Tag Archives: Process

The Four Legs of a Holistic Model for Corporate Innovation

From being considered a downright accusation, to connoting invention, the term ‘innovation’ gained currency in its contemporary form, thanks to Joseph Schumpeter, in the 1940s.

For the corporate world, it has since meant a luxury, a tool for growth, a tool for differentiation, and more recently, the only way to lead and stay relevant in the market. In this context, the animal called innovation architecture requires four legs. In my work, I often deal with one or more of them and the questions they pose.

 

  1. The Agenda

The Innovation Agenda of a firm is closely connected to its brand position. What does the firm stand for? Why has the firm chosen this path? How is it different from any other firm out there?

 

  1. The Strategic Vision

The strategic vision includes the sketch of what innovation should achieve for the firm. What are the main goals of the business – for the long, medium and short term? What type(s) of innovation will the firm focus on – product, process, business model, delivery? Where could innovation draw inspiration from – technology, customers, partners, internal synergies? How will innovation be measured and monitored – metrics that take into account new products, new markets, productivity gains, financial gains, and intellectual property?

 

  1. The Process

The innovation process is the engine that keeps the focus on outcomes detailed in the vision. What is the method for ideation and funnelling of ideas? What are the rules for team-formation, collaboration, resource authorisation and crisis management? What is the planning and measuring mechanism for prototyping and in-market launches? What is the mechanism for risk management? What is the mechanism for ensuring sustainability of the new introduction?

 

  1. The Enablers

These are the behind-the-scenes workers, often termed the ‘input factors’ for innovation. What are the knowledge management systems and learning tools for the enabling innovation? What is the common language used for innovation within the organisation?What are the elements of organisational culture that are conducive to innovation; how are these being inculcated and multiplied? What are the organisation structures and governance mechanisms that allow innovation to germinate, proliferate, and become self-sustaining? What are the reward mechanisms for those who contribute to the innovation economy of the organisation?

 

For most companies, building this architecture is a serendipitous journey. And with each successful journey is born a successful model of innovation.

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Design Thinking: The Key to a Superior Service Experience

I had the opportunity to visit the office of the Registration and Stamp Duty Department of Government of Maharashtra recently. If it had not been for the signboard outside the office, I would have thought that I was in a waiting room at a local railway station. As a consultant who routinely deals with process redesign and efficiency improvement, I took a keen interest in observing the layout of the place and the movement of people in and out of the office.

 

The non-air-conditioned room, which had a single unmanned entry/ exit point, was about 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a partition halfway along its width and a pillar in the middle of one of the halves of the partition. Rows of four-seat benches squeezed into the space on either side of the pillar. The pillar had extendable shelves, which served as tabletops for persons who had forms to fill out at the last minute, sticking out towards the benches. The combined width of the pillar and these shelves formed a narrow passage for persons streaming in and out of the room, about forty people at a given moment. A part of the other half was enclosed for an unknown purpose – there were no signs on the enclosure. There were no washrooms, pantry, or even a water dispenser visible.

 

A door, vaguely marked ‘Office’, at the edge of the room led to the space where the actual registration procedure took place. A small indicator on the outside announced the token number of the person next in queue. I could not make out how the tokens were generated or when and where one procured them. Inside the ‘Office, all the three walls facing the door were lined with unmarked open racks and shelves of paper files, almost reaching the 18 feet high ceiling.

 

About six officious staff sat at the two desks facing the door, surrounded by a dozen clerks, peons and service staff. Apparently, these persons knew where they should be positioned in this vague room without any signages (barring the printed pages announcing that one of the services was now available online). There were persons who came in when their token was announced and looked around inquiringly as to where and how to proceed; these were the hapless ‘customers’ of the Registration service.

 

Another group of about half a dozen apparently important persons flitted in and out of the room and occupied the space in front of the desks. They seemed to know what was going on and who was responsible for what. They also ushered the ‘customers’ to the appropriate seat at a desk as required. I reckoned that these were the ‘agents’, the ‘know-alls’, the ‘catalysts’ that kept the process flowing smoothly, the ‘oil’ that greased the government machinery. Without them, the so-called ‘system’ would collapse.

 

The 10 feet by 15 feet space of the office was, hence, teeming with over thirty people at any point in time. A 1.5 ton capacity air-conditioner tried in vain to cool the air.

 

I wondered… for a service that apparently processes about four thousand documents in a day, valued at about INR 30 Crores (US$ 4.5 Mn), is this the best state of infrastructure and process that the government could provide?

 

Contrast this with the experience at the spanking new processing centres of the Regional Passport Office in Mumbai. Online access and registration for appointments, tight security and screening at the entry gates, clearly designated and marked zones for different parts of the processing cycle, viz. presentation of documents, checking of documents, approval of passport, authorization of passport, issuance of passport, and exit clearance, all in a seamless manner. There are also water coolers, washrooms with access for the disabled, a well-stocked cafeteria, a baby-care area, a photocopier, and stationery supply. Many thanks to TCS, who streamlined the process and possibly designed the layout for the facility.

 

Process design always fascinated me but these two experiences at opposite ends of a spectrum really got me thinking about how critical design is to a great customer experience for any service provider. These six key aspects typically go into incorporating design thinking in processes for a service:

 

  1. Separate areas for distinctly different activities

Activities could be different in that they require different equipment, skills, lead times, validation times, mechanical inputs, authorization, etc. It is best to mark these separately. The Passport Office exemplifies this beautifully. Retail banks have always followed this practice.

 

  1. Separate entry points from exit points

This is an extremely critical requirement where movement of persons is concerned, especially in areas that require high security. But the biggest advantage served by this tactic is the avoidance of jams in the process, creating a more equal service experience for all. Think about an airport or a subway system.

 

What struck me most when I first travelled on the London Underground (now called the Tube, but I’m old-fashioned like that) was how I never had to be apprehensive about somebody running into me from the opposite direction. It was such a refreshing experience after several years as a commuter on Mumbai Local Trains.

 

  1. Maximise the output of bottlenecks by reducing redundant processes

Bottlenecks can often derail a process. Airlines have tried and often succeeded in managing this. Take the airline checking-in process, for instance. Undoubtedly, the most time-consuming of all airline processes (if we leave out security checks at JFK!), this process has been made leaner by resorting to options such as online check-in & kiosk check-in, and separate counters for frequent flyers or premium class flyers or passengers with special needs. Of course, there is tremendous scope for improvement.

 

  1. Signpost important areas, especially ‘special needs’ areas

Regardless of how inefficient a process a may be, this simple trick can alleviate a lot of customer chagrin. Human tendency is to control one’s environment as far as possible. Just the thought that one knows where one is relative to another place puts an element of control into the customer’s hands. Munich Airport does this very well. It is also one of the few hub airports that cares to put out enough recliners and mark quiet zones for long layover passengers.

 

On the other hand, a baby products retailer that I happened to visit seemed to have missed a critical opportunity because its circulation space was too narrow to allow the passage of baby strollers that it retails! As if that were not enough, its baby care room had neither any ventilation nor an air-conditioner, not even a fan!

 

  1. Mark designated spaces to catch the overflow

Any process could be subject to overflows every once in a while, where its throughput gets challenged. It helps to think ahead about such eventualities and design spaces that can handle the spillover. Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital has combined this challenge with addressing a real customer need, when including a large cafeteria with several options of cuisines. It automatically reduces crowds loitering in passageways while giving people a sense of comfort and caring. Dubai Airport, on the other hand, has channelled this opportunity into a revenue earner. One would be hard put to find a place to sit at this airport. By making most of its circulation space a shopping zone, all spills generate bills!

 

  1. Make space for public conveniences

The need to ingest and expel are two of the most basic human needs. Making these facilities available to those you serve shows thoughtfulness. An unexpected benefit is that you are likely to meet a more amicable customer rather than an irate/ frustrated/ desperate one.

 

Whether a business is offline or online, the customer and her needs remain the same. Great service design could significantly differentiate your value proposition.

 

 

Guard Against These Eight Myths to Fuel Corporate Innovation

Anybody who has had the good fortune to work in a startup as well as in a corporatised environment will know that corporate innovation is an animal by itself. To make that animal move and keep it going, critical myths must be busted.

 

Myth #1: Innovation is all about ideas.

 

Truth: Innovation is as much about knowledge-sharing, collaboration and execution. As innovation becomes ‘the’ way of doing things for firms, the emerging structures of team formation and work allocation demand increasing openness of channels for communication and feedback. The devil, of course, remains in the details. Hence, systematic follow-through of ideas and their execution determines success.

 

When structuring the innovation process, bear in mind that there is a grimy and messy back end beyond the warm and fuzzy front end of innovation.

 

Myth #2: Innovation must be disruptive and create a white space.

 

Truth: While this could be true for an entity that is looking to establish itself as a player in the market (check out RentSher and MealTango) for the corporate engine that wants to weave innovation into its DNA, it is more likely to be incremental, addressing the core business.

 

Encourage employees to make incremental improvements to routine activities. The impact of innovation activity is only magnified when even the mundane gets a productivity boost.

 

Myth #3: Innovation means creating new products.

 

Truth: Early literature on metrics for corporate innovation is responsible for the belief in this myth. In reality, innovation also includes creating new processes and business models. Doblin, the innovation consulting firm, has in fact noted ten types of innovation in three categories. Some of the highest impact innovations have come about through business model innovation (think #Uber) and process innovation (think Aravind Eye Care).

 

Look beyond just product development. The gold could be elsewhere.

 

Myth #4: Innovation is the domain of R&D departments.

 

Truth: A corollary to the previous point, innovation can also be brought about by other functions. You can only build a culture of innovation in a company if all employees believe that they have a role to play. Just as innovation does not comprise product development alone, it is not the reserve of R&D teams alone.

 

Get all hands on deck.

 

Myth #5: Innovation happens at the grassroots.

 

Truth: Innovation requires a linkage of bottom-up and top-down approaches.

Innovation does require a willingness to defy convention, an attribute that tends to decline with increasing seniority. Hence, the bottom-up approach is necessary to fuel innovation. However, complex pivot points that involve decision-making accompany innovation projects. These are perhaps better addressed in a top-down fashion. Note, however, that the person who ‘knows’ more is not necessarily the person who innovates better.

 

Define scope and authority for the teams at the bottom as well as the executives at the top.

 

Myth #6: Innovation requires highly creative and intelligent workers.

 

Truth: In reality, innovation more often requires highly networked workers. Innovation success comes from carefully structuring the process for consistently better results. In fact, superior talent could serve to mask organisational inefficiencies. Instead, a well thought out innovation process would lead to more predictable results despite variability in talent.

 

Break processes down into well-defined steps; then talent will not matter much.

 

Myth #7: Innovation should be remunerated monetarily to increase employee motivation.

 

Truth: Innovation thrives on increasing degrees of empowerment – self-directed use of time, resources (human and capital) and authority. The battle between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be best seen in the case of innovation projects. In the long run, and a company is concerned with the long run, it is factors that help build intrinsic motivation that keep the innovation engine going.

 

Cater for serendipity and blurring of boundaries. Monetary rewards are an afterthought.

 

Myth #8: Innovation requires large capital outlays.

 

Truth: Innovation is often most successful when capital is constrained. Constraints engender creativity and novelty. They also foster sustainability and endurance. But most of all, they help focus efforts on the problem that must be solved rather than on administrative detailing.

 

Give your innovation project teams enough to work with but not everything they ask for.

 

Corporate innovation is a marathon, not a sprint.