What does it take to innovate? (Part 4)

Welcome to the final instalment in the series, where we’ve looked at a few key elements of the innovation process. This last piece will look at arguably the toughest step, which comes right after the trial; the road to projectland, as our team used to call it. This is where we scale up our innovation.

Here, your trial is complete, resplendent in its empirical, quantitive data and qualitative insight. The first task post-trial is dissemination. A trial report of some kind is a must, whether that’s a simple Word document or PowerPoint presentation. This type of media is easily lost in the winds of time however, so it’s worth considering more effective methods of sharing trial insight.

Our team had success in the past by creating videos from our trials. Trials exist as a moment in time only – there is rarely any long term legacy from the work itself, other than a possible outturn project – so you owe it to the trial to capture as much video and photos as possible. Interview people involved in the trial, and add still photos to bring to life what happened and why. Keep it short: no more than two minutes, and use internal video sharing platforms such as Microsoft Stream and then Yammer to promote it.

However, the journey to projectland may need more than one leap. The low threshold of success in innovation means that you’re unlucky to have a fully resolved, costed and resourced project waiting in the wings the day after your trial report is happily published. This is where the Pilot comes in.

Pilots are trials at scale. They are modified versions of the original trial with the end goal in mind. For example, let’s say we’ve trialled an IoT sensor solution in part of a building. The pilot would now take this across the whole building perhaps, or at least one large floor of it, before a project is commissioned to fully deploy a supported solution. Pilots need more resources, such as a Project Manager and funding, and here you’ll also think about Procurement and contracting in a supplier or third party solution. You would need assurance from your Data Privacy and Cyber Security teams, and cover from Legal. But the scope, and therefore the risk, can still be minimised. The pilot is less about testing the technical solution – it’s more a test of how it would be delivered.

It means that, like the trial, we’re reducing our business’ exposure to risk. A trial might deliver outstanding results, but if it can’t be scaled into a supported, managed and owed solution, it can’t succeed. Think also about funding: a pilot is a more palatable suggestion for stakeholders. You’ve stood in front of your Exec extolling the virtues of your trial, with what you think is enough empirical evidence to get started. If you pitch the idea of piloting the solution next, there’s still time to duck out if it goes wrong.

Most projects, particularly those with capital funding, do not – and, because of governance – can not fast fail like a trial can. Yet we can quit a pilot if it doesn’t work out or scale as we’d like. The Association for Project Management have a really good article on the differences, and the virtues of this approach.

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