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Three Phases of a Comprehensive Innovation Strategy

By Michael S. Slocum

A verbal commitment to creating innovative products and/or services is often senior leadership’s response to a company’s poor financial performance. But they always want to release innovative products to the market! Simple telling employees to “release innovative products” does nothing for performance. A commitment to the intentional creation of new products needs to be comprehensive.

Phase One
Hiring talented people and providing them resources is the current minimum standard for companies hoping to be, and remain, innovative. All organizations practice this fundamental approach; there is nothing to differentiate businesses at this level. Giving staff members dedicated time for innovation projects (as does Google) is no guarantee of commercially viable results. “Innovating” the workspace is a nice way to promote a company’s commitment to effort and retention, but it is not sufficient to produce the desired results. These criteria are only the first phase of a systematic response to innovation:

  1. Hire talented staff
  2. Provide adequate resources
  3. Provide dedicated time for innovation activities
  4. Innovate the workplace (e.g., design company IDEO)

Successfully implementing Phase One activities ensures that an organization is ready to transition to comprehensively address what is lacking in its continuous improvement efforts. While Lean targets waste and flow optimization, Six Sigma targets variation reduction and Design for Lean Six Sigma (DfLSS) provides a systematic response to the need to commercialize using a holistic system, methods for systematically innovating are typically ignored. The optimization tools found in process improvement methods allows for the tuning of closed systems. This will not, however, produce the discontinuous system change typically associated with innovation. Phase Two addresses these insufficiencies.

Phase Tw0
Phase One sets the stage to implement the additional infrastructure necessary to take full advantage of innovation methods (Phase Three). The application of systematic innovation by talented people is not enough to revolutionize the culture of an organization. The senior leadership must make preparations for the effort necessary to make this happen over time. Several of the key infrastructure elements follow:

  1. The infrastructure necessary to support systematic innovation needs to be put in place just as was the necessary infrastructure for the adoption of Lean efforts. The senior leadership must commit to, and support, these efforts completely. Systematic innovation needs to be integrated with the organization’s strategic plans and this integration needs to be communicated organization-wide.
    1. Adherence to deployment goals and objectives must be tied to incentives.
    2. Performance criteria must be connected to deployment performance metrics.
    3. Senior leadership must be trained for awareness and understanding of reasonable expectations.
  2. Metrics for tracking innovation performance need to be established, along with a corresponding tracking and response system.
  3. A means of communicating the innovation effort needs to be developed.
  4. Systematic innovation needs to be integrated into existing Lean Six Sigma efforts.
    1. Open system techniques must be available for practitioners.
    2. Problem definition techniques must be integrated with typical methods.
    3. Ideal solution identification must be part of goal setting.
    4. Systematic innovation must replace a strong reliance on brainstorming techniques.

The successful adoption of Phase Two initiatives with Phase One requirements prepares the organization for the most effective Phase Three roll-out.

Phase Three
Establishing the talent pool and operating conditions during Phase One is crucial to enhance the deployment; Phase Two infrastructure development ensures that the results of the deployment can be institutionalized and the program will be self-sustaining. Phase Two also aligns the deployment with the company’s strategy.

Phase Three enables the organization’s innovation quotient to be increased in all areas. The employees’ abilities to innovate will be increased as they are exposed to the program. In this way, problem solving becomes a transparent, open and collaborative process with predictable and repeatable results. Developing future products and services becomes systematic and multi-generational portfolios will be established during innovation activities.

Phase Three involves identifying the methods and algorithms necessary to systematize innovation at two levels: preservation and evolution.

Preservationary Innovation
Systematic innovation for preservation is geared toward resolving problems in existing systems. As such, it is composed of problem solving methods that can produce discontinuous results (that will compete with traditional optimization results from existing methods). These methods include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. Heuristic redefinition process (HRP)
  2. Transformation of Ideal Solution Elements with a Common Associations Matrix (TILMAG)
  3. Ideal final result (IFR) and ideality
  4. Function modeling
  5. Substance-field modeling
  6. Contradiction theory
  7. Forced analogy
  8. ARIZ
  9. Axiomatic design/quality function deployment (QFD)
  10. Lean Six Sigma

Evolutionary Innovation
Systematic innovation for evolution is geared toward the generation of new products and/or services. This approach leads to systematically generating discontinuous product/service concepts. This output is then coupled with DfLSS for commercialization. These methods include (but are not limited to):

  1. Maturity mapping
  2. Technology forecasting
    1. Lines of evolution
    2. Patterns of evolution
    3. Multi-generational product planning
  3. Patent circumvention and fencing
  4. Demographic analysis
  5. Surveys and focus groups
  6. DfLSS

Phase One establishes the talent pool, Phase Two integrates innovation work into the overall organizational performance and planning process, and Phase Three identifies those methods necessary to systematize the practice of innovation in an organization.

Adopting any of the techniques described in Phases One, Two or Three may be an improvement over the existing state of innovation in an organization. The way to maximize any effort, however, is to adopt all three phases in a planned and integrated systematic innovation deployment.

About the Author:
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit