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Nurturing Innovation Productivity: Tips for R&D and Product Management

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Are you nurturing innovation productivity – not only via processes and systems but culture too? Here are some tips you can use as an R&D or Product Manager.

As an engineer by training, it would be easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that putting the right processes and systems in place is enough to drive gains in innovation productivity. Even more so because I’ve seen so many companies make big improvements that way.

I’d love to be able to report that all of the innovation gains I’ve helped companies make have stuck. But the truth is that a few haven’t. Why not? Because there’s a necessary condition required for those improvements to last – Committed leadership. Leadership is what drives your company’s culture and what it prioritizes. Without committed and effective leadership, the gains will erode over time.

Unfortunately, the changes that drive the biggest gains often run counter to conventional wisdom. One example would be putting a system in place to accelerate results by limiting the number of NPD projects running at the same time. Once your pipeline reaches its practical capacity, every project above that threshold pulls resources from the ones that you were already running. That makes everything take longer and adds to the chaos.  This behavior also drives bad multitasking. (More on the negatives of bad multitasking)

And it only takes one influential leader that doesn’t understand this approach to put those gains at risk. Especially early on. Maybe they want to make an impact and argue for adding a bunch of new projects to the pipeline without putting anything else on hold. They end up making an impact. But not one that drives growth. Here’s a quick video if you have any doubts about that. If that happens enough times,  cultural commitment to your processes and structures begins to erode.

Your Role as a Leader

While you may not control the culture, you can definitely influence it by setting the right example and becoming a positive force for change. As a leader, that’s one of your key responsibilities. And as an R&D or product manager, people in the organization look to you as part of the leadership team. You wield real influence – more than you might realize.

What You Can Do to Nurture Innovation Productivity?

  1. Embrace a simple, memorable mantra and share it widely: Do Better Projects & Do Projects Better. Then empower your team to push back against anything that works against those levers.
  2. Foster a culture of continuous improvement with a monthly Innovation Improvement Review. Charter a team to identify things getting in the way of better results -process, the systems that enable it, and the culture.   Publish the findings and improvements monthly and be transparent – warts and all.
  3. Be clear on the goal and the root causes you are attacking. That is also an essential part of getting initial buy-in.
  4. Train on the Why – Most training is on what to do and how to do it. Go beyond that and train people up and down the organization on why what you are implementing is critical to meeting your company’s goals. Why things won’t work as well without the changes.
  5. Identify critical leading metrics as part of your visual scoreboard.  Yes, the final results are lagging indicators like new product cash flow. But leading indicators help you head off misdirected changes and quickly embrace those that deliver. Here’s more on simple innovation metrics
  6. Embrace bifocal vision by making your NPD plans and results a key part of leadership discussions. When things get tough, it’s easy to focus solely on making this year’s numbers. But that’s a mistake that will cost you over time.
  7. Prioritize Gate Meetings.  Delivering new products on time is a critical skill. So what message does it send to constantly reschedule when leaders can’t make these meetings?

Most importantly, remember that nurturing innovation productivity isn’t a one-and-done. As with all positive changes, it’s about ceaselessly building momentum –  understanding the drivers of success and moving relentlessly in that direction. What Jim Collins referred to as the flywheel effect. 

Some Free Resources that Can Help

Interested in discussing how you could spin up for your innovation flywheel?  – Book a short zero-pressure chat.

And for building momentum in your new product pipeline don’t forget to check out these free downloadable resources.

Do Better Projects with the Clear Winner Accelerator

Do Projects Better with the Resource Accelerator

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