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Managing Innovation

A guide to managing product development.

Like any activity within your business, your product development and innovation activity should deliver on your strategy, goals, aspirations, and plans. It is important to be structured in a proactive way and, where possible, not just reactive to external conditions.

Managing Innovation sets out an approach to plan, manage, and execute your innovation in the best way possible, improve your results, and provide your team with a structure that everyone understands

We aim to provide some guidance about the right focus at each level to ensure that both the strategy and implementation are delivering what you need.

We don’t assert ownership over all of the approaches. As efficient magpies, we’ll always pick up anything that is shiny and looks like it would do a great job. Our approach incorporates many techniques and skills from a range of fields.

It’s not project management

Many businesses approach managing innovation the same way they would conventional project management. The problem is that developing new products and services differs substantially from building a bridge or putting in a new IT system. Innovation needs a different approach to that of conventional project management for many reasons.

It is important to recognise that you are dealing with a lot of unknowns. Gearing your structure and processes to acknowledge this is the best approach.

  • There are always unknowns
  • commercialisation is hard to define
  • Regulations evolve quickly
  • You can’t control the market
  • Getting it right takes time
  • Change is constant

Strategy & Planning

Planning is one of the hardest things to execute in the process of innovation. The most well-laid plans will be challenged with so many inevitable changes along the way. It is important to have a strategy and plan that are capable of surviving change and providing direction.

To create innovation plans that can deliver your strategy but survive change it is important to introduce levels to your planning, reporting, and implementation. These levels are important so that you are focusing on the right stuff at the right level.

For example, discussing the granular detail of a task with governance group or a board is not effective, unless it affects the high-level strategy at a higher level.

The levels also are time-based. You need to guide your longer-term plan, but you also need to execute critical tasks to achieve your short to medium term objectives. This approach guards against being caught unaware of disruptive approaches or technology that could affect your business.

Changing the way your work is managed and briefed is essential for the management function to be efficient and effective. This simple hierarchy is one we have used on complex R&D programmes.

Managing Scope

Managing scope is one of the most difficult things to do in development. It is an approach where you agree on what is critical and focus on those things. The MoSCoW approach is effective when paired with a time box of objectives.


It must be done in the current step before the milestone is complete.


It should be done in the current step to the next milestone.


It could be done in this block of work, if things go well.


It will not be done in the current block but may be done in future.

There are other approaches, but the general tenet is that everything cannot be at the same level of priority. There must be an agreed, effective way of delivering on time, to budget, and at a high quality level. One of the reasons that this is even more important in product development is that time to market is a factor that cannot be underestimated.

This is twofold; firstly, end users will start to provide significant feedback as soon as a product hits the market. Feedback leads to evolution, as you cannot foresee how this may unfold; secondly, delaying your time to market delays revenue generation and can cause significant problems for a company, whether in start up mode or an established business.

Traditional Approach


Traditional project management is waterfall based and very chronological. This approach is not responsive to change. A more contemporary approach is embodied in the concept of agile development.

It is generally accepted in project management that if you fix the three cornerstones of scope, time, and cost at some point you will hit a brick wall.

Agile Approach

Scope Quality Time Cost

The agile approach injects the additional axiom of quality. From a business perspective, it promotes the idea that it is time, cost and quality that are fixed as critical factors. Scope is the key variable that can be managed within the programme.

To learn more about how to manage your innovation process, download the full resource at the top of the page. It’s completely free!