by Brandon Pemberton — February 11, 2018

It's an exciting time to be working on innovation. Strong public markets, rapidly developing technology and fierce competition are driving massive investment. Our retail clients are asking us to help them improve the way they deploy innovation in stores through new concepts, new customer experiences and new processes.  They are finding that the success of the businesses and their personal trajectories is now closely tied to their ability to quickly translate innovative ideas to operable concepts that deliver transformational outcomes.

The pressure to demonstrate returns on innovation is extreme. And executives are dissatisfied.  Why?  Execution can be slow and new ideas often don’t resemble the original intent. 

There are good reasons for this:

  • The skills and tools to innovate are not the same as those required to run a business.
  • Innovation teams rush new concepts to deployment, getting tactical when they should remain strategic.
  • Execution teams make compromises instead of adjustments.
  • Leaders make binary decisions when they should be multi-faceted.

The dynamics that jeopardize success can be addressed by filling organizational and operating gaps and by making small changes in how innovation, execution and leadership teams think, the tools they use and the activities they prioritize.  The solution rests in four categories of activities that cover the execution lifecycle.

Prepare for success: Strong, clear leadership alignment and support sets direction for the organization. Leaders must come together on expected outcomes and be committed to communicating their support. 

  • Secure resources. Have the right people, processes and technology in place for execution. When trade-offs must be made, adjust approach and expectations accordingly.
  • Determine the impact of internal and external factors on timelines. The success of execution is affected by what is happening both inside and outside the organization.

Develop the infrastructure to execute: The right tools, people and process ensures that innovation initiatives are supported by the right environment for success.

  • Assemble cross-functional teams. Make sure that all functional stakeholders are "in" during the initial stages of execution, and that they have their leadership's support.
  • Develop hypotheses. Successful execution takes a clear vision of the behavior you want to see, its impact on the organization, and what is required to deliver those behaviors.
  • Craft a learning plan. Such a plan provides execution teams with a roadmap for testing hypotheses in a way that allows organizations to plan.


Nail the details: While free thinking and some dreaming are required to develop the best ideas, when it comes to execution, the details really matter.

  • Test and iterate. Engineer pilots to learn rather than to launch. Rooting them in iteration allows for continuous, efficient improvements that lead to desired outcomes.
  • Pivot rather than change. Use a learning plan to make many small pivots to concepts and their execution, while avoiding wholesale changes that impede speed and precision of outcomes.
  • Know when the organization is ready to launch. A realistic, continuous assessment of organizational readiness supports execution that does not stumble in the last mile. 

Ensure lasting outcomes: The hard work does not stop with execution.  Long-term success can be solidified by effective transitions and post-launch monitoring.  

  • Transition to operations. Operating team involvement during pre-launch activities ensures a smooth transition from innovation teams.
  • Monitor and assess. It often takes time for FP&A to integrate new activities. Interim monitoring tailored to the innovation will better meet the unique assessment needs of new operations.

The "how" of innovation doesn't happen overnight. Retailers that lead with innovation hone their competencies and capabilities over time. The outcomes for those that get it right are more exciting new concepts, better customer experiences and improved processes that support new business requirements.