7 lessons on building an innovation programme

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A successful innovation programme needs to be focused yet dynamic, fast yet considered.To implement a programme that gets high returns from your people’s brain power we look at key lessons learned from innovation programmes that work.


Equip business to drive innovation

A blanket objective for the business to innovate from only one source, like the Innovation Department, is often limiting. Business units, functions and teams should be equipped to drive innovation within their lines. Here they can apply their expertise and insights to continuous improvement while contributing to the broader business-wide innovation intent driven by the Innovation Department or the likes thereof. Innovation programmes, when made relevant to the daily function of employees, yields more results.


Speed up innovation through “livelines”

Use “liveliness” to release offerings to test-customers, instead of deadlines which tend to stifle an idea before it’s seen the light of day. Livelines release offerings and products at the stage they are at, at a set time. Similar to an MVP (minimum viable product) mentality, the business can release more offerings before progressing into polished products. This is a far faster, cheaper, and resource-lean approach to business evolution. This applies across the business – to all solutions, including operational offerings.


Give innovation direction

Setting the playing field for innovation is critical. Strategic focus, themes or intents are important to give team members guidance to the type of thinking that is required. With a direction in place people can apply those guide rails within their own areas.

Examples include: New market entry, cost saving, new products, higher efficiency.


The right people, the right time

Move ideas through people, quickly. One element within a innovation life-cycle that slows innovation down is trying to move ideas through the wrong people. To get an idea unstuck from the mud select smaller expert teams to progress an idea from thought to viable business solution.


Validate quickly

The faster an idea is validated the faster the business can implement or move on to the next idea. Use cross-functional team members to validate an idea at the same time. Multiple insights, while using the method of “liveline” releases makes for highly dynamic innovation. In an agile process this is done at the beginning of a sprint (rapid development iterations).


Free ideas

A key driving force behind breakthrough ideas is collaborative thinking. But, you should move away from the time consuming components of collaboration – endless meetings, email trails, etc. Bring thinking together by cross-pollinating ideas in one, virtual place that all team members have access to.


Give the “top” tools

Like many things in business, the “top” must drive innovation. But without smart tools leadership tends to resort back to town-halls and email blasts. Give leaders a channel that allows them to set their innovation challenges and ways for them to actively participate in, and evaluate innovation activity. When leaders are seen contributing within an innovation programme team members dramatically increase their participation.

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The 5 biggest challenges in building an innovation culture, solved.

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An innovation culture needs more than a rally cry from the C-suite to be truly embedded into business operations. Like any efforts to build a resilient culture, employees need to participate in and see the results from innovation management activity. Understandably many employees dismiss calls for innovation because of lackluster initiatives they’ve seen before.

To get an innovation culture off the ground you first have to offer your people a visible programme that, by its design, eliminates historic drawbacks created by “soft” innovation pledges.

To unpack these drawbacks we take a look at the perspective of innovation’s toughest critic – the oppositional employee and give them (with modern technology) the answer to tangible innovation – which they can believe in and be excited for.

Innovation takes too much time


After the Townhall rally speech on being innovative, the comment of the resistant employee often is: “when am I going to find time to do this?”. Inherently the problem in many businesses is that innovation is seen as an add-on or extramural activity to an employee’s busy work schedule.

Solution – Trim the fat

Every idea has a certain amount of work that needs to go into progressing it from a thought to a viable business solution. It’s the way in which this process happens that can radically reduce the amount of time people spend fleshing out an idea to get to sign-off. It’s important that time-draining activities are removed from your innovation cycle. Say no to processes like siloed departmental reviews and dated stage-gate processes that add more people and time to more phases with more meetings and more email trails.

Nectir’s solution

Nectir offers one agile phase (we call them sprints), to get teams to rapidly collaborate on the development of a viable business solution. It’s all the right people at the right time, in one fast sprint.

Random ideas are pointless


Everyone has an idea about something. But not all of them are worth going forward with – especially the expensive free coffee machine that Sue wants. Some of the best ideation, however, comes from free-thinking. So where is the sweet spot between a meaningless idea and a powerful left-of-field breakthrough?

Solution – Set the focus

Create focus for your innovation programme, align them to your business strategy, key objectives or goals. Make sure there’s a purpose to ideation.

Nectir’s solution

Nectir gives you the ability set up strategic focus areas and challenges that help employees channel their efforts. Strategic alignment is embedded throughout Nectir to promote aligned thinking.

Innovation is biased to innovation, not real business


Innovation is, of course, a core responsibility of the Innovation/Product Department. But it’s also the responsibility for everyone from chief exec to clerk. One department alone cannot manage the innovation capacity of an entire business.

So then why limit the responsibility of driving internal employee innovation through the innovation department’s agenda only. The risk here is that the challenges set by one department either address generic problems only or is biased to a select few that have the capability to solve a challenge.

Solution – Empower business to innovate

Innovation works best when the business as a whole drives innovation. While the innovation department (or similar) can set up an innovation programme each department head, and all their respective line managers, should be equipped to drive innovation within their areas. And who best to identify where ideas are needed than from the people at the cold face of it.

Nectir’s solution

Nectir enables all line manager to set challenges, for company-wide participation or for line-specific ideation. The power and responsibility to set challenges live with anyone that leads a team.

Ideas are worthless if they aren’t executed


The reality is that collecting ideas is a fairly easy component of an innovation programme. And yes, some ideas are not worth progressing with. Good ideas, however, should have the best chance of coming to life. A good idea without an end-point of execution is destined to fall into a black hole.

Solution – Use the crowd to execute ideas

The collective intelligence of your broader team has an unrivaled ability to identify ideas with the right potential. But more importantly, the crowd also has the ability to enrich ideas to make them viable business solutions. Use the power of the crowd to quickly collaborate on selected ideas to move them from thought to viable business solution.

Nectir’s solution

Nectir uses the collective power of your teams, across your business to collaborate in the development of viable business solutions (Sprint teams). And, these teams can reach out to the crowd for support, when they need it.

Experts are needed to review expert ideas


Many business ideas are borne from a specific, often specialized, problem. When innovation programmes rely on a team of “administrators” to act as a review council they are often limited by a lack of specialist insight into the core problem or opportunity. This is why many potentially groundbreaking ideas never see the light of day.

Solution – Get the experts to review, automatically

An innovation programme needs to make sure that the right people see high-potential ideas. If an idea submission’s next step is to a siloed review council then that idea’s prospect is decreased by a factor relative to the experience of the review council. A better way to do this is to make sure people in the know, often people within a reporting line (up and down the ladder), are privy to ideas most relevant to them. This makes sure that people with the right expertise can contribute and enrich an idea all the way through to execution.

Nectir’s solution

Nectir uses the power of the crowd, as well as automatically generated line structures to ensure that ideas are seen by the right people and, if necessary, contain sensitive ideas to specific departments or business units.

In closing

The reality is that, for the most part, businesses position innovation as game-changing ideas and projects that will change the course of their trajectory. But in reality, 85% of impactful innovation comes from incremental business enhancement. Even the employee most resistant to innovation will resonate with the reality that in their daily work lives there are systemic challenges that they can solve to make their lives easier. With more relevance comes more understanding and more frequent action – the key ingredients for an innovation culture to formed. And by building this muscle memory into a culture you’ll certainly get the game-changing ideas as well.

Agile innovation

Bringing “agile” to innovation

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“Execution is everything” – Michael Jordaan, renowned former CEO of the world’s most innovative bank – First National Bank. These were the foremost words of advice from Michael during the concept development of Nectir.

Innovation management software plays a major role in the process of creating an environment where innovation can bloom. It has the ability to create a fluid culture of innovation through:

  • Collection of ideas from employees,
  • Community review and manager selection of the best ideas to progress with,
  • Crowd sourcing ideas for the solving of business challenges,
  • Tangible employee engagement,
  • Strategy alignment and focused ideation,
  • Analysis and reporting

All of which can be automated through the smart use of social collaboration methods. But, what’s most important is that ideas turn into actual innovation. For this to happen people need to move ideas from concepts to execution. How they do this decides the level of success of their innovation efforts.

More success, more often.

“Fail often and early”, as John C. Maxwell says. To do this you have to create an environment that firstly allows for “often”, which means there needs to be many opportunities to create and test ideas. By implication this means a business needs a lot of ideas to start with. Secondly, “early” testing means two things – 1. a business needs to be able to pressure test an idea earlier in the decision-making process and 2. that testing also needs to be fast. The result is more success, more often.

Nectir has created the function called Sprints for idea execution, which is based on the agile process. Originally the agile process is a method of software development but is quickly becoming a broader principle of business development. It focuses on quick iterations of multidisciplinary teams to create solutions from problems. Barclays and ING are some of the many large corporates that are successfully implementing this as a method of working. (Watch ING’s agile process here.)

Innovating in a sprint.

The Sprints function means that dynamic, short-term, sprint teams can be created for multidisciplinary idea validation and planning. This stops the process of inter-departmental baton-passing and speeds up the per-idea-lifecycle from months to weeks. Also this means that instead of relying on different stages of disciplines to review and flesh out ideas there is only one. The total innovation lifecycle, using this method, is dramatically reduced.

How sprints in Nectir work

  • Selected ideas are promoted to a Sprint
  • Inter-departmental specialists are assigned an idea by a manager
  • The Sprint creators set key objectives and requirements for a business case (or proposal)
  • Sprint teams can post requests for help from the rest of the business – to quickly solve smaller pieces of the Sprint.
  • Sprint teams can set themselves tasks to complete before the end of the sprint
  • All sprint requirements are deadline driven to rapidly create viable business solutions


By creating an agile process within the innovation process, businesses can actively move ideas into execution by setting up more pockets of delivery than before. The process does not rely on older stage-gates and gives executives clear decision making across more implementation-ready ideas.

The future of innovation

Innovation Management Software – the old and the new

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The genesis of Nectir began when an international bank, of 140,000 staff, tasked our founders to drive idea generation across their business. The objective of the bank was to build an innovation culture that makes them more innovative. We then set out to find innovation management software that was better than their internal system.

Two broad categories were available:

1. Generalist, low-tech idea submission systems

These were a myriad of idea mailboxes, basic Sharepoint submission tools and low-tech intranet pages

2. Specialist innovation project management

These were cloud-based systems largely designed and developed with the innovation cycle in mind.  They have largely ignored why people innovate and were controlled (and overwhelmed) by a few users in charge of innovation.

Each came with a myriad of flaws in their concepts that prevented the natural uptake of real people, in real jobs, living real busy lives.


Generalist, low-tech idea boxes

The internal ideas box is simple – employees need to send their ideas to a committee. It’s rudimentary and offers little to no scalability or sustainability. Essentially the premise is that people submit ideas to what is often some type of review council. Most often a few people become responsible for the evaluation of ideas, often not in their core expertise and become inundated by a bottleneck of ideas that eventually get dropped or forgotten about.


Specialist innovation project management

For the most part these systems work on a stage-gate innovation cycle methodology. The process lends itself to whittling down ideas through a series of barriers. Later these systems evolved to include more comprehensive employee idea submission functions – but the core function of stage-gate remained and the uptake from the broader employee base was low – because of the complexity – originally designed for use by specialist users.


Differentiating Innovation Management Software from Idea Boxes and Project Management

It’s important to understand your core need for the system in its broadest sense – do you need the system to:

  • Simply collect ideas? (Idea submission)
  • Evaluate ideas? (Review and analysis)
  • Problem-solve? (Executive Challenges)
  • Create viable business solutions? (Execution)
  • Manage implementation? (Project Management)


To differentiate ideas boxes and innovation management software comes down to one function -the ability to move an idea from concept to a viable business solution. If a system misses the later, it’s more than likely just a fancy ideas box. However any further than creating a viable business solution, business case or proposal becomes the territory of project management systems.

A new breed of innovation management software

For the past four years Nectir has assessed the market, researched clients needs and developed a platform that intuitively and automatically manages the employee innovation cycle. Nectir does this point of creating a viable business solution. A modern innovation management system must be cloud-based, accessible and frequently used by all staff. It has to be built from the users’ perspective, continuously drive innovation and should support behaviour that forms an innovation culture. (Read: how motivation drives innovation)

Key attributes of Nectir in this development to move away from the old to the new have included:

We set out to ensure that we built one of the most advanced (but simple to use) ideas management systems.  In order to create a class-leading innovation system we introduced Sprints. Sprinting is an agile process which allows for a far more dynamic innovation process that gets more ideas tested, faster. Here sprint teams can move selected ideas from concept to viable solution in a rapid, collaborative way.

Nectir has now used this rapid methodology throughout the innovation engine to ensure that ideas flow quickly from an employee’s mind to an executive’s desk.

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