• Rachel Kuhr Conn

Bureaucracy, Barriers and The Crucial Ps of Innovation That Fix It All

Updated: Jul 13

People seem surprised when I say that I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, as if all entrepreneurs have dreamed about being entrepreneurs since they were little kids. A whole lot of frustration and a healthy dose of failure put me on this path. I spent years working on innovation teams only to see the same barriers stifle innovation over and over again.

Through all of these frustrations and failures, I began collecting data and spotting trends. I noticed the large corporations I worked with all faced the same innovation challenges, like bureaucracy, process barriers and the detrimental hits of misalignment. I also saw the Shark Tank startups I worked with kicking butt, taking names and innovating like rockstars.

These startups all benefited from the venture capital ecosystem, which I talk about in this blog post. So, what did they have that billion dollar corporations didn’t have? I analyzed the innovation trends that were in front of me until I was blue in the face and realized that the most innovative companies all had something in common: The Crucial Ps of Innovation.

These five Ps are an integral part of the venture capital ecosystem, which is a big reason why startups disrupting industry has become the norm. Corporations implement some of the Ps on some level, but the data on corporate longevity tells us that’s not good enough.

What I refer to as The Crucial Ps of Innovation -- Portfolio, Pipeline, Process, Projects and People -- are crucial to innovation success, and here’s why:

#1 Portfolio: This is where innovation governance starts and what sets your team up for success. Portfolio Innovation is a repeatable formula that includes establishing a vision and outcomes, balancing your innovation ambition to your risk tolerance and predetermining resource allocation. Essentially, it’s all about risk mitigation. The key to successful Portfolio Innovation is fearless experimentation and a built-in plan for failure, prioritizing the health of the portfolio as a whole over the success of every single project.

What it’s not: The innovation industry has mangled the portfolio concept, which isn’t doing innovating organizations any favors. Portfolio Innovation is not just a collection of projects as many innovators think. Portfolio Innovation is all about strategic alignment and long-term outcomes.

#2 Pipeline: This is where the innovation strategy you established at the portfolio level comes to life. Your innovation pipelines -- also known as opportunity areas -- are all about scaling ideas into real solutions. To do this effectively, Productable helps you develop predetermined outcomes and decision criteria at every phase of the pipeline, so you’ll know exactly when a project is ready to move forward and how much investment should be funneled into the idea. Moving through the pipelines means getting more resource toward the solution.

What it’s not: This isn’t your run-of-the-mill idea management. Pipelines are about scaling ideas, not collecting or tracking them. And there are absolutely no voting features in true pipeline management. Instead, we use a process that leads to your desired outcomes.

#3 Process: This is where the real innovation magic happens. It’s where ideas are tested and developed. It’s also the thing that funnels time and money away from the wrong ideas. All too often, innovation teams spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to make a nonviable idea work, but having the right process puts a stop to this madness! In Productable, our bespoke process is a masterful mashup of innovation methodologies such as Design Thinking, Agile and Lean Startup. We guide you through the right activities and experiments to develop your specific solution and move to the next phase.

What it’s not: Innovation process shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all workflow, like those in the innovation industry have been taught. One idea may only require eight steps, but the next idea may require 12 steps. Stuffing innovation into a box only leads to improper validation, so it’s important to match your solution with the right experimentation.

#4 Projects: This is where creativity and ambition intersect. Projects are the evolution of ideas into solutions and where most of the execution takes place. They’re the “things” that solve your customers biggest problems. There should be a lot of projects in the works at any given time, not just a few. Some projects will be successful, but many will fail. And that's ok.

What it’s not: Projects shouldn’t end up in the proverbial valley of death. This is where so many organizations go wrong. Projects should be active solutions under development with varying degrees of resources being thrown their way.

#5 People: This is where execution is either enabled or destroyed. In any kind of innovation, it’s important to align talent to the problems being solved. A well-curated team involves finding the right people with the right skills, matching complimentary workstyles with complimentary interests and backgrounds.

What it’s not: Creating teams isn’t about just who is available. It’s about who can best execute. Organizations often shoot themselves in the foot by matching the wrong teams to projects, which is a surefire way to crush a good idea.

I launched Productable as the sixth P of innovation. Consider us your North Star. The guiding light that shows you the way to innovation success. Portfolio, PIpeline, Process, Projects and People are all crucial to innovation, and Productable is the thing that brings it all together.

Rachel Kuhr Conn is an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, researcher, world-traveler and lifelong academic dedicated to making true transformation easier for all. She founded Productable after perfecting her own innovation process for Mark Cuban’s portfolio of startups and is on a mission to help the world’s largest organizations drive fearless experimentation.

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