Imagine the cockpit conversation…
First Officer: Looks like we are headed into turbulent air, sure glad you checked the annunciator panel when we started up and before we took off.
Pilot: Yeah, looks a little rough…wait, what’s that about the annunciator?
First Officer: You did check it, right?
Pilot: I’m supposed to do that before every takeoff?
First Officer: I thought so??
Pilot: Well, why didn’t you say something…
To prevent conversations such as these the aviation industry had an early role in developing the use of checklists to help air crews cope with the increasing complexity of the technology in aircraft. Boeing introduced the use of preflight checklists in 1935 following the crash of a B-17 prototype caused by failure to disengage a locking device prior to flight.
We have grown used to workplace complexity and the use of checklists to mitigate the risk of error. We have checklists for safety inspections, buying a car, closing a mortgage, preparing a financial statement, operating a laboratory and so on. Standardizing complex work and documenting with a checklist helps us work faster with less risk of making a costly mistake.
So how about your innovation work? Many of us are familiar with classic “gate” systems designed to manage high risk and complex innovation projects. The same gate systems that can stifle innovation and demotivate people by the degree of control over the learning process.
Therein is the problem. Classic gate systems are designed to control the innovation process by telling us what to do. To shift the aim of your system from controlling to enabling innovation requires you to rethink your gates. Instead of simply telling us what to do, our system must tell us why and how to accomplish each step. Upgrade your gate checklist system to include:
What: define clearly and with no doubt what success looks like for this checklist Death Threat or Milestone
Why: explain in simple language how this Death Threat or Milestone is very important for increasing innovation speed and decreasing risk, painting the “bigger picture”.
How: provide a clear starting point for defining the organization’s best practices for resolving this Death Threat or reaching this Milestone.
Classic gated innovation systems provoke reactive responses, “what is the minimum required to clear the hurdle?”. A What-Why-How innovation system inspires a proactive confidence, “I can do this!”
Check out how one defense contractor uses collaboration to upgrade their classic gated innovation system: