By Ahmad-Ramez Kassou
There are ten main findings from successfully delivered invention-on-demand projects. The following ten statements were developed during the research process of non-typical consulting projects. In most cases, short-term benefits of invention-on-demand are not as obvious as long-term benefits. Immediate benefits can be reached for projects of two types:
- Forecasting technologies
- Patent strategies
The innovation process is not oriented to short-term benefits. Problem solving projects, however, offer several factors for delivering a quick profit. In order to understand how this works high-level tools are used.
The Purchasing Chessboard®
The Purchasing Chessboard includes 64 stand alone methods that each represent different ways to work with suppliers to reduce costs and increase value. One of the 64 methods is invention-on-demand, which is based on the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) and is used to find alternatives to patent-protected suppliers.
It is vital to understand the structure of the invention-on-demand approach including its analytical methods and tools before estimating required resources, which are necessary to perform innovation projects. Some of the methods are flexible in implementation time (trends analysis) and others are hard to avoid (functional analysis). The analytical procedures of this method provide a high degree of freedom for any innovative process (even non-technical ones). The efficiency depends mainly on nursing the invention-on-demand method. Based on other approaches that are more oriented to business development (product benchmark, cost regression analysis) invention-on-demand follows a specific scientific language and output.
How to Start a Typical Innovative Project
First look at the initial situation of an innovative project. A medium-to-large enterprise of widely distributed and competitive products is looking for opportunities to keep up with competitive development and reduce costs due to non-finite needs of its end customer. The enterprise might also wish to enter new markets by offering new products.
The research and development signals may include the following thought: "We have the ideas, but we need to fill the pipeline with more ideas of our own moving forward." Outside consultants might be a help depending on the internal team's success.
In active projects, the client asks to link this collaboration with some concrete business tasks (solving a problem of patent-protected suppliers or determining cost reduction for short-term products with some restrictions on resources). If the proposal is confirmed make sure it addresses the following ten statements for a successful implementation:
1. Choose project goals after preliminary analysis of investigated object.
Each goal must be proposed by a summary or a portion of research for the engineering system that the consultant is about to deal with. Evaluating the complexity and variety of system components ahead of time will show how many human hours must be spent to perform invention-on-demand procedures.
The development potential should be estimated quantitatively through preliminary detection of existing disadvantages of the system. It is essential to translate the client's aspirations to executable goals. The goals must not promise, for example, quantitative cost reduction of product material. What if the analytical process comes up with the idea that estimation depends on some external factors such as unreliable survey of suppliers, economic conditions of the industry, a situation that is not clear with proposed sales of the modified product or a client's risky financial situation? This must be declared in the proposal. Many factors to be covered by the innovation process of invention-on-demand must be considered before and during the project.
To avoid failures it is essential to:
- Perform preliminary work (such as functional analysis of a client's product plus estimating disadvantages).
- Generalize goals of the invention-on-demand project.
- Include some guarantee of invention-on-demand goals in the proposal.
For the client there is some good news. There are some goals that are guaranteed by applying invention-on-demand:
- Delivering patentable (IP protected), competitive concepts for the future.
- Delivering conceptual, long-term plans that cover the enterprise's generated ideas.
- Driving a systematic research and development approach in the shortest time with minimum resources.
Each of those goals requires a system of successfully performing resources. For example, in one project consultants delivered up to ten patentable concepts for an engineering system of 100 unique components. This project consumed 60 percent of the innovation process (about three months) by analyzing relative trends of evolution.
On the other hand, choosing project goals is tightly connected to the object of investigation. Which system is the best to analyze and why? How can the maximum effects of the innovation process be extracted to distribute benefits to similar systems?
2. Define firm and tunable roadmaps for the research.
Performing the preliminary analysis of a client's objects leads to the forming of roadmaps for invention-on-demand projects. There can be more than one at the beginning, but they must have common main analytical phases and components. Invention-on-demand is based on a problem solving approach; therefore, it is important to think about these two stages:
- Problem identification: This phase relies on the quality of defining key disadvantages and its key problems of formulation. It includes procedures and tools for identifying the right problem of sub-systems and their components (key problems). Key problems with a generalized formulation can reflect specific disadvantages of an engineering system (product, technology, process). Key problem formulations are usually the first opportunity to have a big expansion for solving conceptual issues. The method of extracting those key problems depends on the specific client tasks and requirements. For example, the trimming approach can lead to radical changes in the system by organizing trimmed objects and deploying different degrees of trimming components.
- Problem solving: This phase should be separated from the first phase to provide value to the overall process. Problem solving is an extended part of the invention-on-demand process. It includes using a toolbox of options to bridge the integration of the invention-on-demand process with other high-level approaches (such as Lean, Six Sigma or Purchasing Chessboard) which might be necessary for a project. For example, a cost reduction task, which is successfully practiced in Purchasing Chessboard, can provide cost improvements for suppliers of both existing and new components determined by invention-on-demand.
The systematic approach of invention-on-demand analysis gives a clear picture of what has been done and what should be done at each roadmap checkpoint. Performing the innovation process systematically from the beginning to the end is an essential part of an invention-on-demand project.
The timeline and efficiency of the two phases can be defined depending on the type of deliverables. For example, delivering patentable, competitive concepts will take less time and effort than developing short-term feasible and verified concepts.
Comparative to other approaches, invention-on-demand requires fewer management resources; however, lack of efficient management could also be a reason for the delayed estimation of project signals to switch tasks in time.
3. Prepare efficient project framework.
The framework of invention-on-demand requires defining its roadmap, tools and human factors for implementation. Additionally, in some cases, the environment and contribution of a client's experts might be crucial. The level of prepared initial input data, accessibility of sources and means of getting necessary information for research will determine the main length of the project implementation.
Both sides (consultant and client) must prepare the best framework for efficient interaction. It is preferable to allocate assets by involving local client resources (conduct workshop meetings with experts or get the input of engineers) in order to be clear about distributed responsibilities for the overall quality of the innovation process.
It is also helpful to confirm the format of input and output data. This saves time by eliminating the repeat of the same work fulfilled by different formats. For example, extracting disadvantages from a large amount of drawings might not be a trivial task if it does not have the appropriate background (even language). Component / functional models cannot reflect the complexity of some sub-systems. In this case, drawing high-level functional models and verifying them with drawings supported by an explanation of different specialists, will lend quicker focus to the functionality of the complicated subsystems.
4. Keep space for creation.
Creativeness is not only important for brainstorming and generating ideas, but it is required for identifying hidden disadvantages and key problems of existing client systems; creativeness can lead to innovative thoughts. System professionals and development specialists are proud of their products because they spend time addressing specific tasks successfully. They might have a knowledge base for applying solutions. Invention-on-demand consultants, fortunately, do not have this specific knowledge, but they have access to it when necessary. This helps them understand the real functionality of each component, but it can be harmful to deal with in functional models. This knowledge is required again in substantiating and developing details for solving concepts, but it is not required for applying innovation tools and methods in order to extract conceptual directions of problem solving. The task for invention-on-demand consultants is not simple. They must be able to abstract technical specifications of a considered engineering system and simultaneously have the readiness to be involved in specifications when translating concepts in feasible directions.
The ideal creativity level of the invention-on-demand process happens in combination through:
- Interaction with the consultant and the invention-on-demand toolbox.
- Interaction with the consultant and product developers.
At the start of analysis, it is recommended to apply creativity to extracting ideas in order to have some viable and verified thoughts by the end of the project. This will play a role in step-by-step conceptual directions.
The other aspect of creativity deployment is predicting and handling secondary problems during process phases by selecting feasible conceptual directions. Giving up on secondary problems of a found solution might kill brilliant ideas or the potential for future development. Thinking about how to solve secondary problems is one of the hardest challenges for invention-on-demand consultants. A client's wish is to have all secondary problems answered.
5. Follow the methodology with reasonable flexibility.
The methodology of invention-on-demand is rich with ways to invent and improve a product. It is also flexible in its ability to combine its tools for different purposes. Intuitive and flexible application of methodological resources by following the main roadmap will skip extra analytical steps. But this flexibility and intuition must not break the goal of extracting key problems and conceptual directions. For example, in order to solve a conceptual direction for a system (with trimmed components) the system should first be transferred to other available components and then formulated to the appropriate trimming problems (key problems) to generate new features for the system. Otherwise, the risk of missing potential solutions and bypassing secondary problems is high.
6. Continuously feel the strategic sense of an innovation process.
Real market events and economics are in contiguous movement. The tasks of an innovation process must respond to some of those changes. Sufficient and continuous investigation of trends and the availability of suppliers can provide some stability of invention-on-demand output. Invention-on-demand performs work in parallel to the main analysis, but requires human resources to provide extended and reliable data. Investigation of trends and supplier surveys depends on the complexity of the analyzed product by the client. For example, an engineering system with 100 unique components might need a significant number of investigation requests with different implementation frequency.
7. Fulfill and verify.
The innovation process is high-risk in business, especially if there is no intermediate high efficient output. To avoid disappointments or misunderstanding in the final stage those intermediate results must be fixed in the proposal and during project checkpoints. Promising a "wow" effect should be in the context of high expectations combined with a recognized trace of a systematic approach. Wonderful solutions happen unexpectedly.
8. Look for opportunities of intellectual property and share achievements with involved specialists.
The success of an innovation process lies in the satisfaction of its participants. Main invention-on-demand participants are specialists and experts from the client side. The invention-on-demand process may look like a strange exercise during the times they are not involved in it. On one hand, it can be harmful to involve professionals in all development stages because this might restrict the coverage of the systematic approach. On the other hand, it is vital to let people ideate from their direct involvement in the process.
It is more fun to develop concepts that become one's own rather than developing the concepts of others. This can be achieved by determining what specialists (such as engineers) will generate solutions for the identified concept directions.
If developers and system engineers are against offered solutions it means the degree of involvement was not effective – however, much work was completed. If a specialist feels the concept is reasonable it should be easier to substantiate and promote. And if it possesses a degree of intellectual property, the team should file a patent.
9. Leave a cookbook.
In any research and development project, deliverables must include main results, the description of research chronology, schemes for reaching solutions, recommendations and conclusions. This can reflect the serious and responsible work of invention-on-demand and can provide guidelines for other projects in the same industry.
10. Evaluate with innovation metrics.
Each successful invention-on-demand project is a treasure for the next one. Working on the sustainability of invention-on-demand begins with developing measurable and topical metrics to evaluate innovations and the innovation process. This is a more realistic task for systems that deal with engineering and economic indexes.
It is possible to extract more arguments for invention-on-demand persistence in order to address all requirements from a range of businesses. The weight of each argument is enough to test how the invention-on-demand project can be fascinating for both a consulting researcher and a business client. The approach of invention-on-demand becomes more realistic and normal with time.
About the Author:
Ahmad-Ramez Kassou has worked in the consulting business for more than eight years. In the past six years he has developed more than 12 innovation projects at Algorithm Ltd. (Gen3 Partners) and A.T. Kearney Global Management Consultants. Currently he is the CEO of I2M Group Ltd. (a consulting company) in Russia and the Middle East. He is also an author of seven patents and approaches for integrating innovation methods / quality management. Contact Ahmad-Ramez Kassou at ramsess2 (at) ramsess2.net.
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