In the first blog of this series, we discussed the important role that an innovation maturity model (IMM) plays in creating a strategic, repeatable framework for innovation excellence. In this second installment, we will look at the process of creating an effective IMM, drawing on Cisco’s own IMM as an example.

While there are numerous IMMs already in existence, many of which are very good, Cisco was unable to find one that fully mapped to the guiding principles outlined in my previous blog. As such, we decided to develop a new IMM that would guide innovation program managers through consulting engagements and maturity assessments. Using the IMM, innovation program leaders no longer have to figure out everything it takes to run a successful program on their own. The IMM eliminates the painful process of self-discovery through trial and error.

Cisco’s IMM identifies 16 key areas of innovation activity—called exemplifiers—that result in program success.
Cisco’s IMM identifies 16 key areas of innovation activity—called exemplifiers—that result in program success.

Understanding where innovation improvements are required

The starting point for an effective IMM is accurately identifying key areas of innovation activity that result in program success. Known as exemplifiers, these will become the key predictive elements of innovation maturity over time. Cisco’s IMM used heat-mapping to identify 16 key innovation exemplifiers, broken down into three main categories. These categories are industry-agnostic, meaning they can apply to any organization or division, regardless of business sector:

  • Strategy and Leadership—the ability to develop effective innovation strategies, along with the core leadership behaviors and accountabilities needed to bring them to life. Exemplifiers under this category include “Innovation Strategy,” “Portfolio Management & Road-Mapping,” “Demonstrated Leadership Support,” “Resources Committed,” and “Leadership Accountability.”
  • People and Culture—addressing the need to create the right mindsets and behaviors for innovating everywhere. Exemplifiers include “Innovate Everywhere,” “Collaboration,” “Insight and Business Driven,” “Rewards & Recognition,” “Entrepreneurial Behavior” and “Innovation Skills.”
  • Process and Tools—leveraging a balanced set of processes and tools that can unleash and accelerate innovation throughout an organization, driving successful business outcomes. Exemplifiers include “Innovation Governance,” “Idea Generation,” “Idea Selection and Management,” “Incubation” and “Implementation & Scaling.”

Creating exemplifier ‘maturation plans’

An effective IMM doesn’t stop at simply identifying areas for improvement; it will also direct attention on how to make those improvements. There are various ways you can approach this, but one of the most effective is to create a progressive, tiered system of excellence for each exemplifier. It’s important that the tier system represents a progressive rank sorting of innovation milestones, ranging from the most basic through to more advanced activities. Doing so ensures that organizations “walk before they run.” In that way, everyone involved in the innovation maturity process can clearly see if/when milestones are achieved, signifying a transition towards a higher level of maturity for each exemplifier.  So teams work from the most basic to the most complex levels for each set of success criteria, which helps eliminate the guesswork about where to start.

Let’s take the “Innovation Strategy” exemplifier from the Strategy and Leadership category of the Cisco IMM as an example. At the most basic level, the success criteria question is, “has the organization conducted a competitive market assessment in support of its proposed innovation strategy?” If so, the next level up would be to ensure an “organization-level strategy is in place” so there is consistency. Moving through the tiers, “have strategic innovation challenge area targets been set?” If yes, “has the entire organization been involved in building innovation strategy?” Finally, has there been any “co-creation of strategy with key customers?”

Assessing the success criteria for each exemplifier helps determine overall innovation maturity.
Assessing the success criteria for each exemplifier helps determine overall innovation maturity.

Answering yes to all these questions would indicate an advanced level of maturity for this exemplifier. Each exemplifier will require its own unique set of tiers, but a rank-sorting model like this not only makes the ongoing assessment process much easier, it greatly simplifies roadmaps for maturation plans.

Creating and implementing an effective IMM is a significant step toward developing a consistent and repeatable innovation strategy, but it doesn’t end there. Regular ongoing assessment is another critical part of the process, helping to ensure the innovation team continues to evolve based on what needs to improve. In the final blog of the series, we will look at the key elements of an innovation maturity assessment and optimal timelines involved.