By Giacomo Petrini, QUINN www.consorzioquinn.it
From needs to action for Innovation
The work of the RailActivation project, in close contact with companies from different sectors and sizes, has over time tested that innovation is at the top of the priority for small and medium-sized enterprises to resist the ever-changing market. In the same way, however, experiences in the field have shown that smaller companies suffer from the lack of an approach to innovation designed for their specific characteristics. Small businesses show difficulty to innovate at the same time, however, being less numerous, they benefit from the speed with which an innovation can spread within the company and quickly improve the approach to the market.
Another winning element for business innovation, in the operational support activities for companies, is the theme of “bottom-up innovation” that is the importance of involving operators and company staff to generate ideas for improvement. This type of workplace innovation is substantiated in the co-creation of ideas for improvement that benefits multiple points of view within the company. The operational view is in fact very often an incessant engine of ideas for improving performance and value proposition in general and this is all the more true the more there is a collaborative and participatory approach to innovation in the company.
Starting from the analysis of the context of the SMEs and studying the potential causes that generate critical issues related to innovation in small and medium-sized companies, QUINN has created the suite of Innovation Way® workshops tested with hundreds of companies from different production sectors and improved trought a specific adaptation for rail sector within RailActivation project. The suite consists of a path of four workshops in which, through the explanation and direct application of scaled and refocused tools to the company on the characteristics of small and medium-sized enterprises, a “toolbox” is provided to the company that intends to innovate the way of doing business.
Through the workshops, the goal was to support the participating companies:
◗ In analysing their context (internal and external);
◗ In the innovation of the corporate strategy;
◗ In aligning the vision of innovation both from a technical and commercial point of view;
◗ In increasing the participants’ personal ability to generate new and effective innovative ideas on an ongoing and sustainable basis.
The objectives of the workshops were pursued through practical applications of the tools directly in the classroom and on the participating companies (following the Experience-Based learning model). This occurred mainly thanks to the use of special templates which provided a complete picture of critical issues and opportunities that allowed participants to be able to take decisions immediately to improve their business.
Figure 1 – Innovation WAY® Structure
Innovation Way® path
Innovation Way® promotes a type of sustainable innovation for medium-small business realities, attributable to the “Business Creativity” approach. This takes the form of workshops where the focus is on improving the business achieved through the recombination of the factors already available in the company, in Innovation Way® the goal is therefore to allow companies to:
◗ Define / redefine the business development strategy;
◗ Design / redesign the offer of goods and services;
◗ Create harmony between marketing and production functions;
◗ Increase the ability of participants to generate innovative ideas.
Figure 2- Innovation Way® path
The entire structure of the workshops really has an impact only if the actors involved in generating improvement ideas are at the centre of the process. This is achieved by letting the participants in Innovation Way®, during the activities, be constantly put on the “front line” by overturning the concept of traditional training and letting the company staff present in the workshop get involved, generate ideas, have his say and test the toolbox using his knowledge and experience to model each tool presented to his business needs. Each participant becomes an active part of the path and literally “learn by doing” by using the tools according to their objectives and personal background, generating innovative ideas “tailored” to their business.
However, Innovation Way® workshops add to the “individual” learning an additional element that generates value for the participants: the sharing and co-creation of ideas. This is done through teamwork sessions and through the shared presentation of results. In this way, several expertise simultaneously participates in the generation, questioning and refinement of ideas, obtaining a “finished product”, the fruit of different points of view and often created with “multiple hands”, providing a brief internal first efficacy check. To achieve this effect, the moments of practical application of the contents, which occupy about three quarters of the activity, are carried out in teams made up of “similar” companies and then shared with the rest of the participants, this allows to obtain a first step of “creating participated in ideas”, and a second “cross-check” step with the rest of the participants to obtain constructive feedback and refine the idea even better.
RailActivation project experience of Spanish companies
Within the RailActivation project – whose objective is to create and piloting a rail business and organisational mechanisms for the uptake of workplace innovation by SMEs from the railway sector as part of an Open Innovation ecosystem – a version of Innovation Way was proposed with the following adaptations:
1) delivered in 3 editions in order to facilitate the participation of companies in relation to their own agendas and to activate a fine-tuning process derived from comparison between one edition and another;
2) for the same reason indicated in the previous point, a format of the suite concentrated in two days was proposed;
3) the adaptation was carried out remotely via the Zoom platform, with the resulting revision of time and operational support for group work.
18 SMEs participated in the Innovation Way workshops including 9 from Spain, mainly manufacturing companies and solution providers for the railway network. The graphical representations aids comparative analysis of the data from the 3 editions as a function of the categories of participants: roles and company functions.
Figure 3- Participants’ Categories
Figure 4- Participants’ functions
The proposed methodologies have been introduced to the participants so that they could be understood and applied regardless of the technical backgroud: participants could thus feel and act as protagonists of the innovation process.
After the 3 editions of Innovation Way we have obtained the following confirmations about its features enabling workplace innovation:
◗ employees of each function can participate with a variable level of protagonism because it is related to the aims of the different workshops,
◗ each participant can contribute to the work of the groups regardless of their role, age particularly if the participant is part of a workgroup with colleagues,
◗ the transferred methodologies can be reused in their own work context independently,
◗ the methodologies can be used in a recurring way when a need arises,
◗ the various editions of the workshops show that the best results are obtained if several business functions of the same organization are involved,
◗ innovation goes beyond the boundaries of technical functions and becomes shared heritage.
The analysis of the preferences of the participants of the 3 editions summarized in the following figure highlights in general terms the particular interest on WS 02 (focused on Identification of new benefits sought by the customer that we could satisfy) and 03 (focused on New design for products / services). The second edition stands out for its concentration on WS 02 and 04 (Improving the customer listening process). The first edition, on the other hand, highlights the interest in WS 01 (New positioning on the market), consistent with the more significant involvement of executive roles, but at the same time proposes data distributed over all four WS, again a sign of a greater ability to have a holistic view of corporate interests.
Figure 5– WS preferred by the participants of the 3 editions
For those who make a product or a service it is easier to think about its features, but it is necessary to be able to communicate to the customer what benefits they can obtain from the use of that product. One of the first and most appreciated approaches transferred also to the Spanish companies involved in the workshops was precisely to learn how to speak the language of the benefits that their solutions can bring to customers. Specific exercises have been conducted on this theme with moments of sharing and comparison among the participants.
Regarding more in deep the involvement of the nine Spanish companies in the following case studies, we summarize the perceived value of their participants.
The first case study focuses on the use of the value curve for defining new strategic directions. The original approach of the Spanish company mentioned – manufacturer of vehicle components, auxiliary components and system – lies in having first approached the analysis from two distinct points of view, from the marketing function and from the technical function, to then initiate a comparison between the two points of view and thus arrive at a shared vision.
The second case study is representative of the interest registered by several of the participating Spanish companies (in particular manufacturing companies) in adopting approaches and methods to improve active listening to customer needs. This translates into the adoption of methods for matching explicit and implicit needs with the requirements of the products and services offered to check gap and strong assets.
We then move on to the mapping of points of contact and listening to the client and the identification of information sources that have been neglected or unused to date as sources of input for the continuous improvement of their offerings.
“Innoation Way® promotes a type of sustainable innovation
for medium-small business raliteies”.
The design process is therefore also fed by inputs that until now were the prerogative of other functions, according to a classic sylos logic. The last significant experience that we highlight as a third case study concerns the theme of product innovation.
In fact, during Workshop 03 the participants were asked to apply the SCAMPER methodology to one of their products. SCAMPER is a Divergent Thinking technique to generate a large number of ideas for new products starting from their current form or function.
Each letter of the acronym contains a set of “idea-trigger” questions with which you can change the characteristics of a product in order to trigger new ideas. The results, in various cases, was the production of a large number of innovation ideas developed in a few hours as additional inputs to the design process.
In the interviews conducted 4-5 months after the workshops were held, it was intended to monitor the outcomes. It became clear that there is a direct correlation between the quality and richness of the works produced during the workshops and their capitalization as management know-how to be used in the business context. The companies that participated extemporaneously or with a reduced number of resources indicate the need for further consulting interventions to integrate the methodologies presented and tested.
◗ Apreda R., Bonaccorsi A., Carmassi M., Fantoni, G., Petrini G., (2010), “Innovation Way®: a novel methodology for radical innovation”.
◗ Carmassi M, Failli F., Bernardini M, (2011). “Experiencing the implementation of the Innovation
Way® methodology in Small and Medium Enterprises”.
◗ Campana I, Renucci G., (2012), “The Innovation Way® laboratories for small and medium enterprises”, XXIII ISPIM, Conference, Barcelona, Spain, June 19th 2012.
◗ Petrini G., Bernardini M., Bisconti M., (2019), Innovation Way®: to support the continuous and sustainable innovation of micro and small enterprises, PROMETEA project.
Funding: This Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 861887