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The world might have stopped but your innovation doesn’t have to

Rob Munro , Institute for Manufacturing, Cambridge University
14 May, 2020
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Take stock to refresh your strategic technology plans and investments

BYLINE – Take stock to refresh your strategic technology plans and investments.

In only six eventful but long weeks it might seem that the world has stopped. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has forced business and society into a long pause. Companies and their supply chains are confronting disruptions and are trying to keep the lights on. The implications will likely be with us for many months and maybe years.

There are plenty of metaphors doing the rounds: the events of years have become those of weeks, a “new normal” will emerge. So, what can we possibly do to keep making progress in business?

Recent articles have tried to capture the essence of what is going on. The Economist highlights that the crisis has forced much greater pace into company innovation lest they fall victim to Schumpeter’s creative destruction. McKinsey reflects on the 2008 financial crisis to point out that companies with a though-cycle mentality not only survived but thrived.

An agenda item for many firms, digital transformation has become an overnight requirement. While 90% of execs know digital transformation was important, only 20% had moved off the slow adopter blocks.

So what can you do about this situation?

Breaking down the uncertainty

After firms have dealt with the necessary immediate and urgent issues it would be time companies to take stock of their strategic and innovation activities. And this is now.

At the best of times, strategic planning can be complex, ambiguous and uncertain. The uncertainty brought by Covid-19 dials that up to maximum. Let’s break this down.

Uncertainty levels range from total clarity of the path to be taken through to true ambiguity.

Scenario Planning, when coupled with strategic roadmapping, can help navigate this uncertainty. It reduces a range of possible futures to a handlable set of plausible alternatives to make decision-making under these conditions of uncertainty easier and more credible.

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I recently conducted a scenarios-driven roadmap for a global process company. Setting up four possible futures with different economic and social drivers meant that the final consolidated roadmap was well tested. By looking for commonalities and differences the company was able to plan with greater certainty about the resource and financial implications.

The main message is one that is hopeful reassuring: a strategic planning process can be taken online with excellent results. A recent project flipped in seven days from physical to online delivery using strategic roadmapping to help a consortia make complex decisions about their innovation programmes.

Advice for Planning Remotely

Part of the digital transformation trend are the possibilities provided by a plethora of tools designed for this. Crises reveal what was hiding in plain sight all along. While the switch to remote working can be done, to do it well and get equivalent results needs careful thought. Simply wrapping a digital blanket over a typical strategic planning workshop will lead to poor results. We can also bring well-worked out research about roadmapping from the physical world and apply this to the world of remote working. Three main considerations are,

1 Clear Process Design

Our experience has shown that taking planning online needs to be very clear about the purpose, the process and the facilitation. Breaking down the planning process into specific chucks with both online and offline working, timeboxing the tasks.

2 Helpful Technologies

Some hygiene factors apply like choosing good internet conferencing and communication hardware and software. We must make ourselves clearly understood. Widely available tools with cloud storage make collaboration effective. Whiteboard tools like Miro, selection tools like Mentimeter and cloud storage tools like MS365 should be in the facilitator’s toolkit. Depending on your company's preferred software platforms, visualisation tools such as Sharpcloud can also provide a collaboration tool.

3 Great Facilitation

It’s still vital to get the right people into the virtual room and be well facilitated. Make sure all contributors know their roles, the objectives and the timetable. Offline working weaves the golden thread through your strategy refresh.

Gartner reports that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift their activities to remote working so it’s here to stay. This speaks to the through-cycle mindset.

So, refresh your innovation plans: the world might have stopped but your innovation doesn't have to.

Your next steps

  • Don’t hold off because you think it can't be done; Start to review your innovation planning and strategy pipeline.
  • Be clear on the objectives for your review and who you need to complete it.
  • Design the review  process and consider how it needs to be broken down considering the technology available to you and how it will be facilitated.

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