Innovation Sessions Require Parameters

Innovation is one of those terms like “strategy.” Unless one is an academic, the definitions and shared understanding are rather abstract. Just ask someone to put together a “strategy” document, and see how many colleagues indicate it is either a tactical, operating or goals document. The same can be said of innovation.


Innovating Requires Parameters


It might seem counterintuitive that innovating (or brainstorming) would require tight parameters, but for the best outcome, it is necessary. As management consultants, we work within developed framework to come up with ideas and client recommendations. Most business consultants would concur that while the frameworks are universally applied, the inputs and client situations are not.


By using a classic framework – as we will with the 4Ps and 3Cs – innovation is not such an expansive and wasted exercise. To help readers consider the benefits of using an existing model (e.g., Porter’s Five Forces, BCG Matrix, Product/Market Map) we give an example using the 4Ps and 3Cs model for a food manufacturer serving the food-away-from-home channel.


Innovating “Food Company A” in the FAFH Channel


Attribute Definitions Example Foodservice Manufacturer Questions
Product The Offering(s) ·        How is our product used?

·        Who are our primary users? Lapsed users?

·        What new uses can we promote?

·        Do we have too many SKUs?

Price List Price, Allowances, Discounts, Credit Terms ·        How do we know we are priced competitively?

·        What is the balance between “prestige” pricing and “value” pricing?

·        Is a pricing advantage sustainable?

Place (Distribution) FAFH Channels, Coverage, Inventory ·        Is our supply chain optimized?

·        Are we in the “right” channels/segments?

·        Are there areas that we could consider using alternative means of distribution?

Promotion Sales and Marketing Concepts ·        Are we reaching the appropriate audience?

·        What makes our target audience tick?

·        Are the dollars we are paying measurable?

·        Is our sales strategy sound?

Customer Understanding a Customer’s Needs ·        What is the stated need?

·        What is the real need? (e.g., feel good, show off)

·        What is the unstated need?

Context The Marketing Environment ·        How do demographic, political, technological and socio-cultural factors impact our FAFH strategy?

·        What immediate actors should we be aware of?

Competition Share of Stomach ·        Who are our brand competitors?

·        Who are our industry competitors?

·        What other type of competition are we ignoring?


Innovation Need Not Be Drawn Out


I read recently where Hollywood legend Sidney Sheldon would set a timer for a few hours every morning while writing novels between working on a TV set writing and directing shows such as I Dream of Jeannie.  In his words, he had a time for novel-writing and whenever the alarm rang, he stopped. Even if he was in the middle of a sentence.


We recommend that innovation include a collaboration of ideas within a small time window. Instead of scheduling an entire afternoon or off-site, purposely schedule an hour periodically with cross-functional teams. Assign a facilitator the task of jotting down the questions and follow-up ideas. As long as everyone knows the purpose and has the parameters (or framework), the better the outcome of the innovation session.


Tim Powell is a Principal with Foodservice IP, a professional services firm aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions.

To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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