Innovation is a necessity across all sectors and industries, and in an ever-changing competitive landscape, businesses are under more pressure than ever to showcase innovative outcomes. Incremental innovation involves making small scale improvements that can be implemented daily (or short-term) to existing processes, products or services. There are opportunities exist everywhere across all aspects of every business, to do things better, faster or in a more data-enabled way.
What does it mean to continuously improve?
Businesses looking to implement incremental innovation often start by looking within and across all departments of the organisation to search for ways to increase operational efficiency. These changes should be able to take effect immediately, if not in the short- to medium-term. They will typically be smaller changes that improve or refine a current service offering, current process or current product in market. Take Waitrose for example, they save £167,000 per year by shortening their till receipts. This idea came about from a staff member working in a Waitrose supermarket.
Fostering a culture where incremental changes or improvements are welcomed, encouraged and continuous throughout an organisation as part of daily life, is the essence of innovating for today. Although it’s often the case, it’s not guaranteed that smaller changes will be less expensive or less complicated. People think that processes for daily change have nothing to do with processes for bigger, more transformational change. Some ideas will improve processes or change working environments for staff, but others in the longer term will transform into something quite unexpected.
“A lot of the ideas around incremental innovation may be the smaller things that will be the little acorns for bigger change in the future”Simon Hill, CEO, Wazoku
By actively searching for ways to improve and implement small changes, businesses will see that it can be one of the most effective and value-driven methods of innovation.
Start by questioning simple things such as:
- How can we reduce waste in the workplace?
- How can our production line operate more efficiently?
- How can our sales process work more smoothly?
- What should we as a team, stop doing, to become more efficient?
How open is your business to change?
When choosing to pursue this type of innovation– it’s important to look internally from your leaders, to managers and all employees. People are generally resistant to change, so, who can you source internally to champion your open environment and ultimately – business improvements?
Start by look at the current barriers to change. Are there right people in the right places, with the right amount of influence and are they willing to approve changes? And – most importantly, are you prepared to offer the budget, means, time and resources needed to make and implement new ideas for improvement of the business?
New ideas are the heart and fuel of the process. Whether they are big or small, you need a process in place to execute them.
Organised vs organic – What’s best?
Think about what you’re trying to achieve with incremental innovation and build a strategy around how to foster your workforce to operate more effectively. Is this something you have to plan and enforce or does it happen more or less on its own – or a combination of the two?
It might be easier to achieve in smaller organisations or within teams at larger companies. Most enterprises have an operations or business improvement team who deliver on the day-to-day running of the business. This combined with an innovation team, focused on looking for ways to run more effectively, can start to define and build the toolkit and capabilities for incremental innovation.
The innovation and business improvement teams need to be aligned and sync daily or introducing change will not be successful. You need these teams to be enabled to make the business agile, adaptable and – change-able.
Innovation shouldn’t be a chore – a clear process, helpful resources and training (if required) will enable staff to get started. It’s important to create an in environment where your employees feel safe and inspired to voice ideas and changes as they think of them.
Remember to look at the big picture, one quick small win change could have a snowball effect on other employees or departments. Don’t change for changes sake – incremental innovation is about fostering a culture across your organisation so that its consistently tasking itself to be the best version of itself that it possibly can be.
“There’s endless amounts of opportunity to do what you’re doing now, a thousand times better.” Simon Hill, CEO, Wazoku
Improvements can be measured if there’s a process in place
Once your organisation starts looking for ways to improve, you’ll see improvements surfacing from all areas of the business which can be overwhelming to manage. Take 10, 20, 30 changes, these might be easy enough, but once you start getting hundreds or even thousands of ideas for business improvement – things start to get tricky.
In this instance a process for collecting, evaluating and recognising these business improvement ideas is fundamental. If you’re consistently asking people to think about ways to improve your organisation, you need a way to track feedback and provide transparency over why some ideas were implemented and others were not. So few businesses will have the resources in place to process such a number of ideas, in this instance many ideas that could be of great value, may be lost.
For this reason, we recommend a tool or system to offer a more structured approach to your innovation process. Benefits include the ability to:
- Track, progress and evaluate ideas
- Collaborate, share knowledge and build on good ideas
- Measure the success or failure of ideas
- Qualify and quantify the implementation and results
- Reward and recognise those who have made contributions to making your organisation better with each change or initiative.
You’ve cracked incremental innovation, what’s next?
Wrong. Incremental innovation is continuous and there will always be room to improve and evolve. However small and seemingly insignificant the changes are, daily improvements contribute to a better, faster and smarter organisation now and in the future. That is innovation, and that is innovating for today.