For large companies, ‘innovation’ seems to have an almost mystical character. Powerful yet often unwieldy corporate supertankers have noted the successes enjoyed by start-ups and want to benefit from their speedboat-like agility. In consequence many corporations start their own innovation units and programs, training courses, pitches and internal company start-ups with the overall aim to break down routine structures and hierarchies and create spaces for new and promising ideas.
Unfortunately, these initiatives often run into practical problems. Many innovation projects stumble on the hurdles of rigid structures and a lack of support, and fail in the end. Our innovation project at TÜV Rheinland gave us the perfect opportunity to see just how far we could make it ourselves. After a year with some ups and downs, we finally crossed the finish line: our group-wide internal translation platform ‘TÜV Translate’ is now available to all our staff. In this blog, we share our ten most important insights into moving from an idea to its implementation.
1. Create your own job
If you want to maximize your chances of success, make the project more fun for your team! Of all the things that boost wellbeing and positive feelings in day-to-day work, researchers have found that doing something meaningful and worthwhile is the most important motivational factor.
2. Identify allies and sponsors
Is there demand for your project? Will it be useful? A new tool will only suceed if it offers a clear benefit to the business. But even the best tool will be useless if no-one has heard about it. So it’s important to seek out allies, who believe in the project and your team’s ability to deliver. These allies will help to promote your project within the company, act as points of contact to experts and stakeholders, and sponsor your applications for financial and HR resources.
3. Make space – and use it
We have greatly appreciated our freedom at every stage of the project. It was clear from the beginning: the team alone drives the project forward and makes the decisions. It’s OK to fail, all work is agile, and core tasks must take second place in some cases. Giving your innovation team this kind of space lets it work without having to worry too much about company constraints.
4. Think positive – you are the champion of your project
There are more ways to measure value than productivity. For us it was of great help that we were allowed to follow our instincts, to experiment – and to argue the case for our idea’s cleverness. If others voice serious criticisms or you’re suddenly struck by self-doubt, never forget: You are the champions of your project! No one has spent so much time researching and integrating ideas or has a better idea of your innovation’s benefits than your own team.
5. Establish networks that transcend hierarchies and boundaries
The great thing about working in an agile project is the freedom to step outside the existing company hierarchies. What counts is project success – and that’s all down to the team! So roll up your sleeves, don’t hold back – start networking! Anyone team member can discuss the project with anybody in the company, no matter how high up or far away they are. It’s really beneficial to request a decision in person: this gives you immediate feedback.
6. Trust in your team
As the project progressed, we realized that the constructive and agile cooperation within our project team helped us to establish common ground and mutual respect. That was remarkable since our only points of contact within the company were when we worked together on this one particular project. We learned: Trust among team members is a great factor to propel a project in the right direction!
7. Enjoy: The journey is your reward
Due to internal interdependencies and daily workloads it is often virtually impossible to stick to a strict timescale in an innovation project. That basically means, if IT has no free capacity, there’s nothing you can do about it. Or if an urgent client request your attention, they will certainly have priority. Fortunately our managers were supportive and appreciated that implementation may well take longer than originally planned. At the same time there should be a common understanding that the project cannot run forever and that it needs the right level of support to finalize it successfully.
8. To be patient or impatient?
Two important and effectively opposite traits are needed in any innovation project. While impatience is a virtue – wanting to push ahead improvement and innovation – the team also requires the patience to tackle tedious and detailed work; the patience to constantly inform developers and future users who are impatiently requesting the status quo of the new tool (itself a very positive thing). Foremost, team members have to be patient with themselves. Don’t lose heart when things come to a momentary halt. A good approach here is to assign ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ roles to team members. After all: everyone in your team will have their good days and bad days.
9. Plan in advance
The tool should obviously be more than a one-day wonder and live long beyond the hype of its go-live date. Remember that you need to think about the handover well in advance to secure resources in order to keep the service running or optimize its features once it is “out in the wild”.
10. Do good and talk about it
In the course of the project, we have learned about the importance of celebrating our successes and making sure our stakeholders are part of it. This creates a positive mood while showing what’s possible. And it also lets project sponsors take credit, which encourages them to support other projects.
Our project worked out well, we’re happy to say, and the second, expanded version of ‘TÜV Translate’ has just gone live. The platform is being used by many of our colleagues and the feedback we have received has been virtually all positive. We’re deligthed that Corporate IT has agreed to run it as a standard IT application.
And now – over to you! Did you recognize your own innovation projects in our tips? Or do you have other experiences you would like to share? We look forward to your feedback!