A Guide to Building a High-Impact Innovation Team

Igor Paniuk
DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION PRACTICE
Vladyslav Kitsela
COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

Six years ago, one of our clients was struggling with an abundance of manual processes that required an adequate automation solution. At that point, robotic process automation was an emerging trend, yet there was enough confidence in its ability to address the client’s challenges and needs. Our goal was to build an autonomous and scalable innovation team that would take full responsibility for facilitating secure innovation onboarding to drive enterprise-grade efficiency for our Fortune 500 client.

Onboarding and powering up innovation go beyond hiring people with relevant experience and putting them to work. It requires strategic vision, a structured systematic approach, resilience, a precise understanding of limitations, focus on business value, and most importantly—an innovative culture.

Having built an innovation team and evolved it into a center of excellence, we want to share our experience and arm you with a guide on how to onboard innovation successfully, select the right candidates, and build an A-class team. 

Taking or delegating the risks: Why do enterprises build innovation teams?

Innovation is a risky endeavor as there’s always a chance of error and a risk of losing time and money. This is why a strong innovative culture is critical for maintaining cost efficiency and de-risking the innovation process. This is especially true when businesses start working with technology their teams have no prior experience with. 

Will you take those risks or would you rather have a partner who already has an established innovation culture and takes full responsibility for the project? 

Forward-thinking enterprises often choose to delegate innovative projects to vendors who already have relevant experience onboarding innovations, building centers of excellence, setting up functional teams, and delivering predictable outcomes. They prefer vendors who can take responsibility and risks for the whole scope of work, from feasibility assessment to a scalable innovation ecosystem and final project deliverable.

See how we built an automation CoE for a Fortune 500 client 

On top of that, an experienced technology partner can provide a valuable outside view into the enterprise’s challenges and needs. It is vital to conduct a thorough assessment of the company’s current state and business objectives, and create a process definition document (PDD) to pinpoint deficiencies and opportunities for enhancement. 

Getting to work: identifying the innovation candidate

In our experience, it is essential to outline ideal innovation scenarios, assess and rank potential risks, including dependencies that might affect the process, and deliver a Proof of Concept (PoC) to demonstrate the anticipated benefits and outcomes.

Selecting an innovation candidate (a process that requires changes) is the next logical step. The initial inclination may be to rework a multitude of processes across the organization, but depending on its size, the list of potential candidates may become quite extensive. The key to successful innovation is in selecting the candidate that offers a balance between complexity, ROI, and impact. 

The candidate selection consists of 2 stages. First, we pick a candidate or a group of candidates for PoC/PoV. These can be fairly complex, which would help us define the scope of achievable changes. This stage helps us understand the strengths and limitations of each candidate. The second stage achieves a perfect balance between ROI, impact, and complexity. Here, we select a release candidate with high visibility and impact.

Why choosing the right innovation candidate is so important?

Stakeholders, including the VP of Technology and C-Suite, often approach the establishment of an innovation team with caution, demanding compelling evidence that justifies this strategic move. Starting with a candidate that demands excessive time for rework and innovation or yields only modest results may lead decision-makers to conclude that the enterprise is not yet prepared for it.

The ideal initial candidate should deliver maximal value while demanding moderate effort and resources. Its purpose is to spark the interest for further enterprise-wide innovation.

The top-priority candidates are those capable of providing the greatest return on investment (ROI) and productivity gains while requiring minimal complexity in execution, aligned with the company's existing operational framework, and fostering a reliable and resilient process.

Prioritizing the completion of the initial candidate holds advantages for both the innovation team and the organization as a whole. It allows the enterprise to evaluate benefits and assess user experience at the earliest possible stage.

Building an innovation team with the right culture: where to start? 

The best idea is to start small and scale along the growing needs. The perfect starting number of people in the innovation CoE team is around six to ten people, and going much higher would likely cause some choking in the team. Defining the team members’ persona is the top priority to address.

Define the innovation team member’s persona

To find the best experts for the innovation team, you need to define their persona first. In this process, soft skills are as important as technology expertise, and this makes the process of onboarding a lot more complex. Not only do you need a candidate with a rare skillset but also a person with a number of rather specific traits.

In my experience, culture is the most important aspect of successful innovation. When building innovative teams, we put an emphasis on finding people with diverse backgrounds who have passion for technology and aren’t afraid of making mistakes. Ideas must circulate freely and every voice must be heard. At the same time, you need people with reasonable doubts who can assess their ideas before implementing them to avoid redundant reworks.

The challenge with finding team members is that innovations require rare skills in emerging technologies. When we were building an RPA innovation center six years ago, there weren’t too many people familiar with this technology on the market. The same problem will be relevant to any new technology, and stakeholders need to account for that when defining their perfect developer’s persona. 

Our experience proves that the perfect candidate is one with a broad skillset spanning across disciplines rather than deep skills in a particular technology. The broader the person’s skill set, the more likely they are to acquire relevant knowledge for your needs. Such people know how to research and explore new approaches to achieving the project goals and they can join the innovation team down the line and learn from the core members.

Team composition: setting up the core with scalability in mind

Your innovation team has to scale up gradually as people share their ideas, get to know each other, and start to work as a single unit. Eventually, the size of the team may expand quite dramatically, but it is critical to fill up the core roles first.

  • Technical leader (architect): The primary task of an architect is validation of innovation. They have to select the most promising solution available and find the most suitable way to integrate it into a corporate ecosystem. In addition, technical leaders oversee and ensure adherence to workflow standards to uphold the efficiency and effectiveness of automation solutions across the organization.
  • Analyst/product owner: This person is responsible for the project outcomes and for the value the business gets. They evaluate the value derived from onboarding a technology candidate, evaluating its impact and efficiency. Product owners make sure the innovation is relevant to the business and is easy to integrate and use. 
  • Success manager: The core objective of the success manager is managing the communication between the business needs and the innovation team. The view of the new tech can be subject to market hype, which results in unrealistic expectations and misconceptions. The task of a success manager is to align the expectations of the business with the actual capabilities of a particular technology.
  • Engineers: The primary task of an engineer is writing features that cater to the needs and expectations of end users, translating user requirements into actionable feature sets. The engineers must have broad expertise that would allow them freedom in choosing different approaches to implementing a solution. These experts take on the pivotal role of designing how users will interact with the PoC, crafting intuitive and user-friendly interfaces that enhance the user experience.
  • Quality assurance engineers: Initially, their focus is on the quality of the PoC, identifying any defects and errors that may compromise its functionality or performance. Following this, they proactively offer corrective measures, addressing the identified issues to ensure the PoC operates smoothly. Additionally, they engage in the strategic aspect of development by crafting improvement strategies and envisioning ways to enhance the PoC's capabilities and features.

The team can grow along with the innovation center’s load and include several additional roles, such as a dedicated project manager, and more. A more complex innovation team structure could look like this:

Strong leadership is the key

A team leader plays a pivotal role in steering the direction, advancing processes, delving into problem-solving, and driving progress. That's why selecting the right leader is a crucial factor in achieving success within the innovation center. However, this task is far from straightforward.

Innovation is a volatile process tailored to each enterprise’s unique needs, specific characteristics, and other variables; there is no one-size-fits-all protocol for appointing a leader for such a team. Considering that the innovation team leader will actively participate in hiring, interviewing, selecting, and onboarding candidates, we recommend taking your time in making this decision. It's advisable to carefully evaluate potential leaders through in-depth observations, hackathons, and consistent feedback from employees and team members to identify the best fit.

Build a community: promote knowledge sharing within the team

People come with different ideas and knowledge, which are worth spreading across the team. The goal here is to let that information flow freely. Each and every member of the innovation team is a holder of valuable and relevant knowledge, which could benefit the entire project. It is vital to have people share their knowledge and insights during regular meetings and add their findings to a common knowledge base. This will not only promote the current team’s efficiency but also speed up the onboarding process for new people.

With the knowledge-sharing practices in place, you can continue scaling your team up. Having a strong core of up to ten people, it will be much easier to add new people to the innovation team, even if they do not exactly match your technical expectations. If those people are ready and willing to learn, have broad experience, and are not afraid of challenges, they will soon learn the tricks of the trade and become valuable assets for your innovation team.

How to extract the full value of emerging tech with an innovation team

One of the primary advantages of an innovation team or a dedicated center of excellence is its ability to deliver a greater gross profit margin over time. By clustering innovative expertise and knowledge within the CoE, an enterprise can achieve streamlined processes, scale up, and develop lasting best practices. This leads to more efficient and cost-effective project delivery, resulting in higher returns on investment (ROI). 

Furthermore, an innovation practice can function as a cohesive unit within an enterprise, aligning closely with the organization's goals and objectives. This unity promotes synergy among innovation team members, fosters collaboration, and ensures that technology initiatives are tightly integrated into the company's overall strategy. The innovation team’s ability to provide strategic direction, cost-efficiency, and integrated operations makes it a compelling choice for organizations looking to harness the full potential of the emerging technology.

Learn more about the practical value of an automation CoE in our latest guide 

Your blueprint for strategic onboarding of innovations 

When we started our RPA CoE journey, there was no blueprint for us to follow, so we had to come up with a set of best practices and create a well thought out strategy for building an enterprise-grade innovation center. In our experience, solving the evolving needs of an enterprise demands more than just a team of developers. It requires a strategic approach, leadership, collaboration, and trust that deliver tangible value over the years rather than a one-time hire. 

At the same time, building a highly effective center of excellence requires thorough planning and precise organization. If innovation and changes to the existing processes are among the strategic needs of your business, you will need a partner with the right experience and culture. At Trinetix, we have hands-on experience onboarding innovations for market leaders, building robust teams, and establishing CoEs that will propel organizations to new heights.

Let’s chat about your approach to onboarding emerging technology and building world-class innovation teams! 

FAQ

An innovation team is an autonomous unit within an organization, sometimes assembled and operated by a third-party vendor. Such a team is entirely dedicated to promoting the strategic innovation needs of an enterprise taking responsibility for the risks and challenges throughout the delivery.
Both innovation teams and centers of excellence (CoEs) contribute to an organization's growth and improvement, yet they have distinct scopes. Innovation teams are project-focused and work on specific innovative initiatives, whereas CoEs are focused on developing expertise and best practices in a particular domain.
An innovation team adds value to an organization by generating new ideas, products, or processes, which can lead to competitive advantages and market differentiation. Additionally, innovation teams help solve complex problems and adapt to changing environments, ensuring long-term sustainability and relevance in the business landscape.
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