Use Formalized Workflows to Streamline Your Innovation Processes

Hand pointing to icons on a large screen.
When you have the idea, what next?

Creativity is spontaneous. Ideas come to us in a flash of lightning, as quickly as a lightbulb turns on, inspired by everything from children’s toys to dreams to movies. The problem, though, is with executing on the idea, which won’t just happen. Fortunately, there’s a simple tool to feed ideas into and refine them into finished projects: the workflow.

Moving Ideas Forward

Why use a workflow? Simply put, it provides a series of steps to take with an idea that anybody can follow; that offers clear, tested approaches to common concerns; and offers an approach to an end product. Workflows take multiple forms, depending on the idea and the goal. A few common approaches include product development, process design, and cost savings, but don’t feel limited by those; you can design a workflow with almost any goal in mind.

They’re especially important because they offer a set of directions on which the team can decide. Instead of spending time working out a custom process for the idea, they can simply follow the steps and see where it takes them. 

Furthermore, if an idea might work in multiple directions, the team can sit down and compare workflows, choosing ones that overlap to a certain point and then diverging from there, or even depending on resources, pursuing both. This limits disagreement, involves stakeholders across your organization, and allows ideas to be fully developed. However, this means your workflows must be rock-solid.

Woman placing sticky notes on a window.
Whether it’s a sheet of paper or a series of stickies, workflow matters.

Building A Better Workflow

When building workflows, take a methodical approach to limit surprises.

Remember your audience. Is this a workflow for a dedicated innovation team, or is it one for someone who has an idea and wants to test its viability? Aim your design accordingly.

Detail the steps that must happen no matter what. Who will have to review the idea, for example, and sign off on allotting time and energy to it? What legalities, such as patent checks, must be run? Pick out these steps, and who’s responsible for them, as part of all your workflows.

Think about the steps in terms of both necessity and challenge. What are some relatively easy steps that can be taken to give the idea some more momentum?

Make feedback about the process part of your workflow, either a formal step or an informal process that unfolds naturally. As you use the workflow, it will become clear what steps are best, and in what order they should be.

Have your workflows share steps as much as possible. This both helps keep workflows streamlined and allows ideas to pivot if one approach doesn’t work out. That helps with morale and also collects lessons learned.

Test your workflows, and keep testing them. No workflow is ever perfect, no matter how smoothly an idea flows from conception to execution, and proper testing will both limit frustration and encourage creativity.

Workflows, much like ideas, will go through a shaping process as they’re used. However, even at the beginning, having those steps in place will help your innovation strategy reach its greatest potential. To learn more, join our newsletter today and also download our latest infographic entitled “Proven Innovation Workflows.”

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