Moving innovation projects from pilot to production.

15 Oct
Oct 15, 2018 

So, you’ve got an innovation initiative of the ground. You’ve come up with a use case to tackle, secured executive support, scrounged together a budget, and have made some encouraging headway in advancing the new technology in a pilot setting. Now it’s time to scale it up and spread that ingenuity across the organization.

But how? Even the most exciting innovation project won’t count for much if it’s only used by a handful of hospital staff. The key is to get it to catch on and proliferate enterprise-wide, so even the most recalcitrant clinicians might see its value and embrace its transformative potential. Here’s a checklist to help make that happen.

1. Have a sound strategy.
“Ad hoc innovation is not enough,” said Adrian Zai, MD, director of research at Partners eCare earlier this year. It’s crucial, he said, to align innovation initiatives to specific areas of need, and to be able to scale up promising programs when applicable.

“Formalizing your innovation strategy is critical,” he said. To truly drive diffusion and uptake of new ideas, it’s crucial to have “infrastructure that promotes innovation across your organization – otherwise, you’re just hitting your head on the wall.”

2. Understand different approaches to spreading knowledge.
In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, “How to Hand Off an Innovation Project from One Team to Another,” Joe Brown, a portfolio director at IDEO, laid out the stakes: “If innovation projects are going to succeed, they’ll need to survive a handoff from an innovation team to an execution team,” he said. “And every time you create a handoff, you risk dropping the baton.”

Brown identified four basic strategies for how to handle those transitions, and said which you’ll use will depend on the specific goals of your organization:

First, “The Owner’s Manual,” requires extensive documentation – slides, spreadsheets, etc. – to enumerate the project’s value and instruct others on how to embrace it, he said, and “works best when there is no more ambiguity left in the challenge, when the project is ready for implementation by technical teams,” he said.
Second, “The Architect,” occurs when a leader from another department “embeds” with the innovation team and “then acts as a connector, knowing all of the avenues already explored and all of the learning gained.”
Third, “The Ambassadors,” also depends on teams embedded in each stage of the innovation, helping “ensure that no learning is lost and that each phase of work is designed to feed smoothly into the next.” Such a strategy not only helps those who will be adopting the innovation, but helps the innovators have a better “awareness of what downstream teams need most.”
Fourth, “The Hive,” centers around multidisciplinary teams that “tackle challenges across the initiative’s life cycle,” and works best when innovation teams comprise “people from every major function and discipline” of a given organization. Think, for instance, of a pop health innovation pilot developed by clinicians, IT teams, data scientists, case managers, etc.
3. Know the importance of specific roles.
Simon Wardley, a researcher for the Leading Edge Forum, a think tank focused on bridging the gap between operational strategy and new technology, identified three personalities essential for evangelizing and eventually operationalizing new innovations: pioneers, settlers and town planners.

Pioneers are “able to explore never before discovered concepts, the uncharted land,” he said. “Their type of innovation is what we call core research. They make future success possible” – even if their initial ideas don’t always work right, or are baffling to new users.

Settlers “can turn the half baked thing into something useful for a larger audience,” Wardley explained. “They build trust. They build understanding. They learn and refine the concept. They make the possible future actually happen. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers and turn it profitable.”

And Town Planners, by leveraging economies of scale, “are able to take something and industrialize it,” he said. “They build the platforms of the future and this requires immense skill. You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economic and good enough. They build the services that pioneers build upon.”

All three are important to spreading innovation, but it’s just as important to understand which leaders a given organization fit which role – and ensure they’re put in a position to fill it to their potential.

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