Building for the unknown: your innovation team needs varied skill sets

  • Business Model Innovation

There’s a secret to getting innovation right: people. You can have a well-known brand and all the money in the world, but if you don’t have the right team of people focused dedicated to innovation, you aren’t going to get very far.

So, what does this team of innovators look like? Depending on where you are in the innovation lifecycle, the skill set you need will vary. In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at the two main phases of an innovation initiative and the types of individuals that will help you succeed.

Staffing the two phases of innovation

The first step for any innovation team is to ensure that there is a set of frameworks and processes for them to operate within. These have to be aligned to the broader corporate vision and help set the mandate for your team.

Then, as you embark on your innovation projects, you need a team of individuals that show grit, thrive in uncertainty, and are comfortable having different – sometimes intangible – priorities to the rest of the business.

When it comes to the two phases of the project lifecycle – innovation and incubation – you’ll need to make sure that your team is equipped with the right people and skill sets.

Note: One person can take on more than one role if they have the right experience.

The innovation phase

At this stage, you’re either finding a problem to solve or developing the right solution to solve an existing challenge. The core methodology for this part of the project is design thinking, which is all about empathy: finding a problem worth solving for your customer and then the right solution to address the problem.

The roles you need at this point include:

  • The ethnographer: a human-centred individual focused on customer research.
  • The statistician: focused on industry and cross-industry trends.
  • The business designer: responsible for building business models and value propositions around the proposed innovation and for making rough business case calculations.
  • The experimenter: (in)validates the project in a lean way against customer insights and marketing reports.
  • The builder: creates digital and/or physical prototypes as needed for experimentation.
  • The external contributor: if needed, external stakeholders can be brought in to enrich, (in)validate or stress-test ideas.

These individuals will work together to develop a minimum viable product (MVP), paired with a validated value proposition, underlying business model, and a clear growth plan.

The incubation phase

Once your idea is validated as a concept, it’s time to move it into the incubation phase. Here, you’ll grow the idea and prove that it makes sense for your business and your customers. You’ll put the product into the real world, proving that you can both acquire new customers and retain them. Using Lean and Agile practices, you need a team that’s able to respond to real-time feedback and pivot as needed to enhance the chance of success.

These are the people that will be running your project through the ‘build-measure-learn’ cycle:

  • The lead: responsible for running the agile/scrum processes and ensuring that the team is operating within this methodology.
  • The product owner: in charge of the product lifecycle from build to deployment and iteration.
  • The business analyst: thinks through how the product will be delivered and what the organisation that owns this product looks like.
  • The developer: engineers, manufacturers, or software developers that take the product from MVP towards its final (for now) form .
  • The marketer: establishes the product brand and the marketing funnel from awareness to conversion.

Many teams will try to do both of these phases at the same time, but that could get you into trouble. Heading into incubation before validating the value of your idea could put you at risk of investing too much into a product that doesn’t actually make sense. As such, both stages should have clear milestones for a team to meet with checkpoints to validate that the innovation initiative is still aligned with your strategic metrics. So be sure to hire people that understand this and are comfortable operating within established processes.

At BMI, we’ve worked with many organisations to build the right teams to execute on their innovation portfolio. Get in touch and let’s chat about what that could look like at your business.


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