The more you work in engineering, and the more engineers you work with, the more you understand there is no shortage of ideas. Coming up with new systems, processes, tools, products, ways of working, templates, and procedures is something that engineers do naturally – it’s in our DNA.
The real challenge for organisations is harnessing and then taking full advantage of those ideas. In other words, managing innovation.
Without a process to manage innovation, great ideas are too often left to wither and die. Even those that are acted on are usually only implemented in a pocket of the organisation, with the majority of business units and teams not even knowing the innovative idea exists let alone how to benefit from it.
So, how can engineering organisations manage innovation to make sure they are benefiting from the ideas being developed by members of their teams?
Taking a Structured Approach
I have personal experience of this issue delivering validation services for SL Controls. The validation engineers on our team are forward-thinking and highly innovative, so great ideas on a broad range of topics come thick and fast. However, we are spread across multiple offices in Ireland, so distance is a factor. Plus, members of the team spend considerable amounts of time at client sites.
Then there are the other departments and teams in the business. The ideas that we develop in Validation Services could be beneficial to those teams. In addition, an innovative idea developed and implemented in another department could benefit us.
It’s a complex situation but, as with most other complex situations, it can be solved with a structured approach. Here are some principles that we adopt at SL Controls to manage innovation throughout the company.
Innovative Ideas Can Come from Anywhere
Senior and experienced members of the team don’t have exclusivity on good ideas. Instead, ideas can come from anywhere, including from engineers looking at a problem with a fresh pair of eyes.
Engineering Organisations Need Systems for Capturing Innovative Ideas
Making the most of innovative ideas is not something that can be left to chance. Instead, you need structures and systems in place to capture the idea, refine it, integrate it with existing processes and ways of working, and then distribute it throughout the organisation with buy-in at all relevant levels.
This is the only way to ensure innovative ideas lead to positive change.
Accept that Ideas Have to Be Prioritised
While you need systems in place to capture innovative ideas, there also needs to be an acceptance throughout the organisation that it will not be possible – or good practice – to implement every idea.
Instead, innovative ideas need to be analysed to assess whether they fit in with the company’s culture and goals. They then need to be prioritised as every organisation has a limit to the number of resources that are available for this process.
Focus on a Company-Wide Approach
The easiest way to manage innovation to capture and drive good ideas is team-by-team or department-by-department. This is not the most effective approach, however.
You will maximise the positive change possibilities of managing innovation if you take a company-wide approach.
After all, a solution in one team may be useful to others. You may also find that a solution to a particular problem someone is trying to solve may already exist.
Managing innovation to capture and drive good ideas is about making use of the talent you have available. It makes engineering companies more efficient, it improves customer service, and it enhances quality. It also enhances levels of job satisfaction for engineers to see something they have come up with being implemented and then becoming successful.