

My conclusion is this: to get an innovation program started, you need an entrepreneur. What does an entrepreneur do? He has a vision. And he works day and night to get that vision to reality. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at him, he’ll find ways to get around it. Every no makes his resolve bigger. Every setback stimulates his resourcefulness The big challenge is to find that entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Not only that; in a large enterprise you need an entrepreneur who’s political savvy and knows where to find the right people and resources. 

Once you’ve found the entrepreneur, he needs to get the power to start an innovation program. He needs resources to make it happen; to first assemble a team to help him shape the program. Then to start executing the different elements of the innovation program. Find a couple of pilot innovations to prove things can work. 

One of the best cases for innovation in Indonesia that I’ve come across this year is Telkom. 3 years ago, Telkom started firing all the innovation engines at the same time. They started Indigo: an incubator to incubate external startups. With their digital lounges, they also provide them a place to work from across Indonesia. They also started a digital division to run larger digital transformation projects. And they started Amoeba, a corporate startup program, which has already created over 100 startups. 

If you’re an entrepreneur I describe in this article and you’re scratching your head on how to start or how to scale your innovation program, please ping me for a cup of coffee. hugo@ekipa.co

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