Choosing the Innovation Management Process that Works Best for Your Company

The term "innovation management process" might sound like a contradiction. Isn't innovation supposed to be free and bold? Wouldn't trying to manage it and build a process around it be counterproductive?

Actually, innovation is like any other function in your business—the results are only as good as the inputs and the process. If you're waiting around for innovation to just happen without an innovation management process to guide it…well, your results will reflect that. 

An innovation management process should be selected carefully to align with the organization's innovation goals. To that end, let's first discuss what innovation management is, then we'll go over a few different approaches and help you choose the innovation management process that's right for your organization. 


What Is Innovation Management and Why Does It Matter?

Innovation doesn’t usually just happen. A magic innovation wizard can't wave his wand and make it happen. There is no innovation wizard, but if there were, it would be us. So, we would tell you to really harness the power of innovation, an organization needs a process to control and encourage it. Innovation management refers to the process of organizing and driving new ideas from idea generation to execution. 

While there are different approaches to the innovation management process, there are five general steps:

  1. Generation of new ideas
  2. Capturing and documenting those ideas
  3. Evaluating ideas to determine if they are worth pursuing
  4. Deciding and prioritizing which ideas to execute
  5. Idea execution

An innovation management process must cover at least these five steps to be effective. As far as the details go, there are a few different ways to do it.


Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Innovation

Innovation management processes can take two main strategies: top-down and bottom-up.

Top-down innovation is driven by company leadership. In a top-down innovation management process, senior leaders, managers, or dedicated innovators are responsible for ideation and driving the process. This strategy provides focus for innovation efforts and ensures resources are being committed to the most important projects.

A bottom-up innovation management process, on the other hand, collects ideas from employees at large. One of the advantages of bottom-up innovation is that employees are often able to identify opportunities for improvement in their day-to-day operations that management might not be aware of or have the expertise to recognize. Bottom-up innovation is an essential part of any innovation management process because these front-line employees have an invaluable perspective on the products and processes they deal with every day.

Top-down and bottom-up innovation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. An effective innovation management program takes advantage of both. That way, you benefit from broader employee perspectives plus the focus on management-driven, top-down innovation.


The Phase-Gate Model

One of the most common innovation management processes is the phase-gate or “waterfall” model. This process works by separating innovation projects into small, manageable stages of innovation activities, each locked behind a “gate.” When an idea reaches the next gate in the process, it is evaluated to ensure it has met predetermined criteria. Ideas must pass this evaluation to advance through the gate to the next phase to receive continued investment.

The phase-gate model is good at weeding out bad ideas or those that are just not financially viable. Its rigid structure and gate requirements ensure ideas are held to high standards and are driven to implementation in a consistent way, making it especially effective at handling incremental innovation.

However, this standardization is also a weakness of the phase-gate model. An innovation management process with standard, predetermined gate requirements tends to produce ideas that are similar to one another and are…well, not very innovative. How did that song go in the 90s? Don’t go chasin the waterfall model? Something like that.



While the phase-gate model gives standards and structure to the innovation management process, it can stifle bold ideas that get stuck behind a gate that wasn’t designed with bold ideas in mind. Other strategies take the structure of the phase-gate model and implement concepts that can grease the wheels a bit. One example is the KICKBOX methodology.

The biggest obstacles to innovation are those that keep employees from ever sharing their ideas in the first place. In a standard phase-gate process or in an organization without a formal innovation management process, ideas often stall because of the need to convince management to approve them.

With the KICKBOX online platform, ideas are collected from the distributed knowledge and experience of the organization’s employees using an online platform. The platform guides idea management, and the proven methodology of the KICKBOOK acts as a guide from idea generation to execution, giving employees ownership of their ideas and allowing them to drive them forward.

KICKBOX takes the power of bottom-up innovation and makes it into something tangible and scalable. Instead of phase gates, it uses a progression of physical toolboxes as ideas progress toward implementation to gamify the process and build enthusiasm for innovation. As innovators develop their ideas through the process, they can get help and advice from coaches, consultants, and other like-minded people from the innovation ecosystem, the global community of KICKBOX users. This helps facilitate bottom-up innovation by providing resources employees can use to share challenges and best practices with other successful innovators.


Level Up Your Innovation Management Process With rready

rready helps businesses build innovation management processes that harness innovation from the bottom up. Based on a proven methodology used by more than a thousand companies globally, the KICKBOX program can help your organization engage employees with the innovation process and drive innovation from idea generation to implementation. Give your team the tools to make their ideas a reality. If you're ready to build an innovation management process that will take your organization to the next level, contact us today.

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