The 2016 Olympic Games are about to begin! I love the opening ceremonies and seeing how each host country has their own interpretation of these iconic celebrations. But of course, the real excitement comes from watching the various sporting competitions like weightlifting, diving, dressage and so many more, all contending on the Olympic stage. A great platform where all nations unite through one shared passion: sports! Every closing ceremony I am always a bit sad when the Olympic flame is extinguished, as it means I have to wait another four years to see such a great competition.

The amount of training Olympians partake in is extreme: they are the best of the best, and to be the best requires daily workouts and carefully monitored bodies over many years. How do they evaluate their training and progress? Between intense workouts, meticulous nutrition, sleep and rest monitoring, and so much more, training progress is now evaluated by a wide array of gadgets and software applications, in addition to the trainers and coaches.

Thinking about Olympic training programs — which require long-term strategic planning, training, performance optimization, monitoring and analyzing data — I can’t help but draw similarities between the Olympians’ athletic training programs and enterprise innovation management.

5 Parallels between Olympian Training Programs and Innovation Management

Innovation Planning: Defining Goals and Planning Strategy

Coaches plan the training programs of an Olympic athlete with the ultimate end-goal at the forefront of their mind: a gold medal. In the lead-up to the Games, athletes prepare themselves for variable conditions they can endure during the event. Companies partaking in innovation planning also have to clearly define and develop targets and strategies just like the coaches and athletes do.

Strategic planning has moved from traditional, static annual plans to ones that dynamically adjust to changing internal and external circumstances. Innovation plans should be tightly aligned with the business’ long-term strategic objectives in order to achieve growth goals and increase revenue.

Roadmapping: Detailed, Long-term Strategy

Nowadays, professional athletic trainers use software programs like AthleteMonitoring® and Sportlyzer® to plan and monitor their athletes’ performance and analyze the data to maximize an individual’s physical potential and performance. A roadmap — or detailed plan for the future — is created for the athlete to achieve specific performance goals and these applications are used to routinely check performance against goals. The athlete’s plan also includes meetings with a nutritionist, exercise physiologist, sports medicine specialist, and coaches to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and then accordingly tweak their diets, activity, and recovery techniques.

Similarly, when managing innovation and new product development, the long-term and detailed plan for the future helps guide the innovation towards realizing specific goals. The roadmaps are aligned with lasting market trends, economic conditions, competitor moves and technology developments to ensure that the innovation (e.g. product or service) will be a winner in the market.

Idea Development: There is No “I” in “Team”

While an athlete like a sprinter performs individually, it’s actually a team sport.

A whole team of people like nutritionists, physiologists, sports medicine specialists, coaches, top sports scientists, strength, and conditioning coaches closely collaborate, measure and analyze data to make sure the Olympian can maximize their potential and be a top performer. When managing innovation, idea development requires collaboration across a variety of internal and external stakeholders. It inspires associative thinking, which transfers a promising concept into a high-value innovation. There may be only one person standing atop the Olympic podium, but there was a lot of support and collaboration from their colleagues that helped them get there.

Process Management: Moving Beyond Spreadsheets

The days where coaches plan and monitor their Olympian’s program and performance with a simple spreadsheet are over. Different software tools are available on the market which give a holistic view and approach to monitoring the training load, risk management, injury prevention, and health data collection to ensure performance optimization.

If athletes work with an automated data management system, why are there still companies out there working with spreadsheets to manage their processes? Reduce the administrative burden of innovation process execution and enable development teams to make better, faster investment decisions at each stage of the innovation cycle by managing processes with robust software. It saves time, simplifies data collection, and there is a single source of truth to make data-driven decisions.

Portfolio Optimization: Changing On-the-Fly

During the years of the Olympian’s training program, the performance is monitored and analyzed and an athlete’s diet, overloading and recovery techniques are consistently tweaked. Beyond physical fitness this athlete must be mentally strong as well. All of these elements are optimized in a training program to ensure that the athlete rises and shines at the moment supreme: the performance at the Olympic Games.

In innovation management, portfolio optimization performs “what-if” analysis, simulation, scenarios and other capabilities to precisely manage portfolios and make fact-based decisions. An organization can track the status, cost, risk and reward of portfolio investments. By properly optimizing portfolios a business gains visibility across the organization. This enables management to identify trends or uncover problem areas and then take appropriate actions to avoid or solve problem and achieve success.


Training like an Olympic athlete is more than a full time job, requires lots of planning and is a team effort. But the benefits can be golden just like automating an enterprise’s innovation management process. I wish you all a great Olympics!

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