Perspectives on Facilitating a Consulting Engagement Related to Business Development and Innovation

One of the projects I have been working on recently with a partner involves helping an incumbent software vendor explore new business opportunities and facilitating strategy direction with the leadership team. The project involves research & planning with culmination of a key phase being a go/no-go and a commitment of money for development. Innovation and business development engagements can be tricky to facilitate due to the cast of characters and specific nature of innovation problems, so I wanted to share some experiences with facilitating these types of situations.

First, here are some examples on how these projects can die out (e.g., before getting funded):

  • Innovation is more radical and not incremental, and the primary decision-maker needs "numbers" as a first step to prove out the case for innovation (too much analytical, left brain early on)
  • The team is diverse but cannot effectively develop a set of innovative solutions that range from incremental to more innovative (on either or both dimensions of technology and end-user meaning and associations)
  • If the team can develop a range of solutions, the method of managing the portfolio is ineffective or mismatched with the type of innovation area (e.g., incremental innovation areas not researched in enough detail versus radical innovation areas not given enough breathing room)
  • The method for more fully developing the innovation solution does not balance (based on the type of innovation) gathering information from current end-users versus a larger, ecosystem of industry players and participants beyond end-users

So we have the following as potential backdrop: a mix of left-brains and right-brains and a diverse team that may address primarily incremental innovations but that recognizes the need for more radical, game-changing innovations. Wherein lies the risk tolerance of the leadership team, we cannot yet articulate in concrete terms. Yet the goal is to get everyone on the same page and committed.

A common method of attack that I use for facilitating these types of engagements is to work from common ground to more specific ground and from right-brain (creative) appeal to left-brain (analytical) appeal and then back to teamwork. So the storyboard presentation for getting on the same page with respect to an innovation project may be:

  • Review industry trends (facilitation strategy: develop common ground)
  • Get on the table the high-level, company situation (e.g., via strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats -> SWOT matrix) (facilitation strategy: develop common ground)
  • Portray the potential innovation projects on a canvas that shows the current situation versus the potential future (facilitation strategy: develop common ground, but more targeted to right-brain)
  • Portray the innovation projects on a conceptual frontier of risks versus returns (e.g., like here), sort of like an investment portfolio (facilitation strategy: develop common ground with segueway to left-brain)
  • Provide deeper-dive summaries (e.g., ROIs where possible or at some more numeric info if that's all that can be done) on specific projects (facilitation strategy: develop more targeted to left-brains but provide offshoot points for open discussion with right-brains)
  • Provide summary on the roadmap for tying everything together, identifying unknowns and open issues, and providing governance for individual innovation projects (facilitation strategy: develop trajectory for people to start working together before passing judgment on all projects)

In a prior post, I talked about the importance of articulating and rearticulating problem statements. That principle still applies, but in many strategy projects, there's also an element of facilitating a diverse set of people that cut across left- and right-brain problems. As consultants and managers, we need to think about that aspect as well.

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