5 Don’ts of Innovation Centers in China with Interviews – Part 2

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Part 2: 5 Don’ts

In the first part of this article, we have explained 5 things that an innovation center should do to reap the benefits of digital transformation and achieve success in the digital era. The big 5 Dos include: identifying the special parameters, establishing the article of your innovation center, adopting proper innovation flow, hiring a dream team and responding quickly to failures and setbacks. In this part, WE ARE GOING TO EXPLORE DEEPER INTO THE PITFALLS MANY INNOVATION CENTERS COULD BE FACED WITH. We interviewed five prestigious innovation leaders from successful MNCs to share their firsthand innovation experiences and lessons.

1.Don’t Work without Alignment with the Business Units

Clarifying innovation strategies and aligning them with business is a big challenge for innovation centers. Many innovation centers are persistently carrying on pilot projects without identifying clear business value for companies.

As a painful lesson, efforts invested by innovation centers are very often considered futile by companies as the result cannot bring visible business value.

Xiaodan WU from Decathlon: THE IMPORTANCE OF ALIGNMENT BETWEEN INNOVATION CENTERS AND BUSINESS UNITS IS PRETTY OBVIOUS. For the company, ultimately, innovations have one core purpose and that is to augment our business units. Innovation centers should bring new ideas, insights and understanding of specific topics, and should empower our business units to walk out of their comfort zones. INNOVATION PROJECTS REQUIRE DIFFERENT PROJECT MANAGEMENT. We should aim to build a sustainable innovation loop for our organizational structures.

In the short term, internal and external resources can be mobilized through the innovation department. In the long term, you can go deeper into the business structure and truly empower business departments by doing PoCs and other methods.

2. Don’t Be Invisible

Some innovation centers are isolated from business pipelines. Even worse, some look like separate teams which have nothing to do with their corporate colleagues. INNOVATION TEAMS SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO SIT IN BUSINESS UNIT STAFF MEETINGS TO LEARN WHAT THE BUSINESS UNITS ARE UP AGAINST SO THAT THEY CAN BUILD BRIDGES WITH CLIENTS AND CONVERT DETRACTORS. Innovation teams should be able to understand what BUs need just as a consultant needs to understand their customers’ requests.

“Cooperation with BUs is important, but the two sides sometimes don’t share the same idea. Some BUs may not consider the innovation center as an independent entity. INNOVATION CENTERS NEED TO BUILD A SENSE OF IDENTITY,” says Yolanda Lyu from Porsche.

“In Porsche, some innovation workshops have been organized to inspire internal employees and initiate conversations with startups. Startups are also invited to deliver speeches and offer advice, which enabled open-minded BUs to establish cooperation with the startups.”

“THE INNOVATION CENTER MUST HAVE VERY CLEAR OBJECTIVES AND A VERY CLEAR POSITION ON THE COMPANY’S LANDSCAPE AND THE ADDED VALUE THAT THE COMPANY WILL ATTAIN. BE SPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN OFFER TO THE BUs SO THAT WHAT YOU PROVIDE IS VISIBLE.”

3. Don’t Make a Big Plan without Stepping Stones

A grand plan without measurable milestones is doomed to fail. Many innovation centers in China are eager to have “one big thing” that will get the attention of the company’s high-level managers and executives, and that will also win them respect from BUs. However, A MORE SUSTAINABLE APPROACH IS TO SET UP SEVERAL MILESTONES AND GRADUALLY ACHIEVE SMALL WINS THAT WILL LEAD THE INNOVATION CENTER TO A FINAL SUCCESS. Most corporate officials in leading positions don’t have enough patience to wait for the “big win” and when the “big win” is not coming soon enough people are starting to think that the innovation center is not doing anything.

AYO interviewed Etienne Ravaud from Airbus and Ben Huang who worked in Budweiser to share their points of view.

“I THINK THE FIRST STEP SHOULD BE TO SET UP A BIG PLAN EXPLAINING THE VISION AND HOW TO ACHIEVE THAT VISION GLOBALLY. Once this is in place, it would be indeed very important to work in agile mode with milestones and iterations to make sure there will be measurable progress and that projects can adjust and move forward if a specific approach is not delivering results,” says Etienne Ravaud from Airbus.

Etienne Ravaud also provided some insights on setting milestones under big goals, “For each project, we develop project planning schedules with a granularity of days or weeks. It is important to work concurrently i.e. to launch several actions in parallel and not work in steps waiting for one step to be finished before another one can be started.”

4. Don’t Ignore the Importance of General Project Management

Once you start an innovation project, you should be as accountable as you were when you came up with the idea. CONTINUOUS FOLLOW-UP AND SUPERVISION ARE NECESSARY, for there would be a lot of unexpected obstacles on your way. If some projects are just exhausting resources and money that could have been deployed elsewhere to get a more predictable outcome, BETTER STOP IT IMMEDIATELY.

“THE SUCCESS OF THE PROJECT IS INSEPARABLE FROM PLANNING, MANAGEMENT, AND EXECUTION. These three share the same importance. More attention should be paid to the stakeholders’ expectations and interest levels for carrying out an innovation project,” stresses Ben Huang.

As a strong believer in the importance of each and every step in the process, Ben Huang shares some tips from the perspective of stakeholders:

COMMUNICATE AND REVIEW MORE, AND LEARN TO MANAGE DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS’ EXPECTATIONS SO THAT THE PROJECT CAN BE FINALLY RECOGNIZED AND ENDORSED. Also, let BUs participate more. Stakeholders must be included and given appropriate positions in the project management. The tool ‘Stakeholder Metrics’ is highly recommended as it will help in the identification and selection of critical stakeholders for the project.

5. Don’t Have Inflated Expectations

You’ve located your innovation center in a shiny new space and you’ve recruited a dream team of passionate innovators. However, the results you’re hoping for are not coming in. WHAT’S GONE WRONG? The truth is that your innovation center may not be failing at all. Instead, it’s very likely that its successes are flying below the radar. IT’S THE ACCUMULATION OF SMALL WINS THAT ARE REQUIRED TO BRING A SUCCESSFUL DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION. You should value those small wins rather than dream about one big win that will solve everything. Inflated expectations that are not possible can ruin your confidence in innovation.

“Servier is a very pragmatic company. From our perspective, WE MUST FIRST IDENTIFY UNMET NEEDS AND THEN JUSTIFY THE GOAL OF SATISFYING THOSE NEEDS,” says Cynthia Wang from Servier WHDM. Also, Cynthia Wang suggests having step-by-step flows and measurable milestones in place while carrying out a relatively big project.

More than ever before, corporations are making every effort to keep up with customers’ ever-increasing expectations and fierce competitors that employ newest technologies. Careful consideration of the dos and don’ts that we’ve laid out in our article can empower corporations to build an innovation center that fosters energetic research, effective methods of facing challenges and giving clear answers to preconceived notions, and thorough exploration of potential products and services that will enable the center to survive and thrive.

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