A guide to the innovation process and how to develop one

Updated 17 March 2023

Thinking in a critical and creative way is vital for developing new and innovative ideas, products and systems. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from using innovative processes. Understanding the benefits you can gain from these processes can help you incite positive change at the work. In this article, we explain the innovation process and how to develop a process for innovation in your workplace.

Related: Why creativity skills are important and how to develop them

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What is the innovation process?

The innovation process includes translating knowledge or an idea into new products or services that add value to your customers. Following an innovative process can help a business develop new concepts that are more appealing to consumers and have a competitive edge over other companies. The process normally includes three broad stages:

  • discovery

  • development

  • commercialisation

The exact process varies between different companies and the products or services each one offers. Every innovative process includes gaining insight into a market, identifying potential problems to solve and testing different solutions to develop a final successful idea that you can place on the market. Besides designing new products, this process can help identify new strategies, create more effective business models and solve complex issues.

Why are innovative processes important?

Innovative processes are important because they add value to products and services. This is beneficial both for the business itself and for its customers or end-users. Regularly practising the process helps businesses of any size and in any sector to become industry leaders and gain an advantage over competitors. This can also increase a company's profitability.

Using the innovative process to develop business operations can help a business to adapt to change. It can also help the workplace to evolve and develop as the company becomes more established or changes the direction of the business. When used for developing products and services, an innovative process helps businesses to adapt and respond to changing consumer tastes and preferences.

What are the benefits of innovation?

There are multiple benefits to using innovation at work. Having a formulaic process in place for developing ideas helps a company achieve consistency. This can also improve decision-making, increase efficiency and reduce risks when trying a new product or approach. Other significant benefits of the process of innovation include:

  • Gaining expertise: Repeatedly using an established process for innovation helps the decision-makers within a business gain expertise while also improving efficiency.

  • Developing your reputation: A business with a reputation for being innovative is more likely to attract new and creative employees.

  • Increasing brand awareness: Innovative businesses can better meet the needs of customers, which is likely to lead to increased visibility and awareness of the brand and its products.

Related: Decision-making skills: definition and examples

The stages of the innovation process

Every innovative process is unique to the organisation, but they all include three main stages. The exact nature of your process is likely to depend on factors like the size of the organisation, the industry it's part of and its goals for innovation. Here are the most common stages of the process:

The discovery stage

The discovery stage always comes first and involves brainstorming various ideas that might be worthwhile solutions to explore later. The process of suggesting new creative ideas related to a particular concept, also known as ideation, is an important element of this stage. Individuals or the whole team can conduct this step in the process. Working as a team has additional benefits because it brings together a variety of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. The creation of prototypes can also happen at this point to illustrate new ideas more accurately.

There are lots of different brainstorming processes that can be useful during the discovery stage. Allocating time for brainstorming in a comfortable space is a good way to start. Some techniques that you might consider using include:

  • Slip writing: This involves anonymously writing ideas on pieces of paper that you can later share aloud with the whole group.

  • Brain-netting: Usually used online, this is like a digital version of slip writing where the team submits suggestions anonymously before facing review by the whole group.

  • Mind mapping: This is the process of creating a visual aid that lays out ideas and suggestions as they're brought up, which also serves as documentation of the brainstorming session.

  • Reverse brainstorming: This method involves thinking about the causes of a particular problem to identify how the problem started before suggesting potential solutions.

Related: Important workplace social skills

The development stage

Once the team identifies a potential solution and creates a prototype, the process moves to the development stage. This involves activities that further develop and refine the idea. This could include conducting market research, getting feedback from customers and starting to turn the idea into a reality.

The development stage can be broad and the specific tasks you require can vary depending on the project you're working on and the nature of the business you work for. Activities during this stage push the idea towards being a viable solution. At this stage, you start to focus more on all the details that make the idea feasible. These can include:

  • looking at the manufacturing process to understand what works well and what requires updates

  • conducting production tests

  • identifying and choosing suppliers

  • analysing customer feedback and opinions to make further improvements

  • developing marketing strategies for the product or service

  • creating a budget for expenses related to the project

  • identifying and mitigating potential risks

The commercialisation stage

After your team develops and refines the new idea, you reach the commercialisation stage. During the commercialisation stage, you work on bringing the new product or service to market. This involves developing a marketing plan and internally launching the product or service within the company. You can then launch the product or service to the public and finalise marketing and production processes to improve consistency and efficiency.

Related: What is customer satisfaction?

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Tips for successful innovation

Implementing new processes of any kind in the workplace can be a challenging task. An innovative process is no different, but there are ways you can make the process easier and more attractive to everyone. Here are some helpful tips you can follow to successfully implement a process for innovation at your workplace:

  • Create structures that support innovation: Set aside time and space for creating and developing innovations. For particularly large companies, introducing a new department that focuses solely on innovation can sometimes be useful.

  • Share the process: To make innovation part of the company culture, it's important to share the process with all employees rather than only those who are working on a particular project. It's easier to make the process work when everyone has the same goals and expectations.

  • Allow open-door policies: Company policies that restrict the ability to offer feedback can hinder the innovative process. Ensuring that everyone feels able to share feedback with managers encourages an open exchange of ideas, leading to improved innovative processes.

  • Encourage creative thinking: Creative thinking is fundamental to successful innovation. It's helpful to encourage employees to think and work creatively to support a culture of innovation.

  • Encourage teamwork and collaboration: The process is typically more successful when team members with different backgrounds and perspectives work together. Encouraging cohesive teamwork between team members and between departments is helpful.

  • Let the leadership be an example: Change often starts at the top of the organisation. If the company's senior leadership shows creativity and a commitment to innovation, it's likely to trickle down throughout the rest of the staff.

  • Empower colleagues: If there's an expectation for everyone to be innovative and creative, it's important that they feel empowered and supported to follow their ideas through. Being able to see the results of their own work encourages the team to continue working on innovations.

  • Create a comfortable environment: Employees who feel comfortable and cared for at work are more likely to feel relaxed and motivated, which encourages innovation. Making sure that the workspace is comfortable and appropriate can have a positive impact.

  • Reward performance: Employees who are successful at developing innovations deserve recognition and rewards. This also encourages the team more widely to work on innovative ideas.

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