There were over 200 different concepts for new products and services written on multi-colored post-its and stuck on every conceivable surface across the conference room in my client’s office. The innovation session had been going on for most of 2 days, yet the participants didn’t look tired. In fact, they were energized. But how on earth were we going to cut down over 200 ideas into a few that the company could bring forward?
Enter the Innovation Funnel Management Process, one of my favorite tools to help manage business process innovation. This is a process I’ve taught businesses to implement for more than 25 years, helping some of the world’s biggest businesses develop their innovation processes. The Innovation Funnel Management Process helps narrow down ideas from an innovation process or project into a realistic plan of action and next steps.
What is the Innovation Funnel Management Process, and what are best practices, tools and online templates for teams and organizations?
The Innovation Funnel Management Process requires that each idea be carefully and continuously compared against a series of rules, filters and criteria. Importantly, the Innovation Funnel Management Process is not limited to novel inventions or processes but also to current projects, which should constantly be re-evaluated against the same set of criteria to ensure that they are optimal.
Whether your team is developing new ideas or refining old ones, to begin the innovation funnelling process, your team should generate a number of criteria concerning the feasibility and timeline for your innovation plan. Some examples of the types of criteria that should be considered are the ability of the idea to address unmet customer needs, fit with the organization’s strategy or strategic objectives, and the level of risk or investment involved.
After generating your criteria, encourage your team to think of as many solutions to whatever problem the organization is hoping to address. Following this brainstorming phase, compare each idea to the criteria that were generated and eliminate the ones which do not measure up. As a possible alternative, rather than comparing each individual idea against the criteria, some prefer to group the ideas by theme and compare the larger themes against the set of criteria as part of the affinity diagramming process. Regardless of the path chosen, whichever ideas or themes remain, consider what resources your organization has to fully develop or execute on the concept. Focus on developing the ones that are achievable within the given timeframe for your goals.
When creating the development plan for the most feasible ideas, identify the goals or success metrics within each phase and create a timeline for achieving them. Also determine how many and what organizational resources will be needed for each step, and then track progress toward each benchmark and adjust as necessary. As with all innovation processes, support from top-level executives is critical to ensure ideas inside the funnel move forward at an acceptable pace.
The Innovation Funnel Management Process tool is most often used to support innovation, product development and planning. Here’s a freely available template download based on best practices from Praxie.com.
About the Author
Soren Kaplan is the bestselling and award winning author of Leapfrogging and The Invisible Advantage, an Affiliate at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business, a columnist for Inc. Magazine, a globally recognized keynote speaker, and the Founder of Praxie. Business Insider and the Thinkers50 have named him one of the world’s top management thought leaders and consultants.