Live in Leeds… Innovation Management in Practice

As part of my sabbatical I am supporting a new module at Leeds University Business School (LUBS) called Innovation Management in Practice. Students on this module include students taking the MSc in Global Innovation Management plus a number of others.

I’ve been working with a small team at LUBS on this, particularly Dr Matt Mount who is leading the module.

The scope of the module extends across the innovation management funnel from ideas, challenges and opportunities to delivery and commercialisation – from within large corporates to start-ups. There is also a focus of on the role of “Innovation Manager”.

I’m supporting much of the module and leading a few of the sessions. I loved the brief given to me – “what does an Innovation Manager need to know and what do they really do when they turn up at the office or client site?”

Innovation wordle

We call them “sessions” rather than “lectures” because most weeks they aren’t really like traditional lectures. Of course there is a little show and tell covering key concepts – but most of the time is focused on the students applying tools, tips and approaches in group exercises. These are followed by interactive group feedback with the rest of the class. I think this really works – so far for example, amongst other things, the students have run ideation workshops, applied De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats approach, run practical sessions in Design Thinking and use of Open Innovation approaches.

The students appreciate the blend of academic learning and real world experience, stories and anecdotes from Matt, myself and a range of guest speakers.

The content I’ve delivered includes use of “outside in” and “inside out” Open Innovation techniques. I’ve enjoyed (and benefited from) taking a step back and going through the academic work, literature and industry examples around Open Innovation. It has made me really think about how IBM and other companies are practically using this to drive benefits for their businesses and customers.

Another topic is the role of the Innovation Manager and Managing Innovation Teams. For this I went back to some of the thinking I did with a team during an IBM Academy of Technology study around this topic a few years ago. I added to this from wider reading and my own practical experience.

We looked at the different roles needed at different stages of the Innovation Management process – and how the role of the Innovation Manager often morphs between facilitator (particularly in the early stages) and a project manager (particularly in the later stages).

Innovation Management Roles
As we know there are many types and variations of “innovation” projects. The context determines which roles are required. Not all roles are always involved. Sometimes the same people have multiple roles. More often than not people involved have different job titles and may not recognise themselves as a “Champion” or an “Innovation Manager”.
The important thing is that someone if fulfilling a key role, even if it is called something else. We also reviewed the skills needed by the “Innovation Manager”. We mapped these to the  phases of the innovation management process. They included creativity, analysis, translation between business and technology, problem solving, commercial awareness, a level of content knowledge at times, negotiation, reporting, communication, facilitation, project management and leadership skills. So quite a tall order…Innovation Manager

Importantly the role of “Innovation Manager” is a real one. In one session we analysed five live job descriptions (thanks Google and LinkedIn) for Innovation Managers. We walked through the attributes that the employers were looking for. The focus of the roles varied – from new product development to innovation for driving internal operational efficiency to leading joint innovation with clients. There was also one very very senior innovation leadership role effectively setting the direction for a household name global corporation.

All were looking for a set of common attributes focused around knowledge and experience of the innovation management process and the skills described above.

In parallel the students are working on an innovation related group project, where again they can apply the knowledge they are learning.

The module continues and I look forward to the weeks ahead – as we move into intellectual property, commercialisation and delivery.

It is hugely positive that LUBS is focusing on this topic and the learning places the students in good stead for the challenges in their careers ahead, whether they be Innovation Managers or something else.

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