Public sector organizations recognize the imperative to modernize legacy systems, digitally transform, and improve constituent-facing and back-office processes. While all organizations need to innovate to achieve these goals, government innovators face different hurdles than the commercial sector. Most government organizations aren’t looking to create an industry-disrupting new technology or service; they’re looking for continuous improvement to advance their mission.
Innovation can seem daunting – and expensive. Agencies cannot ask investors to infuse cash into a fledgling idea; they must work within existing budgets and balance complex priorities.
Sometimes, the term “innovation” can seem bigger than it is. Not every innovation needs to be an industry disruptor – or in the case of the public sector, a moonshot. Innovation starts with great ideas – new approaches, processes, workflow, systems, or other means to improve performance. So, how do agencies identify, harness, and operationalize those ideas into impactful innovations?
That’s the role of innovation management programs. As the first company to earn the ISO 56002 Innovation Management certification globally, Highlight helps agencies launch and deliver innovations that propel mission objectives forward through an integrated innovation process. Similarly, our colleagues at CGI Federal Together, we’ve identified hallmarks of successful innovation programs.
1. Enable everyone to be an innovator.
Everyone has the potential to develop great ideas. Encourage staff to focus on innovation. Make process improvement a discussion of team meetings and retrospectives. Continuously invite team members at all levels—including staff and contractors—to contribute new ideas. Capture these ideas in a structured way for future action.
2. Celebrate innovations regardless of scale.
Innovations come in a variety of sizes; all are vital to organizational advancement. Innovation may be an intensive effort, like implementing a new system or optimizing a day-to-day process. Celebrating innovation regardless of scale, encourages everyone to ideate and move the organization forward.
3. Validate innovative ideas through prototypes and proofs of concept.
The principle of “Fail Fast” remains central to Agile development. The idea of “failure” can frighten some people, so consider reframing the discussion around “learning fast.” By creating a proof of concept, the team can determine if the innovation is ready for implementation, needs more time to ideate, or is just not viable. Failure strengthens a team’s ability to learn and adapt, giving them the time and energy to move to the next great innovation.
4. Propel innovation forward through strong leadership.
When leadership advocates for, fosters, and values innovation within their teams, they encourage and embody the culture of innovation. Conversely, leadership that doesn’t support converting great ideas into operationalized value undermines the drive to grow an innovation culture. Leaders must not only help teams remove blockers to innovation, they must also charge their teams with the responsibility for actively seeking out innovations. Every innovation program should include executive sponsorship that assists innovators and communicates innovation successes at all levels of the organization.
5. Measure innovation success based upon the realization of value.
Switch thinking from “return on investment,” which can be hard to calculate (especially when no baseline metrics exist), to realized value. Sometimes innovation success cannot be measured by dollars saved or efficiency gained. Instead, define value by smoother handoffs between organizations, the ability to transition from sequential to parallel activities, or employee satisfaction from involvement in an agency’s process improvement.
Delivering on the promise of public sector innovation
Agency staff, and the contractors who support them, provide an excellent source of great ideas to improve operations and better deliver on the mission. In our experience, all levels of teams and individuals are eager to help advance the mission through meaningful innovation. But to drive innovation at scale, agencies need a tailored, public sector model for realizing innovation value. Highlight and CGI can help agencies harness the power of great ideas and operationalize innovations to deliver mission success.
About the Authors:
Ashley Nichols, VP of Corporate Strategy and Development at Highlight Technologies. Her capabilities range from managing a diverse IT program portfolio across multiple federal civilian clients, to strategic planning, new business development, opportunity pipeline management, staffing training, and full life cycle contract management. To read more about Ashley, visit her bio.
Ed Canoles is a Director for the Regulatory Agency Programs business within CGI Federal. As part of his responsibilities Ed serves as an innovation leader for the business unit – sponsoring innovation challenges, liaising with other groups to cross-pollinate expertise and unique solutions, and organizing learning sessions and informal knowledge shares.