+44 (0)7766-525433

Tuesday 21st September 08:25 (UK)

Get New Directions Newsletter

Archive for the ‘Best Practices Assessment’ Category

zuppli supplier performance improvement – new video

Monday, September 28th, 2020

We have just released an updated video of our new zuppli cloud service for helping businesses drive improved supplier performance. zuppli utilises a unique ‘two-way’ assessment to encourage collaborative improvement between businesses and their suppliers. zuppli is focused on product-based businesses such as manufacturers, distributors and MRO (maintenance and repair operations.

Currently zuppli is available for demonstration and our initial service is expected to be launched in November. For more information contact Alastair Ross

You can view the video on our Youtube channel here.

How’s your innovation health?

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Innovation is increasingly a critical competency for all businesses – in today’s global, dynamic markets. But many businesses lack effective capabilities in innovation. Our latest video on our YouTube channel looks at innovation challenges and the use of ‘best practice’ assessment to drive innovation improvement. We also overview the use of the Codexx ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution – developed in 2006 with the support of John Bessant, then Professor for Innovation at Imperial College Business School in London. And we do all this with a light sprinkling of humour…. and why not?

Take a look:

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Innovation is increasingly critical to business survival

We live in times of major change driven by a combination of globalisation, rapid technology development, the accelerating impact of the internet as a platform for social and business collaboration, security threats and changes in the power balance between the East and West.

The result is a turbulent environment where businesses continually need to adapt their business models and value propositions to meet new competitive conditions. In this challenging environment the ability to effectively innovate is becoming a core competence for businesses seeking to prosper in the short term and survive in the longer term.

How do you ensure that your innovation system is up to the job?

And and if it isn’t, how do you improve it?

Our latest whitepaper tells you how – you can read it here:

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

Director’s blog: Using practice sharing to catalyse innovation

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

the director's blog on innovation - logo with text


Catalysing innovation by showing a better way

One effective approach to triggering innovation is seeing ‘a better way’ – that is a superior way of working (aka business practice) that is relevant to your business. Benchmarking has been a long-established approach for doing this by comparing your business against another in a structured way. Indeed, as part of Codexx – and previously when I worked at IBM – I have led multiple benchmarking-type assessments in business areas such as production, R&D, supply chain and innovation. These benchmarking assessments were effective approaches to comparing business areas based on models of best practice and performance and thus identifying practice shortfalls – thus driving focused improvements.

However, benchmarking comparisons cannot be so easily applied to more focused business areas as there may not be a relevant best practice model in place or a database to compare against. In this case a more tailored approach is required, that I will refer to as ‘practice sharing’. This approach is less focused on numeric performance comparison – and more on key practices. However unlike an unstructured visit to view another company – ‘industrial tourism’ – this is a structured approach.

 Benchmarking continuum

Introducing practice sharing

I recently led a practice sharing programme between two major industrial businesses – one based in Denmark, the other in Germany, focusing on the development of specialist production equipment. This was by definition a niche area that was key to both businesses’ competitiveness. This programme had its beginnings in 2009 as part of a re-engineering programme that Codexx was supporting for the Danish company’s production maintenance organisation covering eight factories. To help in overcoming resistance to change and to ‘open the eyes’ of the maintenance managers to the opportunities for improvement we included a ‘benchmarking’ element as part of the re-engineering programme. Because maintenance benchmarking tools in the market were overly focused in specific areas (such as cost or lean) and did not provide the wide enough view that was needed, we developed a best practices framework based on the ISO 8 Management Principles.

We used this to perform assessment visits to the maintenance organisations in aerospace, automotive, plastics and white goods manufacturers across Europe. These visits provided benefits for both our client and the companies being visited who received a comparative report and the opportunity to visit our client. Importantly the assessment team comprised the maintenance managers who used the framework to perform the assessment, supported by Codexx. This structured approach ensured that key relevant practices were reviewed and compared and the comparative practice scoring was used to define an improvement path and monitor progress using a number of subsequent self-assessments. The programme achieved its objectives of catalysing the maintenance managers to seek opportunities for applying new practices as part of the re-engineering programme.


Developing the approach

This success led to the Danish company deciding to utilise a similar approach, with the support of Codexx, to review their development of production systems, working with a major German company in 2013, with whom they has an existing commercial relationship – but who were not a competitor. We called this approach ‘practice sharing’, rather than ‘benchmarking’ to make the approach less formal and more in the spirit of learning rather than an audit – which helped in gaining the support and involvement of the German company. Codexx developed a practice sharing framework, again based around the ISO Management principles, using a similar structure and assessment approach to the maintenance programme.

This framework was tested with the China-based operations of both companies and then finalised. We then performed a practice sharing assessment in 2014. This was considered valuable by both parties and a subsequent practice sharing programme focusing on another area of production systems was performed with the same Germany company in 2015-16. The approach in these practice sharing programmes was similar:

1. A business area of interest to both parties was identified and a commitment to perform a practice sharing assessment was made.

2. A practice sharing framework was developed.

3. Each partner self-assessed itself against the practice sharing framework.

4. A 1-day practice sharing visit was made to each company, facilitated by Codexx. This included presentations on the development of the company, a tour of its operations and then a review of the self-assessment. The agenda was allowed to flex substantially to take account of interest areas that emerged.

5. A report of the practice sharing findings and outcomes was produced by Codexx and shared with both parties.

6. Each company took forward specific follow-up internal actions and agreed collaborations.

What are the benefits from practice sharing?

Based on my experience of working with this approach since 2009, I have seen the following benefits:

  • The approach provides a structure missing from an ad hoc visit that helps align and focus the discussion on relevant practice areas.
  • The self-assessment provides a clear and objective picture of current practices including areas for improvement which helps in focusing the discussion.
  • The programme provides a catalyst for improvement for each party.
  • It’s a time-effective and cost-effective process.
  • It’s not complex and is transparent to the participants and other users.

What’s needed for effective practice sharing?

  • Win – Win: Unlike benchmarking where your company is being compared to a model of best practice, with the comparison performed by an external assessor, practice-sharing requires a partner. To engage the partner, there needs to be the potential for benefits for both parties: the practice area to be examined needs to be relevant and each party needs to consider that they can learn something from the other.
  • A structure: A practice sharing framework is needed to provide a structured comparison and independent facilitation to ‘run the process’ with the goal of maximising and capturing the outcomes from the practice sharing. Both companies also need to agree to respect confidential information that might be shared in the programme.
  • Flexibility: The assessment visits need to be flexible and adapt to the interests of the participants. As a facilitator, I had to strike a balance between directing the discussion back to relevant areas whilst allowing deviations from the agenda that were clearly creating value. This is key, as the framework is in effect a ‘working hypothesis’ of what are the important practices. The reality will undoubtedly be somewhat different and thus the session has to seek to accommodate potentially valuable emergent discussions.
  • The right people: Both parties need to assemble a team of specialists in the area of interest that can participate effectively both technically, inter-personally and language-wise (for international comparisons, it is likely that English will be the common language).
  • The right attitude: Both parties need to be open and ready to ‘tell it as it is’, covering both strengths and weaknesses in their own practices. This is not a competition – it’s a collaboration.

I’d be interested in readers’ own experiences in this area – contact me here.

Alastair Ross

Codexx Associates Ltd


Customer-focused redesign of internal service functions

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Customer Service


It is all too easy for internal support functions, such as IT, R&D or HR, within organizations to lose sight of their purpose and their customers over time, resulting in poor service and inefficiency. For such functions do not operate in an open market where customers are the final arbiter and can take their business elsewhere. The result can be costly and poor internal support, which adversely impacts the performance of the entire organisation. So how do organizations ensure that internal services are provided effectively and efficiently?

Such a question was asked in the European operation of a global engineering company as part of a major transformation programme driven by the business challenges resulting from the 2008 economic crash. The function in focus was a production support function, responsible for the development, maintenance and enhancement of production lines and new production technologies for multiple factories in Europe and internationally. This function was key to the business as it provided important core competencies in new production technology platforms and automation. Codexx was asked to perform a review of the function as part of the transformation programme. The specific remit was to clarify current task responsibilities and interfaces, determine key problem areas and identify required improvements. This was a sizeable organization of more than 200 engineers and technicians, centred in northern Europe, but with teams also based in Eastern Europe and China.

D21 - 1

A customer-focused approach
We took a customer focused, service-led approach to the review, rather than focusing on the existing organisational structure. We did this as we considered the delivery of these services as the fundamental mission of the function. If we had aligned our approach with the existing departmental structure, we would have limited our thinking. We defined four key services provided by the function and focused our review on how well these services were delivered. We then identified five key internal customers, such as the factories and the R&D function, and then interviewed them to get their views as to the key measures of success for the services provided to them.

Assessing organizational effectiveness
To review the effectiveness of the existing organisation and to point the way towards structural improvements, we asked each department within the function to determine the % of their workload spent on each of the key services and their key challenges in performing this work. We also asked each department to identify the % of their time spent working with each of the other functional departments and also their customers. This helped us identify any misalignment in the current organisational structure.

We then assessed the quality of the service delivered and the efficiency of delivery for each of the four services using workshops with the key internal customers. In these workshops we identified the key service touch points or ‘moments of truth’ to determine how well the function was serving each customer. This provided a very clear ‘voice of the customer’ which was very specific in their requirements and issues.

D21 - 3

Identifying service breakages
We then held workshops with the key functional departments to feed back these customer views on their service performance and to identify the root cause ‘breakages’ within the department’s operation or processes that was causing the identified issues. We reviewed each department’s effectiveness at working with other functional departments and identified opportunities for improvement. We also worked with each department to get their assessment on the effectiveness of the currently defined business processes, including how well they were documented and deployed. We found that whilst the organisation was progressive in its use of process management, with a defined set of business processes, there were weaknesses in how well these processes were actually ‘lived’ in daily business.

Defining improvements
Our approach was deliberately collaborative and we engaged 80 managers and employees in the review – covering both those in the function and those who were customers of the function’s services – so that we could be sure that we had a good feel for the function’s service requirements, its performance and key underlying challenges.

This enabled us to identify key ‘breakages’ in the existing function, such as weaknesses in the function’s role in the critical NPI (New Product Introduction) process, weaknesses in the strategy and definition of production technology platforms and challenges in providing sufficiently responsive production support. In developing improvements we maintained our service-led customer focus. We were also guided by visioning work we performed with the function’s management team that identified increasing trends of globalisation of production, increased cost focus and speed to market – which the function had to meet if they were to maintain a viable future within the organisation (for outsourcing of internal services was increasingly an option to be considered).

We asked fundamental questions (see first diagram) about how best the required services should be provided, to meet internal customer needs and to do so in a way that was affordable. Based on this and the findings from our stakeholder and internal assessment, we identified 7 key improvement projects. These covered improved internal processes – particularly in the definition of completion criteria at key stages – also improvements in the platform development approach and organisational changes to provide improved and ‘joined-up’ services to production customers. We then worked with the functional managers to define an implementation programme.

Internal service functions should be able to demonstrate effective service delivered in an efficient manner. If this is not the case, they need to be re-engineered or outsourced. A customer-focused service-led approach can be effectively used to assess the performance of an internal support function and to define any improvements required. Due to the high engagement of internal customers in such an approach, it is much easier to get their support for any required changes.

From benchmarking to best practice sharing

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

by Alastair Ross and Martyn Luscombe


The term ‘benchmarking’ originally emanated from the practices of cobblers, measuring people’s feet on a bench to make a pattern for a shoe. It was appropriated by business in the 1980s when progressive companies began to formally ‘benchmark’ themselves against each other. Its purpose was to drive business improvement based on identification of superior practices in other organisations. Xerox was the first major business to popularise it and since then it has become a core tool in the business improvement toolkit. Whilst benchmarking can be a very effective tool in catalysing and focusing improvement, it can also be easy to misuse, with the result that the not insignificant resources required can fail to yield usable improvements.

Codexx has gained significant experience in benchmarking programmes since it was established in 2002 and our consultants have additional benchmarking experience gained from their work with previous employers such as IBM, Philips and Cranfield School of Management. Our experience includes the benchmarking of manufacturing practices and performance, supply chain management, R&D, general business innovation and law firm innovation. This experience has given us a good feel for both the strengths and weaknesses of benchmarking as a whole. In this short article we want to share some of the key lessons we have learned and our recommendations on how to best to use benchmarking methods in your own improvement programmes.

To help in establishing a framework for assessing the use of benchmarking, it is important to recognise that in practice ‘benchmarking’ covers a wide range of approaches, each with their strengths and weaknesses. We have divided benchmarking into three distinct types and evaluated each on their merits based on our experience in applying them:

  • Quantitative benchmarking
  • Quantitative practice assessments
  • Qualitative practice assessments

In practice, many benchmarking assessments will be a hybrid of two or more types to suit specific requirements. A key success factor in benchmarking is not to lose sight of the goal. In benchmarking the goal is to be able to use the assessment findings in a practical way to catalyse, focus and effectively execute changes in business practices which will yield performance improvement. The benchmarking findings (the ‘score’) should never be seen as an end in itself – although, in our experience, that can all too easily happen as managers use the findings simply to validate a past or planned action, rather than to use it to drive improvement.

1. Quantitative benchmarking

This type of benchmarking can be considered as the ‘classic’ benchmarking with its focus on comparing the selected business against a defined set of performance metrics and comparing the results with a database of other businesses on an anonymous basis.

Sometimes benchmarking exercises make the mistake of focusing solely on performance metrics, and only part of the story is revealed. By also comparing business practices in an objective way (e.g. through the use of maturity grids) a more valuable assessment can be performed helping to answer the ‘why?’ as well as the ‘what?’ of the scoring. For example, if a manufacturing company is shown to have high inventories compared to the average in its sector, weak practice scoring in the use of lean practices and the use of large production batches would explain this poor performance and give management a list of areas for improvement.

A good example of this type of benchmarking is the Probe manufacturing benchmarking tool. This was developed by IBM Consulting and London Business School in 1992 as an objective way of assessing a manufacturing operation against world class standards. It was based on a model of World Class Manufacturing that drew heavily on lean thinking. The benchmarking tool provided numerical scoring based on practice maturity and measurable performance achievements, and grew to a database of over 2000 manufacturing sites. Codexx has been a licensed user of the Probe manufacturing benchmarking tool since 2002 and we have used Probe for multi-factory benchmarking on a regular basis.

An excellent example of a company that has successfully applied best practices benchmarking and improvement is Grundfos, the leading global pump manufacturer with factories in Europe, America and Asia and headquartered in Denmark. Grundfos started using best practice benchmarking using PROBE in 1996 to assess the practices and performance in its factories. This identified gaps with best practices including the need to utilise Lean manufacturing approaches. Grundfos commenced implementation of lean manufacturing techniques across their factories from 1997 and continued regular PROBE benchmarking supported by Codexx. In parallel it used EFQM to drive overall Business Excellence. Grundfos Denmark won the EFQM award in 2006. In the PROBE benchmarking assessment in 2008, their Danish factories scored at a world class practice level. The result has been clear improvement in key performance indicators such as on-time delivery, inventory turns and quality.

New Directions 19 - benchmarking article - Figure 1

Figure 1: Example of practice v performance scatter for PROBE manufacturing benchmarking



  • Uses a structured approach and provides quantified comparisons with other organisations on an anonymous basis.
  • The large database of businesses that have been benchmarked against the defined practices and performance provides an authoritative comparison.
  • This can be a cost-effective approach – the license or consulting fee required will be less than the total cost of a ‘do it yourself’ approach.
  • The benchmarking exercise can be performed without visiting other companies so does not require much time.


  • The underlying model that the benchmark is based on is key to its relevance and its makeup should be clear to participants. It is all too easy for this to be complex and opaque and therefore unclear as to the validity and relevance of the final scoring.
  • Performance benchmarking alone does not provide easily actionable improvements. An effective Quantitative Benchmarking tool will cover both practice and performance.
  • The scope of the benchmark and the practice and performance areas covered are pre-defined by the benchmarking model and there is little or no room for flexibility.
  • Valid comparison is based on the assumption that all participating organisations define the compared metrics in the same way. It is up to the benchmarking assessors to ensure this is the case and if participating businesses are self-assessed, this cannot be guaranteed. The danger is that if the metric is ‘apples’, some organisations will actually be measuring ‘pears’… And this can easily be done. For example one global engineering company found that each of its international subsidiaries had different ways of measuring ‘on time delivery’; so a benchmarking performance question that asked for ‘on time delivery performance’ could get a high variety of %results from across this company even if they actually had identical performance…

2. Quantitative practice assessments

This benchmarking approach uses a defined framework of key practices with levels of maturity, i.e. from weak to strong practices. It is used when there is an absence of a large database of companies which have been assessed against these practices, so quantitative benchmarking is not feasible. Typically this would be because the nature or scope of the practice area is not wide enough to have merited academic or consulting study and the development of a benchmarking programme. This approach suits niche assessments of specialist areas, where a structured comparison against best practices is required. The lack of a database of comparative data means that the process must involve a number of like-minded organisations, all seeking to learn how to improve performance in the area involved.

Codexx used this approach to help a client perform benchmarking of production maintenance practices as part of a re-engineering programme for maintenance across 8 factories. The objectives of the benchmarking were:

1. To help ‘open the eyes’ of the maintenance managers to better practices in other maintenance organisations – and thus encourage change.
2. To provide a quantifiable comparison of practices and some key performance metrics with organisations with measurably better maintenance operations to provide a set of improvement targets.
3. To provide examples of improved practices which could be transferable to their business.
4. To learn about each company’s ‘journey’ to their current maintenance practices and benefit from their learning.

We initially looked to use a commercially available benchmarking tool for this work, but we found no tool that was broad enough to meet the client needs (most were focused on specific aspects of maintenance such as cost). We therefore developed an assessment framework built around a skeleton provided by the ISO 9001 8 principles of quality management. On this skeleton we added maintenance-specific practices and performances and developed this assessment model collaboratively with the client’s re-engineering team of maintenance managers – with whom we were already working. This approach was used to benchmark five other European companies, using 1 day visits – attended by the majority of the maintenance managers – supported by prior data sharing and preparation. Each participating firm was provided with an assessment report and overall scoring – it was important to ensure that each participating company gained value from the exercise. The assessment approach provided much insight to the maintenance managers and was used to develop improvement projects as part of the re-engineering programme. The scoring also provided a measurable set of practice and performance targets that were used over a three year period to measure re-engineering progress, with 6-12 month self-assessments against the framework (more information).

New Directions 19 - benchmarking article - Figure 2

Figure 2: Extract from F4i showing questions on innovation practice maturity.


Another example of this approach is in the development of the Foundations for Innovation (F4i) assessment tool by Codexx in 2006. This was born our of our recognition of a lack of a cohesive tool for assessing an organisation’s innovation ‘health’ in a cohesive and objective way. F4i was developed with the support of Imperial College Business School to bring academic rigour to the development of the assessment tool. Based on an academically validated model of innovation, it used 60 key innovation practices and performance metrics to enable a quantitative assessment of innovation in a business (see figures 2 & 3). We have used F4i in innovation assessments of industrial and service organisations across Europe, USA and China. F4i does not have a large database of companies – we focus primarily on how participating organisations score against the defined practices and more importantly in the underlying reasons for weak practices. We took a similar approach in the development of an innovation assessment for the legal sector, building on our experience of working with major UK law firms in innovation since 2005. We used this to perform a study of innovation in 35 UK and German law firms, together with the business schools of Exeter and Leipzig universities (more information).


  • The assessment framework can be tailored precisely to the specific needs of the organisation (or group of companies) involved.
  • The assessment approach can again be tailored as required.
  • Learning is gained from the visits to other organisations.


  • It is typically a more expensive approach to benchmarking than Type 1 as all the costs of development usually have to be borne by the lead partner(s).
  • There needs to be mutual value in the assessment for each participant and the lead organisation needs to recruit the involvement of others and typically cover the costs of the framework, travel to the other companies and in the scoring and reporting.
  • The limited number of participants results in a limited data set which restricts the ability to identify and validate relationships between practice and performance. Findings are thus more indicative than anything.
  •  A custom assessment framework needs to be developed for the benchmarking exercise by one of the parties involved in the assessment or by a supporting consultant.

New Directions 19 - benchmarking article - Figure 3

Figure 3: Example of ‘traffic light’ scoring against overall F4i innovation model.


 3. Qualitative practice assessments

This final type of ‘benchmarking’ is comparatively unstructured and primarily produces a qualitative assessment. One could argue that this is what normally happens in ad hoc and unstructured visits to other companies. Such informal benchmarking is sometimes referred to as ‘industrial tourism’ where the lack of any objective or structure to the visit results in limited value and few actionable outcomes. We are not advocating this approach. Structured qualitative practice assessment does have objectives and an assessment framework but it is deliberately loose. Codexx have facilitated a number of such assessments in a practice sharing programme on manufacturing technology areas, between a major Scandinavian and German manufacturers where there was mutual interest in a specific area of production technology development and the companies did not compete directly in their customer markets but were mutual users of each other’s products. Our approach to these assessments was to develop an overall practice framework (again based around the ISO’s 8 principles of quality management) and develop specific practices around this framework in collaboration with the two companies. An assessment visit programme was arranged and the framework used to scope and focus discussions. Key findings from the assessment were documented for each company.


  • Suitable for use in highly specific business areas where an existing benchmarking tool is unlikely to be available.
  • Learning is gained from the visits to other organisations.
  • The flexible framework enables practice sharing visits and discussions to accommodate discussion and evaluation of thinking, methods and experience which emerge as of value to participants, and would not easily be accommodated in a tight prescriptive assessment format. Basically ‘best practices’ in this area are not well defined or understood and so the assessment approach needs to accommodate emergent practices that have proved to be of value to at least one of the participating organisations.


  • Requires participants to each have areas of practice which are perceived to be progressive by other partners, so each participant can learn from the assessment – not just teach the other participants. This means that pre-work is typically required to engage participants and establish the potential for a mutually beneficial practice sharing arrangement.
  • There is a danger that the assessment will be so flexible and loose that it becomes difficult to make objective comparisons to enable effective learning for participants.
  • Again one party needs to take the lead in such a practice sharing programme.

 Final Words

Benchmarking is a proven way to compare an organisation’s effectiveness with others and do this in a way that provides objective findings that can be used to catalyse business improvement. However, sometimes traditional benchmarking can be expensive, too ‘one size fits all’ and its scoring opaque to participants.

Less formal methods, based around ‘practice sharing’ can be effective at achieving the required objectives of catalysing improvement – without the ‘heaviness’ of typical benchmarking – and enabling a more personalised fit to the requirements of the participants.

Overall, it is key that, whatever benchmarking approach is used, participants do not lose sight of the ultimate aims of the activity: to catalyse and focus improvement activities.

Product development – ten best practices

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Product development is a critical function for product-based businesses. The ability to develop new products with features and functionality that are valued by users, to bring them to market quickly, cost effectively and at acceptable quality and then to support and enhance them during their lifetime has always been a complex undertaking.

Today’s additional requirements to serve a global market, to exploit new technologies – including the opportunities provided by the internet – to meet ever higher customer expectations and to compete against new low cost, but increasingly high value, rivals from China and other emerging economies simply adds to the challenge.

How do companies ensure that their product development practices are good enough?

Over the past decade Codexx has worked with a number of clients on assessing and improving product development practices, most recently we performed a global R&D benchmarking assessment covering Europe, US and China. In 2010-12 Codexx carried out two major research studies on what we call ‘the innovation journey’ for technology-based product businesses, from new ideas to value (e.g. [products) in the marketplace. This covered 43 technology businesses in the UK and Denmark.*

New Directions 18 - Figure 1

Figure 1: An end-to-end product innovation process

From our experience, we have put together a ‘top ten’ list of practices that we consider have a key impact on the success of product development. In no particular order:

  •  Become a user. Get the ‘voice of the user’ into R&D and keep it there. This can be done in a number of ways: by ensuring that development engineers and product managers spend time with relevant users, or by nominating a ‘user advocate’ in the development team, or by regularly and systematically bringing field feedback into R&D. A measure of the importance of this practice is that our innovation journey study found that end-user involvement in new product development was the practice with the fourth highest correlation with innovation performance.
  • Effectively explore new ideas. This means using a rich approach to exploration that involves personnel from development, marketing and production as well as potential users and partners, to determine the potential user and business opportunities and also the risks of new concepts and to identify potential improvements. The use of rough-prototyping is very effective here to help evaluate the concept. This level of exploration ‘shakes up’ the concept to determine whether it has sufficient merits to consider taking it forward. In our innovation journey study of 2012-13, the effective use of rough prototyping for idea exploration was the practice with the second highest correlation with overall innovation performance.
  • Enhance existing products. It can be easy for R&D to over-focus on new products, at the expense of enhancing existing products – from an engineering perspective it can be seen as less challenging and less exciting. But enhancing an existing product instead of investing in a new one has many advantages – less technical risk, less investment, easier for sales personnel to sell (minimal training required). Enhancements can be through updated technology elements in an existing platform, through accessories (which can be provided by 3rd parties) or through software and services. This does not mean we are ‘anti-new products’, but simply that the development investment portfolio should give sufficient weight to existing product enhancement as well as new products.
  • Establish an ‘end-to-end’ product innovation process. Whilst most product businesses will have a formal New Product Development (NPD) process, this only covers part of the journey from new ideas to products in the market. The NPD process needs to be complemented by a front-end process for idea generation and exploration (covering the key ‘fuzzy front end’ of product development), a back-end support & enhancement process and a parallel process for capturing learning from the field (as shown in Figure 1). Front-end exploration projects will often “fail” in the sense that the results are disappointing – which is an acceptable outcome as not all new ideas should (or can) proceed. Engineers must be judged on whether they do good, disciplined investigations in this stage, not on whether the ideas work out. Some element of waste is inevitable at the front end. Without such an end-to-end approach, the NPD process will waste resources on weak concepts and deliver sub-optimum products to the market. Product innovation must be guided by a clear stage gate process with an objective Go/No go at all the stage gates, especially, of course in the ‘Fuzzy Front’ end. Few companies are good at biting the bullet and stopping unpromising projects early on. But these processes have tendency to become more onerous with time as extra checks are inserted every time a problem occurs. This can become a bureaucratic nightmare. Beware of making the process any more formal than is absolutely necessary.
  • Reduce development time and team size. A major proportion of development cost is engineering hours – and this is a function of team size and project duration. So short development times and small teams have many benefits. Small teams are easier to coordinate, require less project management time and thus are able to make faster decisions. Shorter development cycles are less likely to require specification ‘resets’ due to competitive product announcements, new technologies, regulatory changes or delays from resource shortages. Frankly long development cycles and large teams generate waste in lost time, rework and non-value-adding coordination. Philosophies such as ‘Lean Startup’ (see the book by Eric Reis of the same name) support fast development time as this enables products to get to market faster and then user-based learning can start. So the mantra ‘keep it short and keep it small’ should be the guide for product development.

New Directions 18 - Figure 2

Figure 2: A system for innovation within an organisation

  • Employ platform thinking. This approach supports fast development time by introducing modular thinking into product design, to create a platform-based architecture. Thus new products become a mix of existing, evolved and new modules – for example a new mobile phone may have the same casing and screen, but updated processor, camera and new version of the operating system. This approach reduces development cost and risk and enables innovation to be focused on the new platform modules (rather than unnecessary re-invention). Platform thinking is well established in sectors such as automotive with cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 sharing much of the floorpan and chassis. Our innovation journey study showed that the separation of technology and product development (which is a key aspect of platform thinking) and the re-use of design or technology elements in new products were both top ten practices for correlation with overall innovation performance.
  • Ensure development proven practices are deployed. There are some proven practices for the design of new products such as documented user requirements – to provide a firm base for specification, QFD (Quality Function Deployment) – to build a functional specification that is aligned with user requirements, FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis) – to identify potential design weaknesses, Design Peer Reviews – to provide an independent ‘fresh view’ on a design before it is frozen and Post Project reviews – to capture lessons learned and required improvements to working methods. These good practices are well known, so it can be surprising how poorly these are in place in product development teams. We have been in firms where these practices have simply ‘faded away’ or only have ‘lip service’ paid to them. It is the responsibility of development management to ensure that these proven development practices are in place and used effectively.
  • Establish an innovative culture. We have worked in product development teams where employees have said ‘We don’t have time for innovation, we’re too busy developing products’. Of course incremental product development is indeed one type of innovation. But the point is well made – employees need to have time, management support and encouragement to identify new ideas and concepts. This requires a supportive culture for innovation – a key element of the ‘climate’ for innovation within a firm. This is one of the seven key practice areas required for an effective innovation system (see Figure 2). A key aspect of an innovative culture is a clear and overt tolerance for failure when new ideas don’t work out. Of course, this is not the same as a tolerance for bad work…
  • Don’t overload! Management ambitions can lead to the commitment of new projects and a development roadmap that simply exceeds development capacity. The result is a climate of project slippage and postponement – which further wastes development resources in re-planning and stop-start activities. Development capacity should not be loaded more than 80% of capacity to avoid short-term overloads of some resources and also to allow personnel time to get involved in new concept exploration work, platform development or other improvements. Overloading inevitably leads to queueing, and extra inefficiency comes if engineers need to swap from project to project.
  • Have an effective Go/No Go to market. Stage-gate management in product development is a proven and effective way of managing cost and risk exposure. Just as cost and risk exposure significantly increase once a new product concept is accepted for development, so does cost and risk exposure increase significantly once a product is released to be taken to market as large investments in manufacturing and sales are required. This is why the decision to go/no go to market needs to involve all the key functions affected (such as marketing, sales, manufacturing and development) – it is not a decision for development management alone. Indeed marketing involvement in signoff of product release to market was the practice that had the highest correlation with high innovation performance in our innovation journey study.

Thanks to Rick Mitchell, Visiting Professor of Innovation Management at the University of Cambridge for his contribution to this article.

*‘The Innovation Journey for technology-rich product businesses – Phase 2 – Final study report’, October 2013, Codexx Associates Ltd, The University of Exeter Business School, The University of Aalborg Business School. More information.

For further information on our innovation and product development solutions, contact us at www.codexx.com.

The Innovation Journey for technology businesses – Phase 2 report

Monday, October 14th, 2013


Report on innovation programme 2009-2013

Today we are publishing the Phase 2 report of ‘The innovation journey for technology-rich product businesses’. This provides an updated report on our study of innovation practices and performance in technology-based product businesses. The study covers a total of 43 UK and Danish companies and was supported by our academic partners, The University of Exeter  in the UK and The University of Aalborg in Denmark. This study programme commenced in 2009, with a Phase 1 report in February 2011. We then extended the study with additional focus on ‘Disruptive Innovation’ adding 18 more UK and Danish companies. Our study took an ‘end-to-end’ view of product innovation as shown in Figure 1.Blog picture - 3 balls

Figure 1: Innovation Journey model

Practice – Performance correlation

Our study found significant correlation between the practices in place across the innovation journey processes and the resulting innovation performance (see Figure 2). Some stages of the innovation journey had more impact on innovation performance than others. In particular, innovation performance leaders were typically more user-focused across the innovation journey than other companies. Specifically the leaders (i.e those companies with the stronger innovation performance) were significantly ahead in the practices applied in the ‘Idea Exploration’ and the ‘Go/No Go to Market’ stages and ahead in ‘Development’ itself.  The differences between the innovation practices of leaders and others can be seen in Figure 3. We also examined how companies seek to manage the potential for ‘Disruptive Innovation’ in their market – we found that in general few companies have robust approaches in place.

Figure 2:  Practice v Performance for innovation


Blog picture - Scatter

Learning points

We have identified key learning points from this study and made recommendations for businesses who are seeking to improve their effectiveness in their own ‘innovation journeys’.  Our report is intended for a broad audience of business practitioners as well as academic researchers and we have especially sought to provide clarity and application for business readers. All participating companies were sent a copy of the report together with their unique code to enable them to review their performance on an anonymous basis.

Blog picture - snake

Figure 3: Differences between innovation leaders and others


Improvement recommendations

We made a number of recommendation based on the study findings:

  • Increase user focus throughout the innovation journey with the ‘voice of the user’ represented throughout the end-to-end innovation process.
  • Keep flexible to enable late changes from users – a key practice of innovation leaders.
  • Focus on users not customers.  When it comes to product innovation, it is the users who are key.
  • Examine your New Product Introduction/Development) process – to ensure it is covering the front end Idea Generation, Exploration and Selection steps and the back end steps. All too often these areas are not covered.
  • Give sufficient emphasis to the management of Intellectual Property in your innovation processes. IP can offer key strategic benefits if managed effectively.
  • Review your overall innovation system. Whilst the innovation processes as reviewed in this study are a key enabler to innovation success, there are other key factors such as Leadership, Culture and Strategy within the business that are major determining factors in innovation success. Businesses that wish to become successful at innovators need to improve their overall innovation practices.
  • Consider the opportunities and threats of Disruptive Innovation. With the rapid development of technology and the ability for new start-ups to quickly enter a market and receive venture capital funding to support rapid growth, established businesses need to actively look out for the opportunity/threat of disruption.

Overall we believe that companies would benefit in taking a broader ‘end-to-end’ view across their innovation journey to enable improved innovation performance.

If you would like further information about this study or would be interested comparing your company’s innovation practices against this model, then please contact Alastair Ross.

Codexx innovation solution selected for new benchmarking product

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

F4i logo

Codexx Associates Ltd and PROBE Network LLP agree to develop new innovation benchmarking product

Monday 22nd April 2013

Codexx Associates Ltd and Probe Network LLP today announced their agreement for the development of a new best practice benchmarking solution for business innovation. PROBE for Innovation Excellence will be based on the ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution developed by Codexx and used in a number of business sectors including manufacturing, insurance and professional services.

The development of PROBE for Innovation Excellence is being supported by IEL Santa Catarina, Brazil (Euvaldo Lodi Institute of Santa Catarina).The first version will be available during the summer of 2013. Codexx and PROBE have had a long standing relationship since 2002 as Codexx has been a user of PROBE’s benchmarking tools in its consulting work.

Announcing the agreement, Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, said “I am delighted to be working with PROBE on this exciting new product. PROBE’s expertise and global market reach in benchmarking will maximise the value of our investment in F4i.” Jeff Taylor, Senior Partner of PROBE Network LLP  said “Innovation is a key driver of business success, so we are delighted to be working with Codexx on the development of a new PROBE tool that will spur innovation and act as a catalyst for overall business excellence.”

For further information contact Codexx at www.codexx.com.

How to be a leader in the innovation journey

Friday, March 25th, 2011

There has rarely been a time when innovation has been more important for businesses. Today’s challenging economic conditions allied with global competition provide a business landscape that is hostile to companies that stand still. The dramatic and seemingly incessant development of technologies – particularly those allied to the internet – provide opportunities for new products, new services and indeed new ways of doing business. And lastly, today’s market is truly global, offering an unparalleled opportunity for businesses.

For businesses to survive, let alone grow, they must be effective at innovation – at converting ideas to products and services in the market that deliver value to users and income to their creators. The journey from ideas to value is not a simple one. There are many steps along the way and many opportunities for good ideas to be lost, poor ideas to reach the market or for the journey itself to take longer than it really should.

Working with our academic partners, Exeter University Business School in the UK and Aalborg University in Denmark and with Gill Jennings & Every during 2010 we examined the innovation journey for 25 technology-based businesses operating in the UK and Denmark. We sought to understand which aspects of the innovation journey were of most importance to eventual market success; and also to understand how well businesses typically make this journey today. We saw that whilst much research had been performed in various elements of the journey (in idea generation, in development, in selection for example) little research had been performed across the entire ‘end-to-end’ journey. We decided to study this journey for new products and in sectors where time to market is a critical requirement. We developed a model and questionnaire and used these to examine the innovation practices and performance of 25 product-based businesses across this innovation journey. The participating companies had revenues varying from around £10 million to more than £2 billion. We made the following key findings from the study which was published on the 28th February 2011:

1.Overall our study found significant correlation between innovation journey practices and ultimate innovation performance (see scatter chart below). This showed that improving practices across the nine steps of the innovation journey will result in improved innovation performance. To further enhance innovation performance, businesses need to address the other innovation practices in areas such as Leadership and Culture.

2.The biggest gaps between Innovation Leaders and the others, in innovation journey practices were in Idea Exploration, Market/Launch Preparation and in IP Strategy & Management (see chart above that maps innovation practice scoring across the 9 steps of the innovation journey). This suggests that these three areas are the most critical in determining innovation success. It is interesting to note that Idea Exploration and Market Preparation are at opposite ends of the innovation journey – one determining the quality of the new ideas that go into the ‘innovation pipe’ and the other preparing the market resources and partners for new product exiting the ‘innovation pipe’. This is an issue for many businesses whose existing New Product Development processes rarely cover these key front and back-end activities.

3.Leaders had a noticeably higher level of user focus across the innovation journey than did other companies and we would conclude that this is a key enabler to their higher innovation performance.

4.In contrast, practice areas that might have been expected to have high importance – such as Product Development – show little difference in practice between Innovation Leaders and the others.

5.When we examined the individual lower level practices that together comprised the nine individual steps through the innovation journey and their level of individual correlation with overall innovation performance, Intellectual Property (IP) management practices had the highest correlation with overall innovation performance. We believe that this is as much an outcome of being an effective innovator as an enabler to becoming an effective innovator.

6.Overall, there was generally little overall difference between the UK and Danish participants, (see chart above) other than in Idea Exploration and in IP Strategy and Management, where the UK companies were a little further ahead. There were more differences at the detail level with different priorities in areas such as Learning and IP Management.

7.The study also confirmed that those companies practicing significant Open Innovation today were more likely to have higher innovation performance than those who were not.

8.The study sample was too small to enable valid comparisons between individual business attributes such as sectors and size. We hope to address this by expanding the database with further participants.

In the detailed study report provided to participating companies, we identified key learning points from this study and made recommendations for businesses who are seeking to improve their effectiveness in their own ‘innovation journeys’. Participating companies were also provided with their performance score against the other participants – on an anonymous basis.

We propose to extend this work by growing the sample of companies assessed against this model, through use of the model in consulting work and in research to help businesses improve their innovation performance. For more information on the study, on how to have your company assessed against the innovation journey model or  to request a copy of the complete report, please contact us via www.codexx.com.

Energizing Change

Copyright © Codexx
All rights reserved