How to build a business case for innovation

December 9, 2021

It’s a pretty exciting time to be alive (ok hear us out) - change isn’t just on the horizon, it’s very much part of the status quo. Organisations in every sector are taking stock of their offering: evaluating how they provide their services and which of their products are meaningfully serving their customers. From multinationals investing in truly revolutionary omnichannel client experiences, to third sector organisations learning better methods to understand the lived experiences of their users, there has never been a better time to change approach by improving an existing offering, or trying something new.

There’s just one tiny hitch: humans (generally speaking) hate change. Change is uncomfortable and is perceived by many to increase risk; something executives in many organisations spend their entire careers avoiding. So how in this sort of organisational environment do you make the case for innovation?

Don’t talk about the how 

Service design legend, Lou Downe said: “Service design is 10% design and 90% convincing people that what you’re trying to do is a good idea.” Downe argues that this is particularly important in the service design space, given that the general population’s schema when they think about the word ‘design’, is pretty pictures. Therefore, talking about service design methodology when making a case for change to a non-design audience, severely limits the chance for success.

We can apply this logic to innovation in general. Making your case for change isn’t about selling the intricacies of a particular method to your stakeholder(s), but bringing to life how the change is going to benefit the organisation and the impact it will deliver, therefore framing it in a way the stakeholder will understand.


Use evidence (data)

You’d think by now that there would be some sort of law banning organisational decisions not backed by evidence, but before we get too political let’s talk about research baby. It’s quite simple really: Please 👏 do👏 some👏 research👏 with 👏 your👏users. 

In order for your argument to fly, or rather, in order to build your case in the first place, you need an evidence base for the change you are advocating. This evidence must indicate that innovation will benefit your users/customers/stakeholders and therefore increase your bottom line. 
The type of research you’ll need to undertake depends on the scale of the change you’re proposing. For some contexts, a survey with your key users to understand the ‘what’ of a phenomenon may suffice. If you need to understand the ‘why’ behind behaviours and the realities of lived experience, a qualitative approach such as in depth interviews might give you the level of detail required. For a large scale transformation project, you’ll want to triangulate your research to ensure a complete picture of quantitative and qualitative data so a mixed methodology might be more suitable. Whatever you choose, remember that research should happen throughout an innovation project, not just when building a business case. 


Provide relevant examples as to where your suggested approach has worked before

Now, this may sound counterintuitive given that our advice two paragraphs ago was not to tell stakeholders how you plan to implement the change you’re advocating for. However, demonstrating examples of how others have innovated similarly will help reassure your stakeholders that you’re in safe hands.

One way to do this is to share the load with a trusted partner who has supported organisations in innovation before. Not only can you work with this partner to figure out the best strategy for your particular plan, but you can use examples from this partner’s prior work to help boost your overall case. Involving them in your pitch to your senior stakeholders could be the best secret weapon in your arsenal to get your idea signed off.

Get the right people in the right room at the right time

In our experience, it’s never too early to get key stakeholders involved as taking them on the journey with you helps to develop context. This context is often invaluable when it comes to making key sign off decisions. A workshop scenario with key decision makers from the organisation in attendance provides a great format not only to present your thinking, but also to gather any feedback to build a clear picture of key hurdles to getting your proposed change over the line.

However, we understand that this isn’t always possible so slicing this workshop time into shorter, smaller sessions to fit in with stakeholders’ diaries is a good alternative. Communication throughout the innovation process through regular project updates is also essential to avoid any surprises that can jeopardise a project at the last moment. 


Be clear about what the ask is from the people in that room

There’s nothing worse than sitting through a meeting that could have been an email. To avoid your workshop attendees feeling like this at the end of a session, it’s vital to articulate the specific ‘ask’ of each stakeholder group prior to the session. If this takes the form of an agenda or brief, ensure that this is personalised to the specific, direct action you need this stakeholder to take. 
Whether it’s unlocking budget or introducing you to another internal team, they will be better prepared to respond to your request, and will feel their time is more valued, if they are prepped in advance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

We know that organisational innovation is extremely difficult and can be especially daunting if it isn’t something you have tackled before. Over the years we have spoken with countless employees who have been tasked with transforming a key process or segment of their organisation but who have no idea what the steps are to get there. That’s why it can be beneficial to get an expert outside perspective involved to set out a tried and tested approach. If you are thinking about an innovation project at your organisation and don’t know where to start, get in touch with us, we would love to chat about your project!

We believe that design is better done together, so we encourage co-creation, joint ownership and collaboration throughout all stages of research, design and development. We can work embedded within an internal team, or seamlessly in parallel. Please get in touch if you have a project that you would like to discuss.

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