Outsourcing Innovation

Does your workplace encourage innovation? While you might rightly answer yes, you may unknowingly use practices that discourage opportunities for innovation. This post is about common practices that, while effective, may actually remove the best opportunities for new ideas.

The Process of Innovation
The processes and setup that add time on the front end of a project are the same processes that allow you to run an effective operation – go home at the end of the day – and sleep well at night. However, even the best operations may favor process over innovation. Because we have finite resources available we tend to optimize on scope, with an end goal already in mind. Often the end goal comes from a calendar-driven process more-so than a solution-driven process.

The up-front processes, where innovation most often occurs, are frequently driven by business analysts who, along with business constituents, translate ideas into requirements. This is a key point in overall project definition, where ideas become requirements to be met and are no longer problems to be solved. This is the point where a more optimal solution might be defined, meeting the clients high-level requirements in a new and innovative way. This is also the point in the process where we have typically used the time allotted to develop a “solution” and need to move on to development and implementation. We now have a delivery date to meet!

Don’t just line up the same project dominoes and knock them over again. While standardized processes may provide predictable results, they may not yield a new and innovative way to solve a problem. Sometimes the solution is in plain sight. We just need to provide time for it to be revealed. Innovation and new ideas rarely occur in a predictable environment, one optimized for requirements and delivery dates.

Outsourcing Innovation
In addition to applying a consistent up-front process, with predictable results, we may be outsourcing at points in the project life-cycle where innovation is most likely to occur. Does a hired consultant have the same sense of long-term ownership as your in-house associates? Does a consulting resource think about your project and new solutions on her own time? Likely not. Whereas, your own associates – the stakeholders who will own the operational results, would be intrinsically motivated to develop a better solution if they “owned” the task at hand. But – if you outsourced the creative problem solving steps, you inadvertently outsourced innovation, stakeholder buy-in and long term/dedicated team ownership.

Over the long term, your process may actually discourage your best thinkers from participating because they lack the opportunity for sharing their ideas at a time when it can make a real difference. It’s much more difficult for your in-house stakeholders to claim an idea as their own and work hard to see it succeed if you outsource the creative definition up front.

The long term result of process-driven, outsourced project development is the loss of strategic and creative thinking in your organization. If you run on this track for too long you may actually send your best ideas elsewhere, by way of knowledge transfer to consultants, and their other clients, or out the door when your best people leave for a position where they believe their ideas will be valued.

“Success always obsoletes the very behavior that achieved it.”
~Peter F. Drucker