The M.I.T. published on April 23, 2014 a research by Prof. P. J. Williamson & Eden Yin who found that Chinese companies are focusing on reducing the time and the cost of innovations rather than to try to come up with technological breakthroughs. Of course, challenges from China need to be taken seriously. But first, let us understand what we are talking about.
In my “The Innovative Enterprise” I pointed out that a chasm separates the best, the ones that manage proficiently a portfolio of innovations, from the rest that only come up with sparse and sporadic innovations. (1) The best build and constantly improve their innovation-capabilities, thus they become serial innovators. The rest merely rely on haphazard and never get strategically and organizationally organized so as to develop leading edge innovation-capabilities. (2)
The proficient management of an innovation-portfolio normally focuses on the evolutionary innovations, and it supports the synergies between the constant flow of evolutionary innovations, and the occasional revolutionary innovations. The evolutionary innovations feature many different projects, however, the business-practices tend to be very similar. Thusly, the systematic and the stimulating characteristics of the innovation-processes can be analyzed, optimized, and constantly improved on.
This is what we did starting in the 70s when we introduced Total Quality Management to improve the processes in the manufacturing. (3) The toolbox of techniques enabled Japanese manufacturers to reduce the introduction of a new car model to 2 ½ years while it generally took their American and European competitors 5-6 years to bring the new model in their showrooms.
By now, TQM is widely applied in the manufacturing environment. Techniques like business process reengineering (4) quality function deployment (5) just in time should be well known as well as the huge kit of tools concerning working with ideas, working with numbers, and working with teams. (6) It is true that the service sector has lagged behind the manufacturing sector in terms of the implementation of TQM. However, both sectors have also introduced Six Sigma to rationalize the most important processes.
Of course, the management of processes must be combined with the management of the talents. To that effect, in my aforementioned book, I show the different types of talents needed to power the 4 steps of innovation-projects. Let me just recall these 4 steps, and cursorily point out how policy, people, and processes synergize. (1)
-1- The ideation step is powered by the inventive attitudes and pragmatic aptitudes of the innovators. This step must be supported by policy although this may not be available at the very start. The processes are creative processes, and there are well knows creativity tools. (7)
-2- The investigation and improvement step needs to check the reliability of the information, the feasibility, and the strategic importance of the project conceived by the ideation step. Here again, the policy and the processes can be to some extent standardized, and entrusted to competent but neutral people.
-3- The imagination and testing step has to find the best way to bring the project to market, maximize the returns and the synergies with the other projects. Here again, the policy, the people, the processes can be to some extent standardized.
-4- The implementation and initiatives step follows established practices.
Of course, the practices on each and on all of these 4 steps must be reviewed and reformed as appropriate. So, what some Chinese companies are doing and Western serial innovators are also doing is to apply to innovation some of the principles and practices that are proven and applied in the manufacturing sector. Of course, the industrialization of innovation-projects is reserved to organizations that have built innovation-capabilities, that know how to manage mental as well as material processes, and who are familiar with TQM.
-1- W. A. Sussland “The Innovative Enterprise” second edition Create Space & Kindle 2014
-2- W. A. Sussland “The virtuous cycle of innovation” paper # 12 on my site
-3- S. Shiba & Co. “A New American TQM” Productivity 1993
-4- G. H. Watson “Business Systems Engineering” Wiley 1994
-5- Bob King “Better Design in Half the Time” 1989 Goal/Qpc
-6- M. Brassard & D. Ritter “The Memory Jogger II” Goal/Qpc
-7- M. Brassard & D. Ritter “Creativity Tools” Goal/Qpc