Innovation Lifecycle: How to Develop Your Best Ideas

Infographic showing the innovation life cycle.
Successful ideas must go through the innovation life cycle.

Resting is for retirement. As long as you’re in business, you need to be on top of your game, and innovation is a big part of getting to the front of the pack (and staying there). 

Having a separate innovation department is a relatively new concept, and it’s gaining favor. Every big company always has a lot going on, and for this reason, innovation can sometimes be relegated to the bottom of the task list. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t get done.

As any company with an innovation department knows, innovation is no simple task. It’s a full-time job. The innovation lifecycle is a process, and every idea that gets implemented must go through it. If you don’t keep constant watch, some of your best ideas may languish. Another company may be working on the same idea and beat you to market with it.

How can you avoid such a scenario?

The Innovation Lifecycle

The first stage of the innovation lifecycle is brainstorming. While there are many ways to manage brainstorming sessions, the bottom line is that they are necessary to get the cycle started.

Some companies preface this step with another step in which they identify problems that need to be solved. While this can be helpful in some fields, at other times, problems are well understood. 

Regardless of when you identify problems, a brainstorming session is where the seeds of ideas first appear. It’s where it all starts, where all the great ideas originate. It’s also where a lot of bad ideas originate, so the next step in the innovation lifecycle is critical.

Innovation Lifecycle Management: Assess, Select, Move Forward

This is a particularly difficult part of the process. One reason for this is because it’s almost impossible to give blanket advice on how to take this step. After all, each idea has its own merits and failings. No one can tell you which ideas will prove successful.

There are some basic rules to follow, however. These are:

  • Stay within your budget. Ideas that sound great may create a sense of urgency in you that causes you to make hasty — and even foolish — decisions. Most ideas don’t pan out as expected. Make some rules about going overbudget. Institute a waiting period before committing to fund an expensive project, and allow yourself to go only a certain percentage over the budget. This will stop you from making many big, expensive mistakes.
  • Limit the number of ideas with which you’ll move forward. You may feel that any idea with a germ of possibility is worth exploring. However, you’ll waste time and money this way. You may also feel that rejecting some possibly good ideas will result in hurt feelings and morale issues among the staff, but allowing feelings to enter the equation is a mistake. 
  • Outline some parameters for abandoning the idea. Everyone is familiar with throwing good money after bad. Sometimes you get your heart set on something and it’s not working and you think that trying harder is the solution when in actuality, giving up is the right thing to do. It’s hard to decide when you’re already involved and invested. So decide ahead of time at what point you will cut your losses.
Business man drawing an increasing line graphic.
Funding is inextricably tied to the innovation lifecycle.

Begin Development and Testing

Once you’ve chosen which ideas have the most merit, develop a budget and a timeline for each. 

This step is crucial as well since, with some ideas, it can be hard to say with certainty when they are complete. After all, we could always work a little longer, a little harder and do a little more. This is a vicious cycle in which to get trapped. You need to set goals and limits early on. You don’t have all the time in the world. The next great idea is waiting for funding, and some of the funding should come from the great idea your team is working on now.

You can break these steps down into a hundred smaller steps, but innovation has essentially three main parts: start, keep going, and finish. As simple as this sounds, you know that it isn’t, because a million problems get in the way. 

Your job as an innovation leader is to not allow the problems to get in the way of the process. Find a way to get around them, over them, under them, or through them. The teams that keep working through the innovation lifecycle are the ones that will get more products to market, more recognition, and more profits. 

For more information about the innovation life cycle and other innovation strategies,  request a demo. 

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