Here's how innovators and innovation leaders can use clear Decision Criteria to support data-driven decision making.
I’m a Chicago Bears football fan. It’s been a rough few years, but fans have a reason to be excited this season. Thanks to some moves in the front office, the Bears will have 10 draft picks in this April’s draft. But with over 3,500 eligible college football graduates to choose from, how will they strategically use their draft picks?
Thankfully, the 1-week NFL Scouting Combine, which concluded in early March, serves as an annual testing ground for coaches and management to vet the best candidates for their coveted draft capital.
The combine gives NFL prospects a chance to show their athleticism by participating in five main drills to demonstrate their speed, strength, and agility. Now the coaches and upper management have to create their own internal judging criteria for vetting players. “Does the offensive player run at least a 4.4” in the 40-yard dash?” “Does the defensive player show stamina and consistency between 3-cone drill repetitions?” It’s these criteria that help coaches and management make well-informed decisions on what players should receive their draft pick.
There is a similar model for effective decision-making in the venture capital and corporate innovation world. “Decision Criteria” are an objectively effective way for investors and decision makers to make data-driven allocations of resourcing and support to startups and innovations.
Decision Criteria are the milestones an innovator meets at each step of the innovation journey. They create a clear roadmap for innovators to understand what information and data leadership needs to confidently advance an idea.
First, consider what is important in each maturity stage. If you are responsible for finding ideas that solve a big problem and have few reliable or cost-efficient alternative solutions, your Decision Criteria will be far different than they would be if you were responsible for scaling innovations with an existing track record of success and impact.
A good rule of thumb is that stages of maturity typically follow this pathway, common in startups:
Stage 1: Problem Validation – Is there a pressing and harmful problem worth solving?
Stage 2: Concept Robustness – Can this solution be built, do people want it, and how is it better than existing alternative solutions?
Stage 3: Prototype Validation – Now that there is a working prototype, is it clear that this solution might actually work and deliver the desired return on investment?
Stage 4: Pilot Success – How is the innovation delivering value for the pilot users? Does the return on investment outweigh the costs to build and maintain the innovation, justifying a broader deployment?
Stage 5: Sustainable Scale – The innovation has made it! Now let’s ensure it can operate sustainably to deliver value to users and perhaps it can now consider new pathways for impact.
Regardless of the maturity stage, decide on 3-4 primary Decision Criteria for each stage. The criteria should explicitly state what information you need from your innovators.
⭐️ Good - “How much time, labor, resources, energy etc. is wasted as a result of this problem? Be specific.”
🚫 Needs Improvement - “A problem exists.”
Innovators' top priority in Productable is to provide strong, quantitative data that meets the Decision Criteria in each innovation stage. This gives leadership the most necessary information to confidently progress your innovation to more advanced stages of maturity, which typically comes with more funding and support. The guiding questions are there to help, but if you find yourself struggling, here are a few tips to get started.
It’s easy for innovators to get distracted by all their findings, so encourage them to simply focus on the Decision Criteria questions. It often isn't that complicated, especially in the first two maturity stages - Value and Concept.
Innovators should research and provide quantitative data that effectively argues how the Decision Criteria is met. If you do this, your innovation is more likely to advance to the next stage, faster.
⭐️ Good - “1 in 7 Airmen experienced this problem over the last two years. In a 700,000 person organization, that means roughly 98,000 people!”
🚫 Needs Improvement - “This problem is definitely pervasive across the organization. Many people have experienced it.”
Complete an exercise to help find the data that is relevant to the Decision Criteria. For example, a Problem Statement Canvas helps you define the problem you are trying to solve. In Productable, we call these blueprints.
This one applies only to Productable customers! When you post the data tied to one of the Decision Criteria in the platform, be honest with your confidence score. If it is a 3 or under, report a barrier on your innovation page. Call out what is blocking you, and indicate which Decision Criteria you are stuck on. This will make it easier to get the help you need to advance your innovation.
Now you’re ready to draft only the best players…er I mean invest in the best businesses. Hmm...I think I need some Decision Criteria to help me decide on the best metaphors!
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