The ability to consistently and effectively innovate is something many organizations find challenging. While the importance of innovation is widely acknowledged for long-term business health, surprisingly few can legitimately claim to be achieving powerful, repeatable results on a regular basis.

This is because innovation, much like any other business process, requires careful planning and management to be effective. Yet despite this, too many organizations still rely on a piecemeal, sporadic approach, resulting in short-term wins with little chance of repeat success.

What they don’t realize is how many tools are available to assist in developing a more strategic approach to innovation activity. My blog series will focus on one such tool, an Innovation Maturity Model (IMM), and how to build the right model for your business. If done correctly, not only will it enable an understanding of existing innovation capabilities (and limitations), it will put a structure in place for effective long-term Strategy and Leadership, People and Culture, and Processes and Tools conducive for innovation to flourish within an organization.

Four Guiding Principles of a Successful IMM

Successful IMMs are built on four basic guiding principles. When applied properly, they ensure a final model suited to the needs of a specific organization. The four principles are:

  • Scalable and Repeatable

The most important guiding principle of any effective IMM is that it must be both scalable and repeatable. This improves consistency over time if every division within an organization adopts the same approach to innovation maturity. It also boosts overall efficiency by eliminating the need to create, learn, and apply a new model each time.

  • Evidence Based

Another key guiding principle is that innovation maturity assessments must be based on real evidence, not the word of the leaders and teams involved with ongoing maturity programs. It’s not uncommon for there to be major discrepancies between what innovation leaders say is going on within an organization and what’s actually happening. Focusing on tangible evidence helps to quickly sort the facts from the fiction.

  • Simple to Administer and Measure

Like so many business processes, simplicity is the key to ensuring an IMM’s ultimate effectiveness.  Keeping the IMM assessment process simple means that regardless of who’s conducting it, results will be consistent and reliable each time. Innovation maturity targets within the IMM should also be easy to measure and clear to identify once hit, to avoid any ambiguity.

  • Predictive of Innovation Program Performance

A strong IMM should enable internal innovation teams to accurately gauge current program maturity, but also provide strong direction on how it can be improved going forward. If an organization has the right IMM in place and is executing against it effectively, there should be clear impact on ROI and business results. If innovation program targets are being hit but business results remain unchanged, something isn’t quite right—either with the model or the way targets are being set.

Learning From Existing Best Practices

When building a new IMM it can be very difficult to predict how effective it will be in the absence of tangible results (which can only be gathered once the IMM is in place). Fortunately, there are already numerous examples of innovation best practice in the public domain that can and should be used to underpin any new model creation.

Taking the time to accurately map innovation activities to financially successful organizations (through heat-mapping or other means) is a great way to identify tried and tested predictors of innovation success. These research findings can then be used to create reliable success criteria for any new model, greatly reducing guesswork at a critical stage of the process.  This is, in fact, the approach that the author of Cisco’s IMM took.

The next installment of this three-blog series will look more closely at the IMM creation process itself, with a specific examination of Cisco’s own IMM as a working example.