Ideation & Enterprise Architecture for Better Business Outcomes

Thomas Edison’s legacy in innovation is such that his most famous invention, the light bulb, has become a symbol depicting great ideas around the world. By now, we’ve innovated beyond what Thomas Edison could have ever dreamed of. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still lessons to be learned.

He once famously said that, “vision without execution is just hallucination.” And that just so happens to tie in perfectly with what we’ll cover today as we examine how combining Ideation and Enterprise Architecture can benefit a business outcome approach.

We established what business outcome driven Enterprise Architecture (EA) is earlier, in this post. But to recap, Gartner define business outcome driven EA as a practical approach to supporting EA, that starts and ends with a focus on delivering signature-ready and actionable recommendations to business and IT leaders so they can adjust policies and projects in order to achieve targeted business outcomes, based on the business direction and relevant business disruptions.

But what is Ideation?

Although inventions and ground-breaking ideas are often credited to one person, the recipient of said credit, rarely works alone. History has taught us that innovation is a team sport. A collaborative effort that thrives on hive mind like contributions and co-creation. After all, one of Edison’s first lessons, and arguably one of his strongest legacies, was his introduction of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the invention process, essentially birthing modern research labs we are familiar with today.

The reality of the innovation process then, is that it can quite easily become chaotic. Ideation is the process of managing such chaos, and wielding it in such a way that it benefits the organization at large. Simply put, Ideation is the act of generating and capturing ideas (related to processes, products, services, and customer experiences) that applies a set of practical and rigorous methods, tools, and frameworks.

How is ideation and innovation managed in your organization?

I ask that you answer this honestly. And I ask this because in a lot of cases, when asked “How is ideation and innovation managed in your organization?” the truthful answer is “it isn’t.”

For many businesses, this presents a set of hurdles and gates to progression.

Firstly, many employers don’t put enough value on suggestions and ideas from their employees, and if they do, they do without having installed the proper systems and avenues to efficiently collect said suggestions and ideas. Business leaders need to implement structured and open mechanisms to collect proposals from employees at all levels. This way, these ideas can be properly noted, considered, and if right for the business, implemented. And those ideas that aren’t can be met with feedback and suggestions.

Alternatively, a business could adopt a more ad hoc approach to innovation, and risk quality suggestions disappearing into a black hole. Reluctance to do this will hurt a business twofold. In both limiting innovation by having suggestions fall through the cracks, and discouraging and demoralising the workforce because they feel as though they are being ignored.

The second hurdle businesses typically face, is a disconnect between the idea and its implementation. Both of these hurdles are clearly detrimental, with the latter being less abstractly so. A disconnect between an idea and its implementation is a guaranteed factor in decreasing efficiency and adding redundancies in technology and processes into procedure.

The four primary forces shaping innovation

Innovation is primarily influenced by four factors – Business, technology, design and society.

  • Business – What is viable in the market? Where are the market gaps and how can we fill them?
  • Technology – What is possible with new and emerging technologies, and how can we leverage them to create new offerings.
  • Design – What do people desire? How can we create solutions that people will gravitate to?
  • Society – What is sustainable for the community and environment?

To increase the chances of successful innovation, business leaders should aim to integrate these forces with the outcome being innovations delivering higher user and economic value.

So how can we marry Ideation and Enterprise Architecture in order to achieve better Business Outcomes?

A great place to start to tackle this, is the innovation management funnel, or pipeline. Managing the innovation management funnel involves three very different tasks. The first is to expand the entrance of the pipeline – the organization must promote its challenges and campaigns in order to increase the number of new product and new process ideas.

The second task is to narrow the funnel neck – ideas generated must be prioritized and resources focused on the most attractive opportunities that are aligned with business goals.

The third task is to ensure that the selected projects deliver on the promises and return on investment anticipated when the project was approved.

Innovation Lifecycle

Kanban boards provide the enabling mechanism for managing the pipeline. A Kanban board is produced to represent the innovation management funnel.

We can then expand on promising ideas and initiatives by slotting them into the Strategic Planning Lifecycle.

Innovation in Strategic Planning Lifecycle

The above figure demonstrates how the strategic planning lifecycle supports an ‘ideas to delivery’ framework. The high level relationship between the strategy and goals of an organization and the projects that deliver the change to meet these goals, are shown here. Enterprise Architecture intercepts the ideation process, to ensure that businesses “do the right things,” (prioritization) and “do things right” (implementation). The Enterprise Architecture provides the model to govern the delivery of projects in line with these goals.

Alongside the strategic planning lifecycle, and innovation management funnel. Businesses should utilize other tools including Campaign Management. This can help in making the processes behind innovation more transparent, and ensure everybody is both up to date, and on board. You’ll be able to determine:

  1. What technology is there – is it new or existing
  2. Whether it fits into tactical, or strategic technology
  3. Get a head start on what others are doing in the business

Another key asset of the EA+IM mantra, is collaboration. Much of this feeds back into earlier sentiments about the importance and value of ideas from employees of the business at large. A tool that promotes collaboration can help in a number of ways including:

  • Engagement with broader business users
  • Directly collaborate with non R&D individuals
  • Organizing workload with kanban boards
  • Task management across stakeholders (Communities)

Comment systems and gamification can also be introduced to encourage participation even at the base levels of the business.

In Summary

By incorporating an Innovation Management process as part of an overall blueprint of the business, we can, in essence, create a hive mind approach to innovation, whereby business leaders, stakeholders and employees across the hierarchy are all innovating to improve the business. This, in turn will maximize technology investments to provide positive business outcomes.

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