An innovation manager’s role is important as it has a massive impact on the survivability of the business. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the innovation manager is not the person who does the innovation projects themselves.
Like in the sales department, there’s a big difference between a sales representative and a sales manager. Even if a certain sales representative is good at his job, it doesn’t mean he’s a good sales manager.
There’s a fine line between the job of selling and the job of managing the whole sales process. The same is true with innovation. The work of an innovation manager is different compared to an innovation team member.
Let’s dig deeper into what the innovation manager role is all about.
What is an innovation manager?
An innovation manager is the one responsible for managing innovation in the organization. It is his duty to take care of the innovation engine and to keep it running by fueling it up with ideas and problems.
The role of an “innovation manager” can also be referred to by other titles including:
- Business development manager
- Product manager
- Innovation director
- Innovation portfolio manager
- Innovation head
The presence of different roles usually has something to do with the size of the organization. For example, large organizations could have an innovation director in addition to the innovation manager.
But for small businesses, just having an innovation manager (which some small organizations may also call the innovation director) probably would suffice.
What are the responsibilities of an innovation manager?
The ultimate role of an innovation manager is to create continuous business value for the company by delivering successful innovation projects. This bore out various specific responsibilities including the following:
- Engaging with employees, customers, and the market for opportunities. This task includes looking for potential customers, conducting market research, and understanding customers’ needs.
- Finding and developing the best ideas. The innovation manager is responsible for generating, collecting, and evaluating ideas. He is also tasked to identify the best ideas that have the potential to create value for the company.
- Leading the innovation team. Every innovation manager is in charge of putting together the right team that can work on the identified project. The innovation manager leads and manages the innovation team throughout the project life cycle.
- Implementing processes and systems. To support the innovation management process, it is necessary to have the right tools and processes in place. The innovation manager is responsible for putting these in place and making sure that they are being followed.
- Monitoring and measuring results. Innovation managers have to track the progress of the project and ensure that everything is on track. He also needs to measure the results to ensure that the project is successful.
- Managing the innovation culture and toolset. The innovation manager is responsible for creating and maintaining a culture that is conducive to innovation. He also needs to ensure that the right innovation tools are in place and being used by the team and prioritized for implementation.
- Building the skillset, mindset, and toolset needed to achieve innovation goals. Innovation managers are responsible for building the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools needed by the team to be successful in their tasks. The role of an innovation manager is indeed important in any organization. He is the one responsible for ensuring that the company has a continuous stream of successful innovation projects.
In small and medium organizations, the innovation manager is responsible for the five domains of the innovation engine in order to achieve the intended objective at the innovation maturity level (reactive, active, defined, performing).
In large organizations, innovation managers often deal with one domain specifically and report to the innovation director or innovation board.
Here are the five domains of the innovation engine and what the innovation manager has to do with each one:
1. Goals and Performance
In this domain, the innovation manager has to know how to connect the innovation strategy to the business strategy. He also needs to be able to measure and track innovation performance.
Since the innovation manager is also the one that manages the decision-making process on determining which ideas become innovation projects, it’s imperative that the innovation strategy has to be aligned with that of the company’s business strategy.
This will result in the successful implementation of innovation projects that create value for the company.
Furthermore, the innovation manager must ensure that the key indicators set must help the organization move closer to its business and innovation goals. They must help indicate how effective the innovation activities are.
In large organizations, the innovation manager has to report the progress to the innovation director or to the innovation board and make adjustments where necessary.
Plus, these metrics will be useful in making decisions on where to focus the company’s resources.
2. People and Culture
One of the best management tips that an innovation manager must apply is to build a culture of innovation. Having an environment conducive to innovation helps everyone in the company contribute more to the innovation engine.
The innovation manager is responsible for creating, maintaining, and continuously improving this culture. To do this, the innovation manager should start by assessing where the company is in terms of innovation.
Are the employees open to new ideas? Do they have the necessary skills to contribute to innovation projects? Do they feel that their voices are heard and that their suggestions are valued?
Once the innovation manager has answered these questions, he can start working on initiatives that will help move the company forward.
In addition, the innovation manager should also focus on building the necessary skills among his team. He needs to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to be successful in their tasks.
What’s important here is for all members of the organization to know how important innovation is and how it will benefit the company. They must feel that all their ideas are embraced and accepted, even when the ones seem outlandish.
The innovation manager must implement processes to retrieve, manage, and successfully execute innovations. This is where the innovative ideas have to move from the funnel to the innovation route.
There are a lot of processes that the innovation manager has to put in place. But perhaps the most important ones are those that will help with the ideation stage.
This is where the innovation manager has to come up with ways to encourage employees to generate new ideas. Once the ideas have been generated, the innovation manager has to come up with a way to screen them. He has to ensure that only the best ideas move forward to the next stage.
After the ideas have been screened, the innovation manager has to come up with a process for turning them into projects. He has to ensure that the projects have the right resources and that they are properly executed.
Finally, the innovation manager has to come up with a process for commercializing the innovation. This is where he has to ensure that the innovation is properly positioned in the market and that it generates the desired results.
The key here is to build a sustainable innovation system, an engine that will keep on running. We call this an “innovation management framework”. The innovation manager plays an important role in this system as it is his role to manage the innovation inbox.
What this innovation inbox does is that it serves as the filter where all ideas gathered are assessed to determine the ones that will progress and become innovation projects, which will then be placed on the innovation roadmap.
4. Tools and IT
The innovation manager must find the most suitable software and tools that can help with idea generation, idea management, and the whole innovation process in general. This is important, especially since there are hundreds of such tools out there.
For example, ideation management and strategy are one of the most important processes in the innovation system. Generating ideas must level up for them to generate good or profitable ideas that can contribute to reaching the company’s business goals.
Accept Mission is an example of an idea management solution that can manage and structure the whole ideation process and selection. Our platform will enable you to easily manage and qualify all of your ideas in one place.
5. Management and Organization
Another important responsibility that the innovation manager has, is related to the innovation activities, functions, roles, and responsibilities within the organization. To attain success in innovation, there must be a clear process and a focused workforce.
In this aspect, the innovation manager must be able to give guidance to the innovation team. He must supervise, coach, and even support (where necessary) the innovation team, which includes scouts, sprint masters, and project leaders.
Aside from that, the innovation manager must also manage the planning of all innovation activities and projects within the organization.
The role of an innovation manager is only one of the leadership roles in innovation. We discussed this deeper in our innovation e-book, which you can freely download from our website.
What are the characteristics of a good innovation manager?
The scope of the roles and responsibilities of an innovation manager is vast. It covers many areas of the business. That’s why it’s critical for the innovation manager to have the right characteristics.
Let’s talk about some of the important characteristics of a good innovation manager.
The fuel needed for the innovation engine to run is ideas. Without ideas, no innovation will ever happen. Although the idea generation activities handle this problem really well, the innovation manager must have an insatiable curiosity to dive deeper into the right ideas.
In addition, curiosity will also push the innovation manager to keep on experimenting. When it comes to innovation, experimenting means trying out new ideas. This is done by launching new programs and prototypes.
Many of the ideas that will become projects seem radical. Some of them may be far from the organization’s comfort zone. That’s why the innovation manager must be able to strategically manage the whole innovation process.
Since the innovation manager also has to manage the decision-making process in selecting which ideas to execute, it’s important that the person behind this role will be able to think strategically in terms of seeing which ideas are aligned with the company’s business goals.
On the other hand, the innovation manager must also be able to manage the failures of innovation projects. Some of those ideas are radical and disruptive, which have a high chance of failure.
In case of such a scenario, the innovation manager must be able to decide whether to continue with the project or not.
It’s not enough to be curious and strategically inclined. The innovation manager must also think and decide fast. No matter how disruptive a project can get, if it takes too long, someone somewhere is bound to do it faster.
That’s why this role needs fast thinking. The man behind the wheels must be able to look out for shortcuts, when possible. When push comes to shove, the innovation manager must know that launching the prototype is more important than getting it perfect right away.
Naturally, these three characteristics aren’t the only ones that define a good innovation manager. These criteria are also important:
- Focused on results
- Problem solvers
- Outstanding communication skills
- Has an entrepreneurial spirit
At the end of the day, you will know a good innovation manager by going back to its ultimate role — he or she must effectively create continuous business value for the company by delivering successful innovation projects.
What an innovation manager is not
An interesting study published in Harvard Business Review revealed that in most innovative companies, senior executives don’t delegate creative work. Instead, they do it themselves. In contrast, top executives in most companies don’t feel responsible for creative work.
Take note, however, that the innovation manager doesn’t have to do the innovation itself. One of the things to avoid in managing innovations is when the manager himself is the one doing the innovation projects themselves.
This would result in interruptions in the innovation engine, which then would lead to the slowing down or even failure of other innovation projects. The idea generation and selection processes will also halt.
Aside from that, remember that the innovation manager doesn’t have to be creative. In fact, putting a creative person in this role might cause problems for your organization later on. Most creative people have problems managing different projects.
On the other hand, having the most creative people on the innovation team is one of the best actions the innovation manager can take. These creative wizards will be able to pitch in a lot of new cool ideas that can potentially take your organization to new heights, managed to perfection by the innovation manager.
Aside from offering useful innovation tools through our platform, Accept Mission also provides innovation advisory services including innovation strategy development, program development, and innovation training.
If you want to learn more about innovation management, join us in one of our regular webinar sessions. Together, let’s discuss innovation and idea management and how your leadership can make both processes more efficient.