Once a company has defined its own innovation process, an important step towards innovation capability has already been taken. At least on the drawing board, it is recorded what the individual steps towards an innovative product, service or business model look like. But in our experience, the real challenge comes now: to fill the process with life.
This can ultimately only succeed if human resources are allocated and clear responsibilities are assigned. For this reason, in our experience it is essential to define clear roles, which are linked to concrete responsibilities and tasks. How many roles are needed and which ones exactly depends on the respective process and the structure of the organization. Together with our customers we ask ourselves questions such as: Is this an international company? How are decisions made? Is there a dedicated innovation manager or maybe even a whole team that deals with the topic of innovation?
We have summarized the most important roles.
The innovation process needs a person who is responsible and knows his way around – the innovation manager. But this does not mean that he/she has to do all the innovation work alone. Innovation thrives on the expertise and experience of each individual employee. It can only be successful if many contribute their share. To achieve this, however, employees need orientation, structure and, in our experience, motivation to dedicate themselves to the topic of innovation. For this reason, the role of the innovation manager as a central pivot is essential. However, this does not necessarily require that the person works 100 percent on the topic. Many of our customers, especially small and medium-sized companies, are engaged in innovation on a part-time basis. And yet – the feeling of responsibility and explicit resources are there. In such a case, external support is often necessary to relieve the burden of time as well as to provide expertise.
The innovation manager thus monitors and is responsible for the innovation process. Within the company, he is a methodological expert and contact person, both for the management and for each individual employee.
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In order to relieve the innovation manager, especially if he cannot invest 100 percent of his time, but also to ensure the necessary expertise in terms of content, a person responsible should be defined for each topic of the challenge. We are talking about a Challenge Owner. As a „Subject Matter Expert“, he or she is familiar with everything that concerns the Challenge and supports it from the beginning to the end of the innovation process. In some cases, the Challenge Owner also acts as a sponsor of a particular Challenge, as it concerns a problem in his area of responsibility. Thus, the Challenge Owner has a great interest in ensuring that innovative and usable concepts emerge at the end. The Challenge Owner is primarily responsible for content aspects and therefore works closely with the Innovation Manager.
The idea generators are the heart of the innovation process, also known as Idea Champions. This refers to all those in the company who, with their creativity and knowledge, contribute to the solution of the innovation challenge and thus contribute to the development of innovations. They can become active as participants in sprints or workshops or as submitters on an idea platform. In principle, every employee of a company can slip into this role. It is particularly effective if the idea contributors drive the ideas through the entire process and accompany them through to implementation.
The development of innovations is always associated with the use of resources – whether human or financial. These resources must be approved by a defined committee – the Innovation Board. For this purpose, it should be checked whether they fit into the overall strategy and orientation of a company. Whether appropriate resources are made available for an innovation project is usually decided by a committee of people who have the „power“ to make such decisions. Depending on the hierarchical complexity of a company, the managing director can also make such a decision himself. Often, however, it is members of the management who have the appropriate budget at their disposal. Anyone who takes on this role should basically believe in innovation and be open to new ideas.
By definition, innovations must also be successfully implemented on the market. For this it is imperative that the ideas are transferred to the line at the end of the innovation process. There someone must receive these ideas and take responsibility for their implementation. The project manager should have the necessary knowledge and contacts that the implementation requires.
These are the most important roles in an innovation process. In our experience, there are often other roles that depend on the existing organizational structure. A functioning innovation organization includes the support of areas such as purchasing, HR, marketing and internal communication. All parties involved in the innovation process should have access to these functions, because without their support they will not get anywhere. Mutual understanding is required here, as the requirements of innovation projects often require deviation from and circumvention of existing processes and regulations. For this reason, innovation activities may occur completely detached from the rest of the organization in order to provide the necessary speed and flexibility.