Some view innovation as equal parts art, science, and voodoo. But for R&D, it’s really the convergence of technology and entrepreneurship, bound together by clear communication and project management processes. Creativity is involved, but there’s no room for voodoo.
Basic co-innovation project management strategies and processes ensure the so-called magic of ideation is repeatable. Fundamental communication practices ensure the tracks are laid for the advancement of worthy projects. The technology won’t sell itself internally nor on the market.
To begin, approach an innovation project knowing that it must ultimately tell a story. End-to-end innovation resembles entrepreneurship more than a science project in that regard. The R&D leader should thus remove their lab coat and put on an entrepreneur’s jacket when engaging an external partner and selling a project internally.
Managing a co-innovation project effectively is a team effort. The partnership is built on trust, shaped by planning, and propelled by ritualistic devotion to communication. It starts with getting on the same page and establishing an ongoing dialogue articulating the company’s goals and the true nature of the problem in question. Defining the problem properly will shape the trajectory of solutions such that they satisfy broader corporate goals. Nailing those twin targets–the right problem and the real business goals–gives solutions a much stronger chance of receiving further resources for development.
These sessions are much more than just a brainstorming session for two days in a room. It starts with sitting down with the client and talking with them and understanding what the problem is. But that’s more than just recording what the problem statement is. That is digging in, and using an innovator’s mindset to tease it apart and really get to the root causes of why that challenge exists, what the actual gap is. And that process is the beginning of the innovation process because it helps everyone, including the partners, everyone to be able to understand the problem in a much more manageable way.”
Once the problem is defined and a potential solution is agreed upon, formulate a plan with benchmarks punctuated by regular check-ins throughout the co-development process. This transparency removes voodoo from the equation and tells the entrepreneur’s story of why a solution adds value to the company.
What does that plan look like in practice? It starts with communication. Both global and local partnerships will both rely on email and check-in calls, but they must include face-to-face meetings as well. That human interface instills trust and builds a connection. Communication practices will vary depending on whether you are with a startup, SME, or MNC, but getting buy-in on the project both laterally and from the top predicts success.
Not all R&D units are equipped to communicate in such a way that tells the right story to the right people in order for innovation to advance. That’s OK. An innovation partner is there to help with that critical, non-technical part of the process.
A recent collaboration between Xinova and EMRO, a leading ERP solutions provider in Korea, illustrates the value of communication and top-level buy-in. The customer wanted to integrate AI into their procurement services, but lacked a local supply of AI expertise and had no actual strategy as to where to begin. After engaging Xinova, the problem was defined and a team of AI experts was sourced out of Bucharest to brainstorm solutions. Of eight potential projects, one was determined prime for development and a plan was agreed upon:
On the R&D side, the project was overseen by the CEO of the Korean company. In addition to possessing a technical background, he was highly responsive and heavily involved, pushing along the project at every step and serving as point-of-contact with the Xinova project managers, who included one managing the AI team in Europe and another managing the whole project out of Korea. The process was driven by monthly progress updates and very active email correspondence, with an average response time under 12 hours regardless of time differences. The project managers in Korea and Bucharest ensured nothing was lost in translation between Korean, English, and Romanian.
This was a cost-effective and quick-to-market approach to adopting new technology for the Korean team. Its top-down and company-wide buy-in ensured project success and sparked future co-innovation projects. As a result, its platform is being brought to the category’s leading-edge via systematic AI software integration.
“The involvement of the CEO along the project was absolutely key. He had a technical background and was so involved, so adamant to respond quickly to our requests that there were never any long communication lags or bottlenecks. We exchanged hundreds of emails during those four months.”
– Vlad Dabija, Xinova Technology Fellow
It’s a good example of how the innovation journey can go from step-to-step, phase-to-phase, and indeed project-to-project. The end, like the beginning, can look much different than was anticipated. The same principles hold true for adopting additive manufacturing or VR or advanced robotics or what have you. Regardless of which specific technology, the innovation journey is propelled by communication and a long-term strategic partnership.
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