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The Problem(s) with checklists

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Reading time: 5 minutes

It’s not unusual for things to be managed differently from workbook to workbook and checklist to checklist. But quickly and adequately comparing, ranking and reprioritizing portfolios is out of the question.

Someone in the organization came up with a good idea. First thought: “What needs to be done to make this a reality?”

A checklist is created to note all the activities necessary to go from idea to reality. At some point, the items on the checklist need to be ranked and prioritized. Some items are easily ranked using standard measures or key performance indicators (KPIs). Other items are a bit more subjective and not as easy to measure. But to make this new idea come to life, everything on the list must be accounted for. If you’re working with an Ideation/Innovation Canvas, then you know this works like a pre-thought and pre-structured checklist for the early phases of innovation.

It's important to start with a checklist to turn an idea into a product, as it serves various purposes. Initially, it helps you build a solid product vision and an early business case, which always helps to secure a budget. Part of the business case is determining whether or not there’s a sizable market for the product and if the necessary technologies are available. There should be a standard template in your organization that helps you to move from idea to launch and beyond.

It's worth noting that the words product, project, and process are not interchangeable. To create and maintain a product, many projects contribute to the finished version. These days, some projects are software related, while others are focused on the physical item. And supporting all the projects that feed into the product are established processes that ensure quality and consistency.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with checklists. In reality, a great deal of disconnection exists in today’s distributed corporate structures. It’s common for the results from some of the early activities to be broken into multiple checklists and tossed into a SharePoint folder.  Other data ends up on different point solutions. Employees seem busy and often complain about having too many projects.

It’s no secret that spreading resources over too many projects can lead to missed launch dates and product failures. Bottom line: Great effort and knowledge is lost and wasted due to a lack of coordination and prioritization. Far worse than wasted time and effort is losing money and market opportunities by venturing down these dead ends.

Let’s examine how companies can address the problems with checklists and create more efficient innovation processes.

Companies need an effective product portfolio strategy

There are three critical components to managing innovation and new product development (NPD). First, is the project itself. Second, there needs to be a comprehensive process in place to oversee the innovation lifecycle specific to individual products. Lastly, and equally important, it’s necessary to have a comprehensive view of the company’s portfolios and where each product and potential product aligns with the corporate strategy. It’s easy for people and teams to gravitate to the shiny new object, the “next big thing.” But that may not be the best allocation of the organization’s resources.

For far too long, companies have used Excel and homegrown programs to manage innovation and NPD. These methods can be detrimental to a product's and company's success. Sure, everyone’s familiar with Excel, and it offers an easy starting point for managing projects and processes. But ease of use doesn’t make it the best approach, especially as you add projects.

It’s not unusual for things to be managed differently from workbook to workbook and checklist to checklist. But quickly and adequately comparing, ranking and reprioritizing portfolios is out of the question. And that’s just for current projects. Retaining information and lessons from old projects is also a considerable challenge. These are just a few of the questions that must be answered.

  • Do you have the right workbook?
  • Is the workbook up to date?
  • Has the template been changed?
  • Has someone left the company and taken the knowledge with them?
  • Did someone save and rename a workbook in a different location?
  • Was there a similar project before?
    • What have we learned from that? Can we build on that experience?

Every project in an organization can benefit from past knowledge and contribute fresh insights to the company’s knowledge base for the future. Companies often conduct a “lessons learned” exercise at the end of a project. When advancing an idea through a concept, a business case or a prototype, it’s invaluable to determine what’s possible and what’s not quickly. And if organizations keep these experiences in a folder on SharePoint or OneDrive, learnings are often disconnected, wasted and lost.

We often see projects and product launches extended or delayed because of inadequate innovation governance. Disconnected teams and a lack of a proper system is disastrous for the whole organization. It paralyzes the innovation process that is necessary for companies to remain competitive.

Innovation in product development requires a single innovation system

The market is constantly changing, whether it’s consumer preferences, government regulations, evolving technology, or outside events (such as soaring inflation and the supply chain crunch). Businesses must be agile, and capable of pivoting when markets and circumstances require it. That’s why all project data needs to get out of Excel and into a single innovation system, so it's preserved and easily accessible when needed. People can’t afford to waste time looking for templates and folders.

Today, the planning and production of a product includes a wide range of people, often in different locations. Innovation management systems help keep every team member abreast of up-to-date statuses and make collaboration a natural element of product development from ideation to launch and beyond. Once a product is in the market, it may need to be refactored for various reasons—consumer feedback, competitor moves, supply chain problems, etc.

All this adds complexity and uncertainty to a company’s product portfolio. It increases the need for an advanced innovation management system. Only with one complete and trusted system can product improvements be managed so efficiently that the valuable resources can be attributed to the most valuable breakthrough projects!

To learn more about the problem with checklists in innovation, the mindset that companies need to have regarding innovation management, and how to migrate toward a better system, listen to this recent episode of the Innovation+ Talks podcast.

Confused about how to choose the right enterprise innovation management system? Check out this guide to help make the process easier. You’ll learn what to look out for and which questions to ask before choosing the right solution for your organization.

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