Tuesday, 13 August 2019 12:34

Four Disruptive Questions to Spark Innovation in Project Teams

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The year was 2007, people were in love with blackberry phones, and Nokia was still a major smartphone player.

The same year that's remembered for excellent pop music and breakthroughs that became significant milestones in world history. Whether it's the housing bubble finally bursting in the US, or the launch of Roadster from Tesla, things were happening fast. Plus, the most significant change which was Apple releasing a revolutionary product called the iPhone. A move that changed the smartphone market forever and change it did!

The release of the iPhone leads to an instant disruption for every other big name, including Google, which initiated the process to adjust their Android platform as per the new expectations. It was a time of radical innovation making everyone think hard because Apple just made several technologies outdated in a matter of hours. That's precisely where some of the big names went entirely wrong. Established brands like Blackberry and Nokia only relied on two major factors to stay relevant - their position in the industry and the brand loyalty of their customers.

Whereas the management and employees at Apple were able to exploit the big gaps in the market, something that industry leaders (read blackberry and Nokia) were not able to identify and act on.

What's the Learning Here?

If you're unable to innovate in time, even the most loyal customers, and powerful foundations are of no actual use. Innovation is probably the only factor that separates best from the rest. Revolutionary products and services are usually a result of an environment that encourages unorthodox ways of seeing gaps in the market and creating path-breaking products to fill those spaces. Combining old and new thoughts to create something “new” is what takes you to the next level.
As senior executives at IDEO, a Silicon Valley-based organization known for award-winning innovation said, “Top creativity happens when there is an intersection of different perspectives.” Based on experience, here are four somewhat unique and practical questions you need to ask yourself to spark innovation within the project team.

#1 - Have You Embraced Diversity as An Engine of Powerful Innovation?

When it comes to innovation, “There is a business case for diversity,” says Richard S Warr, a veteran on the topic. Although, there are several times when organisations may have somewhat shaky reasons for promoting diverse teams, if done for the right reasons, a more diverse team means you have team members with broader range of interests and backgrounds to draw upon. Since culture and upbringing plays an essential role in how a person tries to solve a problem, a diverse project team will be able to offer different solutions than expected.

That’s precisely what credible research has already proven. Once you have the incredible advantage of a diverse set of team members working towards a common goal, your responsibility as a leader is to make sure they feel welcomed to propose novel ideas. Ensure “outside the box” ideas are heard and implemented in due time. Organisations should work hard to hire the precious gems - not promoting useless propaganda just to fulfill respective minority quotas.

#2 - Are You Ready for The Art of Fearless Brainstorming?

The only way to capture innovative themes is to encourage your team members to go off track, not worrying they'll dive into the unexplored rabbit holes. Remember, the aim is to go divergent ways, which is entirely different from being unfocused. For instance, let's say you're trying to use common age-old assumptions in your industry to trigger a few ideas.

First, compile a set of assumptions which include consumer trends, positioning, pricing, and more. Now, have an active group discussion brainstorming all ideas based on these assumptions, even the crazy, weird and the wacky ones. Don't forget to encourage every team member to push their limits and consider every related possibility. Now gather each one of these ideas. Pin it on a board and vote the best ones.

This free-willed process to spark new ideas works every time given that team members are allowed to go as far as they want to. Brainstorming is all about throwing random things out there letting the minds wander. The immediate sense of comfort that team members feel while expressing their thoughts would surface the most innovative ideas that you could never imagine in the first place.


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#3 - Do You Have A Precise Plan to Act on New Ideas?

Assuming you have generated innovative ideas from one of these brainstorming sessions. Now is the time to think whether you have a well-devised plan to evaluate these insights. There are many organizations, who're unable to evaluate the ideas within a fixed timeframe. That's a pity.

Even the organizations and teams which stress upon the importance of innovation have no real method or turnaround time baked into their processes for idea evaluation. Here's how you resolve this entire tricky situation with a simple 3-step process:

  • First, create a transparent mechanism for capturing and documenting new ideas.
  • Second, devise clear-cut criteria you will use to assess the viability of ideas presented to you every week
  • Third, designate a diverse team that are responsible for evaluating these innovative ideas and replying within 72 hours.

The third step brings us to the last point.

#4 - How Do You Build A Bridge Between Leadership and The In-House Innovators?

The only reason why team members are not interested in sharing their out of the box ideas is this, “There is no sense of confidence whether their voice would reach the Leaders.” This restricted interaction between employees and management is a giant turnoff. It's probably the biggest enemy of innovation.

Once you have a list of ideas evaluated, ready to move to the next stage, leaders should weigh in and give their inputs on these insights as soon as possible. Eliminate the bureaucratic obstacles and demolish the proverbial wall that stands in your way. Create a defined structure around the feedback process, and you'll see an increasing contribution from every team member.

Summary

Formalizing perspective innovation pipelines can lead to sustainable results. Creating and handling innovative ideas is the real differentiator for why some organisations grow and others remain flat. It's the perfect time to use these four questions to nurture your team and help those who're on the cusp of an innovative breakthrough. All they need is support and a concrete mechanism.

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Paul Oppong

Paul Oppong is a management, strategy and business transformation consultant, specializing in digital transformation and program management. He has over 15 years of IT experience, several academic degrees, and industry certifications. Paul has helped clients ranging from multinational financial institutions to government agencies to navigate the ever-changing landscape of business technology, using his expertise to deliver evidence-based solutions that exceed their performance expectations.

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