Virulent antibodies undermine innovation at many large companies. Cautious governance processes make it easy for stifling bureaucracies in marketing, legal, IT, and other functions to find reasons to halt or slow approvals. Too often, companies simply get in the way of their own attempts to innovate. A surprising number of impressive innovations from companies were actually the fruit of their mavericks, who succeeded in bypassing their early-approval processes. Clearly, there’s a balance to be maintained: bureaucracy must be held in check, yet the rush to market should not undermine the cross-functional collaboration, continuous learning cycles, and clear decision pathways that help enable innovation. Are managers with the right knowledge, skills, and experience making the crucial decisions in a timely manner, so that innovation continually moves through an organization in a way that creates and maintains competitive advantage, without exposing a company to unnecessary risk?
Companies also thrive by testing their promising ideas with customers early in the process, before internal forces impose modifications that blur the original value proposition. To end up with the innovation initially envisioned, it’s necessary to knock down the barriers that stand between a great idea and the end user. Companies need a well-connected manager to take charge of a project and be responsible for the budget, time to market, and key specifications—a person who can say yes rather than no. In addition, the project team needs to be cross-functional in reality, not just on paper. This means locating its members in a single place and ensuring that they give the project a significant amount of their time (at least half) to support a culture that puts the innovation project’s success above the success of each function.
Cross-functional collaboration can help ensure end-user involvement throughout the development process. At many companies, marketing’s role is to champion the interests of end users as development teams evolve products and to help ensure that the final result is what everyone first envisioned. But this responsibility is honored more often in the breach than in the observance. Other companies, meanwhile, rationalize that consumers don’t necessarily know what they want until it becomes available. This may be true, but customers can certainly say what they don’t like. And the more quickly and frequently a project team gets—and uses—feedback, the more quickly it gets a great end result.