What is Innovation Engineering?
Businesses spend a tremendous amount of time and energy in pursuit of innovation—the transformative changes that enable growth through new products and ideas. The challenge, in many cases, is that like many creative endeavors, innovation can entail a bit of a “lightning in a bottle” unpredictability. We rarely know when innovative ideas will strike, let alone whether we will be ready to capitalize on them.
Until now. Through its Innovation Engineering® (IE) program, the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC) enables more effective collaboration in pursuit of innovation.
The benefits of IE are of interest to virtually any business and individual: primarily increased speed to market and decreased risk. Those benefits are quantifiable, also. IE provides a systematic, repeatable method that increases speed to market up to 600% and decreases risk as much as 30-80%. These enhancements are necessities in light of the increased competition, faster innovation, and rapidly changing technologies that characterize the marketplace today; IE makes them possible.
Moreover, IE is one of very few methodologies that effectively bridge ideation and the conception/commercialization of new ideas. With increased speed and decreased risk (the fundamental promise of IE), companies large and small have reported IE is the most effective means of commercializing products and services.
IE is the brainchild of inventor, author, and speaker Doug Hall, whose unique application of system thinking, as developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, manifested in a revolutionary process of innovation, strategy and collaboration marketed through his Eureka! Ranch.
IE is based on more than a quarter century of research and project work, and it can be applied to a range of applications: new products or services, new customers or markets, new business models, or even internal system improvements. This systematic approach makes it possible to align strategy, create innovative ideas when needed, communicates ideas, accelerate idea testing with quantitative research, patent ideas, and more.
The pursuit of innovation makes financial sense, too. A recent Georgia Tech study shows that when it comes to increasing profit margins, business strategy based on innovation outperforms those built on a foundation of low costs, voice of the customer, or improved service by as much as 100%.
The challenge, of course, is that while it’s common knowledge among business leaders that innovation can be a direct path to success, knowing how to innovate is more difficult.
“People often equate innovation and inventiveness,” says Lisa Henderson, VMEC’s Director of Client Services and an Innovation Engineering Black Belt. “There can be a good deal of hesitation around the topic of innovation, maybe as a result of past experiences in which they spent time and money without a system, culminating in a bad experience or lack of results.”
IE demystifies the process. Many applications entail improving internal processes and systems, as opposed to applying new skills to new products. This way, IE provides a framework and the necessary skills to build a culture of innovation. Rather than relying on the belief that innovation is the result of serendipity, IE stresses the need to capture improvements that are both meaningful and unique.
The list of potential benefits for the business or individual touches on a broad range of business elements. IE can be applied to new products or services, new customers or markets, new business models, or internal system improvements. That list may sound rather short, but on closer inspection, we see that it encompasses virtually all areas of business enhancement.
At its heart, IE embraces three key elements: stimulus (the willingness to seek solutions while admitting that you don’t know the answers); diversity (an openness to working with people who think in divergent ways); and fear (specifically, a willingness to fail or change).
Put another way, IE is a systematic approach to creating meaningful, unique ideas, then communicating and commercializing those ideas. Unique ideas aren’t that difficult to come up with; neither are meaningful ones. When an idea successfully marries these two, though, it has the promise to add value and increased profitability.
How can I put the benefits of Innovation Engineering to work for myself or my company?
For a growing number of small-to mid-size Vermont companies, the path to building an innovative mindset begins at a VMEC Innovation Engineering Workshop.
The first step is our IE Overview. This three hour workshop can take place at your facility and VMEC will offer this training around the state as well in a public setting. The Overview offers an introduction to the basics of Innovation Engineering, from creating ideas, communicating those ideas with clarity, and resolving issues with your ideas to make them real.
The introductory workshop also gives participants an understanding of the IE field of study, tools, and education. More importantly, we discuss the options for applying IE to your work and your organization, as well as the options available for further study. The latter includes our Innovation Engineering Fundamentals course (and IE Blue- and Black Belt Certification).
Any individual can participate in the IE Overview or IE Fundamentals class and walk away with experiences and skills ready for application to their personal or work life. When businesses engage in an IE exercise, however, the outcome can be transformative. IE is about changing the way you think. It’s about training your brain to process stimulus and create lots of ideas to address your challenge. And then honing skills to use fast-and-cheap experiments to confront the marketing, technical and organizational risks. You have to be open to how new learning can help you to improve your ideas.
For those who are new to IE, VMEC recommends beginning with small steps. In most cases, education is an ideal way to offset the fear of starting for both individuals or teams. Experiential learning is the next step. The goal of any training is the application of what is learned, and our hands-on method reduces the amount of time between acquiring knowledge and bringing that knowledge to bear on your personal or business efforts.
The VMEC Advantage
Since 2006, VMEC has leveraged the Innovation Engineering® program to help Vermont manufacturers and other enterprises grow revenue and profit. VMEC is also a founding member of the growing international Innovation Engineering Network, and along with our Eureka! Ranch affiliation, three on-staff IE Black Belts and two Blue Belts, we bring a unique level of expertise to the northeast. In short, we are here to help you or your company accelerate profitable growth through this proven program.
Past Participants Say…
Committing to any new program can be daunting; especially if it represents the first step on the road to new opportunities and challenges. No one understands that better than Jason Orzell, Director of Engineering at LEDdynamics. Orzell and two LEDdynamics engineers completed their Blue Belt certification in 2018, and he is quick to point out that although he had some initial reservations, the training ultimately proved to be a fortuitous endeavor.
“IE has dramatically improved communications between sales and engineering for us,” Orzell says. “We learned that clear communication—getting thoughts across as clearly, quickly, and completely as possible—is critical. That realization redefined how we take in new jobs and projects.”
LEDdynamics even created a Custom Product Request Document (CPRD) form with the specific purpose of clearly defining the specifications and information needed from the customer for new product development.
“That’s how we communicate between customers, sales, and engineering,” Orzell says. “That one change has significantly decreased our back-and-forth communication. Before IE we would exchange dozens of emails back and forth about a project. Now we can get to the endpoint much, much faster.”
IE alumni also point to a number of other ways their involvement helped their understanding of innovating in a number of areas:
“Understanding that we all need help, and we all face challenges and obstacles…instilling that concept of ‘fail fast, fail cheap,’ instituting those disciplines, [that] enables us to get to the right solution fastest.”
– Jim Hester, VP – Optics, Revision Military
The Bottom Line
VMEC’s Innovation Engineering® program is a proven way for you or your Vermont manufacturing organization to develop a culture of innovation, increase speed to market, decrease risk, and revolutionize the way you approach challenges and opportunities. To learn more, contact VMEC today!