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Innovation management systems reduce turnover challenges

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With no immediate end to the employee buyer’s market, companies need to find ways to advance new product development with as little disruption as possible. Those with innovation management solutions and systems in place are better suited to address this emerging challenge.

In December 2021, Michael Schwekutsch left his position as director of engineering of the Apple Special Projects Group to take a VP role at Archer, an electric air taxi startup. It’s believed that he was instrumental in forwarding Apple’s quest to develop self-driving cars.

By any measure, Schwekutsch’s departure is significant and it highlights how difficult it is to keep innovative product development moving forward when someone with so much expertise leaves an organization. It’s a problem many companies will need to solve in the foreseeable future.

The US has seen unprecedented employee turnover in recent months, with nearly 13 million people quitting their jobs between August and October 2021. In a Washington Post article, economist Rucha Vankudre noted, “It’s really a workers’ economy. It’s a good time for people to be moving. Employees are really in charge for the first time in a long time.”

With no immediate end to the employee buyer’s market, companies need to find ways to advance innovation and new product development with as little disruption as possible. Those with innovation management solutions and systems in place are better suited to address this emerging challenge.

Learn more about Innovation Management Systems by listening to this episode of Innovation+Talks: 'The Need for Innovation Management Systems'

innovation management systems

Without the right innovation management systems, information gaps emerge

When team members leave, they take their expertise with them. For companies without innovation management solutions and systems in place, a scramble for information follows. The remaining team members spend valuable time locating documents (written documents, reports, presentations, spreadsheets, design documents, sketches, lab notes, etc. – it can be a big list) containing the former employee’s thoughts, processes, decisions and new ideas. Because records can come in a wide range of formats from disparate internal sources, finding them can be quite a challenge. And a question that immediately follows is, are the things we have found up to date?

But even when located, legacy documents often lack a critical component: context. A standalone document may have a lot of insight, but there’s no frame of reference for the information. For example, is this information that we created during preliminary thinking or recent thinking? Instead of an organized, documented timeline of innovative insight, you’re left with a puzzle that will almost certainly contain missing pieces.

The impact on innovation and product development is three-fold.

  • First, and most obviously, critical time is diverted from product development to unnecessary and time-consuming detective work. Such activities can have a ripple effect on reaching essential milestones in the new product development timeline.
  • Second, teams may find significant gaps in the information lifecycle. Going back to the context issue, if there isn’t a clear and intuitive chain of where information was created and how it evolved through the process, beginning with the earliest ideas and concepts all the way up to its current state, there could be critical new product development details that leave with the departing team member. This includes the very important consideration of documentation that was available and used to make and capture decisions. It’s now up to the remaining team members to figure out what the missing pieces are, which can be difficult—if not impossible—to recreate.
  • Third, what information was not found? This is the scariest of all because this information is then lost. Maybe it was never written down and left in the head of the departing employee. But it is a real tragedy if it was written down but not found.

While this situation is difficult for existing team members, it’s even more challenging for new employees who don’t have all the necessary information required to hit the ground running and notch early successes. Much of their onboarding consists of seeking answers that should be readily available from their first day.

Creating a collaborative workflow centered on the innovation process

Having the appropriate innovation management system in place that captures information in context and time can alleviate many of the problems associated with a valued team member moving on and allowing their replacement to jump into existing innovation projects more efficiently.

Here are a few ways you can create company-wide, single source of truth, visibility to the innovation process:

Capture and record innovative ideas. When new ideas are formulated, you must have a platform for documentation. Such notation should identify the author when the idea was created and what product, or potential product, it’s related to.

Enable search functionality. For large organizations, not all teams will work together or use the same work processes. Innovation management solutions should feature search functionality to locate all existing documents related to specific keywords. This is especially helpful to new employees trying to absorb as much information as they can on how the company develops new products.

Update innovation governance frameworks. The advance of technology can render processes irrelevant pretty quickly. The person leaving may have understood innovation governance procedures without having to refer to an updated document, but existing team members may not be as familiar. And new employees, who have no context, will have even greater difficulty sifting through “do’s and don'ts”. Innovation governance processes must be updated and made available to the entire organization to ensure product development is aligned with predetermined expectations and corporate strategy.

Make innovation governance frameworks routine. Don’t require innovation workers to have to search back to the documented governance framework document(s). Bring the governance framework and processes to the users and guide them as they work. Capture documents and information in the context of the process.

Include information review in your decision making and approval meetings. If you use gates and gatekeepers, include a review/check of information as part of the gate meeting to ensure that information has been captured in context. If you use a different process, ensure that such a review is conducted throughout the process. Ask yourself: “If this team were to disappear tomorrow, do we have the necessary information to continue where they left off?”

Consistent employee turnover will likely be the new normal for some time. Companies must keep up with this change by ensuring they implement the right innovation management solutions and systems. Doing so will empower every team member to access all the information they need to keep products moving forward.

See how The Hershey Company uses Sopheon’s Innovation Management System, Accolade, to capture and communicate new product portfolio information for seamless sharing across the organization. Read the case study now:

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