Prioritizing your innovation pipeline in five steps

David Moskal Innovation

A pipeline full of ideas is a great thing to have. But, how do you decide what ideas are worth pursuing and which can be left behind? Choosing the right idea to pursue can be a daunting task, recognizing the resources (time, money, etc.) that will go into the development process. The good news is that there’s a five-step process that you can follow to help you and your team prioritize your innovation ideas so that you’re pursuing the best one (note that I said “you and your team” – that’s because one person should not choose the idea; team input is an important part of this process).

The process I’ve outlined below assumes that two important steps have already been completed: namely, that leadership has defined the mission or focus for the innovation project, and that the idea creation process has already taken place with a project team. If neither of these have been completed, revisit – or develop – your mission and start again; if they have, then let’s get started!

Step 1: Lay out the ideas

Start by putting each idea on a post it-note. Then, post the ideas, in random order, on a wall (if the ideas are written down, lay out all the papers or cards on a table). You and your team are going to review each idea and pick the one (or two) that stand out to you.

Step 2: Free writing

Once each team member has chosen an idea (or two), you will each do some free writing to expand on the idea. Set a timer for ten minutes, and for those ten minutes, write as much as you can about the idea. Consider the following questions as you write:

  • What will you name your innovation?
  • Who are the customers and or stakeholders?
  • What problem does your idea solve for them?
  • What benefit promise could you make to solve that problem?
  • Specifically how will that idea work to solve that problem?

Remember, this doesn’t need to be perfect; the exercise is designed to get you thinking deeper about your idea. What we often find is that the idea evolves the more you write about it.

To finish the exercise, re-write the idea, incorporating the key points that developed from your free writing.

Step 3: Pitch

At this point, each team member should have a fairly clear understanding of the idea in front of them and how it would work. Now it’s time to take turns pitching ideas to the rest of the team. Pitches don’t have to be polished or in-depth; the point is to provide information about your idea to the rest of the team so that they have a better understanding of it.

Remember: the idea should fit with the overall mission of your innovation project; if it does, move the idea to Step 4. If it doesn’t, archive the idea in case you want to re-visit it later.

Step 4: Determine Meaningfully Uniqueness

We define an innovation as something that is meaningfully unique. Determining how meaningful and unique each idea is is a key step in this process.

How we define meaningful:

  • Meaningful to the customer (end user)
  • Meaningful to the organization
  • Meaningful to the project team who would be working on this idea

The idea should be meaningful to all three groups –here’s why:

  • Customer (end user) – if this idea isn’t meaningful to them, they won’t want it and if there is not market for your idea, it will fail.
  • Organization – If this idea doesn’t benefit the organization, it will never be approved and it will fail.
  • Project team – If this idea isn’t meaningful to the project team, they won’t be passionate about it. The project team needs to be passionate about the idea because that will push you through the road blocks. If a team isn’t passionate, they will quit once they come up against the first hurdle.

How we define unique:

This idea should be either brand new to the industry or brand new to the world (depending on what you are trying to accomplish). If the idea isn’t unique, it isn’t an innovation. If your true mission is to innovate, stay away from ideas that are unique only to your organization.

The Meaningful/Unique Grid

Draw the Meaningful/Unique grid on a white board or flip chart (see right). Take the post-it notes representing the ideas that made the cut and, as a group, plot each idea on the chart by discussing how meaningful and how unique each idea really is (Note: Don’t fall in love with your idea! Try to remain objective and focus on the mission.)By plotting the ideas on the Meaningful/Unique Grid, you will clearly see how they compare to one another. If an idea doesn’t fall within the top right (green) quadrant, archive it. If you have multiple ideas in the top right that are somewhat similar, think about how aspects of each could be combined to make one powerful idea.

If there are multiple ideas in the green quadrant that aren’t similar, you can also discuss pros and cons of each, feasibility, timing, and potential roadblocks to help you decide which idea is the one to turn into a project.

Step 5: Build a business case

Once you have selected your idea, the team should build a business case for it. The purpose of the business case here isn’t to convince someone that the idea will work; the goal is to learn if it would actually work.

If the team determines, via their research, that the idea won’t fly (for any number of reasons), kill the idea. When an idea is killed, it should be a moment of celebration – you’ve saved the organization (and the team) time and money pursuing an idea that would have eventually failed. Keep in mind, however, that when you kill the idea, the mission still stands. Go back to your Meaningful/Unique Grid and start on the business case for the next idea in that green quadrant. You get smarter every time you do this – and that much closer to getting the right idea to market.

If you want to learn more about filling your product pipeline or getting an innovation project off the ground, reach out anytime!