Innovation Programs Run Off People, Not Processes

When I started Frameplay, my stated goal was to help mid-sized companies establish their own internal innovation programs.

A somewhat ambitious goal..

One of the main factors of success for the Innovation program I developed at ReadyTalk was our internal champion, David Chao.

Although we’d already been talking about the importance of innovation and even were incubating our own lean startup team, we were only dipping our toe in the water.

It took a high level champion getting hired to really make the case for the funding needed to move things forward.

Of course, hiring Frameplay means a company is committed to investing in innovation. But there’s still a huge hurdle to overcome with an outsourced partner coming in to help things get set up.

Just like a great new product idea can’t be just thrown over the fence for an engineering team to pick up and foster, neither can something like an innovation program.

The way we handled it at ReadyTalk was to have a small dedicated team: we were focused on evangelizing approaches, testing out new ideas and sharing our findings. Part of our responsibility was also including teammates from across the organization, to grow the influence and efficacy of the program.

When I think about how best to help another team roll out their own program, I imagine this would include a coaching aspect in addition to just introducing tools and techniques.

At ReadyTalk, I was told more than once that they were lucky they had me, or the program wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. There’s a personality and skillset that increases the likelihood of success of a program like this, so a company may find they either need to hire the right person, or commit to training someone into this role.

Obviously, it’s different if you’re hiring someone to establish a program versus maintain it. Just like it’s different if you’re working on a startup versus an established product. As we were figuring things out, there was a lot of *ahem* learning. Trying things out. Seeing what worked for the stakeholders and other interested parties across the organization, and making adjustments.

We actually honed in on some great operating procedures pretty quickly. Our small-but-mighty team (me, one full-time Consumer Insights Analyst, two summer MBA interns, plus three engineers on a closely-aligned R&D team) were passionate about what we were doing.

I’d say we had a ‘healthy tension’ between what I felt we were responsible for delivering, and how much time we spent trying to give opportunities to others from across the organization.

But take those same processes and tools to another organization, would you have the same success? Highly unlikely. Culture matters. People matter. So as I look to help organizations with establishing their own innovation practices, I know it’ll be much more nuanced than handing over a few books and resource lists, if they’re truly committed to succeeding.

Andrea Hill is the principal consultant at Frameplay. Frameplay is an innovation consultancy that helps companies become more customer-focused and thrive in a rapidly changing world. We do this by providing best practices, actionable insights and training without the price tag of those bigger ‘digital transformation’ consulting firms. Learn more at frameplay.co

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.