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Business Creativity & Innovation

Innovation – how long is a piece of string?

This is a question that children and parents often ask each other when playing and is of course a trick question. Why then do people ask the question ‘how long will my innovation project take’ when it too is a trick question? The reason it is a trick question is that rather like the piece of string we tend not to know where one (or both) ends are. Still, this is a question that I would like to answer, so that many of the SME owners can at least have an attempt at creating a budget for next year.
Here I am concerned with an innovation project run in isolation, not several running concurrently or an ongoing rolling programme. First of all let us identify the phases that the project must go through along with the number of people involved.

  • Startup
  • Audit
  • Setup and training
  • Research and idea generation
  • Testing and refining (including prototyping) if necessary
  • Implementation (possibly pre production if manufacturing)
  • Roll out

These seven phases can be further broken down or amalgamated as necessary. They outline a process for taking stock, gaining support and laying down rules before taking a hard look at your current starting point. You will need some training and development as you are about to enter into areas that you might not have been before. Have you often wondered why brainstorming works with and external facilitator but not with your own team?

The period of research and generating ideas is one that I term the ‘Ideas Lab’. It is a period of intense activity but one where the greatest number of results are observed. Finally we come to the tough bit, actually turing ideas into reality so that the boss can see he has not been wasting his money.

If you are in a mature (as opposed to startup) business then such a cycle is likely to take 12-14 weeks to get to the point where you are ready to launch a new product or service. This gives business owners an idea of how long resources need to be committed for. Now here comes the really big problem, how many resources?

As a rule of thumb you might need some full or part time external help but you will need some internal liaison or project management and a number of people that cover all of the functional area within your company (marketing, sales, production, stores, finance) and possibly at different levels. This could easily be 6-15 people in a medium sized company but could be only 2 or 3 in a much smaller business.

So now you know you might need 6-15 people for around 12-14 weeks and some equipment/office space. This will give a very rough ‘finger in the air’ estimate, enough for you to be able to answer the question ‘is this worth doing?’ In today’s economic climate you may very well be trying to decide the future of your business.

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