Managing your innovation portfolio in times of disruption

20 April 2020

On Friday the 17th of April, we organised a free webinar about ‘Innovation Portfolio management in times of disruption’, led by Dr. Ferdinand Jaspers. This webinar was the third in the series about maintaining and improving innovation excellence. Building upon the first webinar ‘Innovation leadership during economic downturn’ and the second ‘How to create new business opportunities during the coronavirus downturn’, this webinar dived in topics like managing your innovation portfolio and how to influence senior leadership.

As we saw in the first webinar, for some companies a crisis serves as the kickstart of an ambitious innovation strategy. At the same time, for companies with a mature innovation system in place the current crisis is the ultimate proof that the organization is committed to its long-term innovation vision and the importance of building and maintaining a professional innovation capability. However, often inevitably, we it can be expected that most organisations are cutting back their innovation efforts and budgets. How to deal with this? How can you manage your innovation portfolio during these times of disruption?

Building a balanced innovation portfolio
Managing your innovation portfolio starts with a clear vison and a balanced innovation focus. Why do you innovate in the first place, and – working towards your vision – what types of innovations and opportunities are you focusing on? In our innovation programmes, we strongly recommend our participants (from medium-sized and large organizations – both profit and non-profit) to consider an innovation portfolio that balances different types of innovation activities over time. For instance, innovation activities related to the discovery and scouting of (possibly disruptive) opportunities in the mid- to long-term; experiments to incubate new concepts and business models; and the acceleration of more advanced projects towards full implementation and scaling.

Re-evaluating your priorities
In times of crisis, the questions is how to possibly reallocate your teams and budgets across the different types of innovation. This might be the time to rigorously review the portfolio of projects and (finally) kill some pet projects that aren’t making any progress for a long time. You also may want to pause any expensive experiments or scale-ups. Especially of these activities past validation might no longer be valid in the  future.

Given the probability that your revenue and profit declines, you might have to evaluate the innovations in your portfolio. If you have innovations that results in immediate cost savings for your clients, this would the right moment to give them more priority. Innovations that require some substantial upfront investments of behalf of your clients should be given less priority, unless you can find a solution to change the business model and make it more ‘client friendly’.

Another way to look at it is with a more internal perspective. Organisations are affected differently when it comes to the different business units. In some organisations the B2C unit is doing quite well, whereas the B2B unit is facing difficulties. Where it comes to your innovation projects and working with different business units, then this could be a different perspective to postpone or accelerate certain activities.

Turning adversity into opportunity
Part of your innovation portfolio should also cover exploring new possibilities. Especially in these times it is important for innovation professionals to keep up with the current developments and try to understand how a (post) Covid-19 world would look like. This is opportunity for innovation professionals and teams to inform top management about what’s going on and how to react. An example of this was shared by Ad van Dongen, Innovation Driver at ING. Working on a scale-up within the organisation, he noticed that in these uncertain times his project was losing priority in the innovation portfolio of ING. Turning adversity into opportunity, his team changed their strategy and business model to help ING be ahead of the crisis. Ad: ‘The ING-sponsors reacted very positively on this. We now add more value to the innovation portfolio of ING than we could ever imagine.’

Influence senior leadership
As we discussed in the first webinar, nowadays innovation efforts and teams are often diverted to assist the organisation’s core operational processes.  In some companies, innovation teams are asked by senior management to assist or even to take the lead in the accelerated digital transformation of core processes. In other organizations, all of a sudden countless innovative experiments are started at various places in the organozation without any assistance from the organisation’s innovation professionals. In both cases, this is an excellent opportunity for innovation professionals to execute and facilitate innovation in close collaboration with other parts of the organization. By build internal networks, trust and respect it becomes increasingly clear that core operations and innovation as a true profession can mutually coexist and reinforce each other, also in the long term.

Curious to find out more? Watch the complete webinar recording here.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing more insights on a variety of innovation and leadership topics, via blogs and webinars, all focused on practical skills and tools that help you lead innovation excellence in uncertain times like these. Keep an eye on this webpage to stay tuned.

The next webinar “Managing innovation talent & teams in challenging times’ will take place on April 24 at 10:00 AM. Are you interested to join? Apply here to register for our webinar.

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