Innovation: 'You do not have to be sick to get better'

'Innovation is too often treated as a project, while a process-oriented approach is called for,' so says Marcel Bruggers, Associate Partner at Boer & Croon. He developed a methodology - Value Adding and Implementation process - to successfully innovate at (semi-)governmental bodies.

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Marcel Bruggers

Marcel Bruggers works with clients to build up the innovative capacity of their organisation. In the past, he has experienced by trial and error how things should not be done. As a young civil engineer, he was involved fifteen years ago in an initiative at the Dutch Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat) to prevent sand accumulation in harbours. Once the innovative solution had been developed technically and could be realised at low cost, nothing at all happened. In hindsight, it turned out that not enough consideration had been given to a multitude of non-technical aspects, so the innovation could not count on sufficient support and was frustrated by existing agreements and structures. This got Marcel thinking, and so he developed an innovation process whereby all obstacles are successively dealt with, leading to a maximum chance of success for innovation initiatives.


How would you approach this kind of harbour project?

'By not starting off with the technical side of the story. That might just form 10% of the solution. First of all, you have to take a look at the stakeholders and map out the ecosystem. Therefore, in a project like this, you have to start with a blueprint of the organisation and with the question: 'Who do I need to involve and which organisations are relevant?' 'Only after that do you start with the technical side of the project. Otherwise, this kind of innovation is doomed to fail. Because you often see that innovation is treated as a project, whereas a process-oriented approach is called for instead and forms the basis for focused portfolio management.'

'Look, (semi)governmental bodies have an extensive set of tasks, and coming up with innovations is not one of them. That should be left to enterprising, commercial parties. However, the government then needs to know how to filter out the right ones from all those innovative techniques, technologies and methodologies. That is a difficult chore and I can advise them on this.' 'I've personally developed a methodology for this (see the section at the bottom of this article), based on a scientifically substantiated principle. Which I have made applicable and usable for all those asset-managing governmental bodies and semi-governmental bodies.


Innovation is a continuous process. How do you instil that into the DNA of an organisation?

'That's really tricky. Especially since governmental bodies are, in essence, cautious. And that fits in perfectly with their role. After all, they manage a certain infrastructure, such as waterways or motorways, cycle paths or, as in Amsterdam, quay walls. And managers are - as is already implicit in the word - cautious. And that is a good thing, because otherwise you would have a diversity of motorways and dykes that is impossible to manage. What I am trying to do is to get a number of people in crucial positions to take an innovative view of the task they face. Then you are well on your way.

If, for example, you ask an operational manager or administrator to decide whether an innovation should be pushed through or not, 99 times out of 100 you will be given a negative answer. Therefore, you have to make sure that the responsibility for the innovation lies with a tactical or strategic thinker within the executive organisation. Not an isolated innovation club, because then it will never be implemented. What you often see is that an innovation like that is started by people with a technical background. They have a lot of affinity with - and as such, an exclusive focus on - the technology, and consequently don't pay much attention to other issues such as organisational obstacles and consequences.' The process that I have developed ensures that all the necessary parties are involved and all the essential aspects are highlighted. Also, at the outset, we look as broadly into things as possible, which means that although you don't have a lot of depth in the beginning, you do have an overview of what this kind of innovation entails, what consequences it has and whether it can be implemented at all. Then you can already see very soon if something has a chance of success.'


Why would you actually hire you and potentially implement your process?

'Innovation is being carried out everywhere; inside virtually every organisation and at almost every level. Therefore, you could say that things are going just fine; the wheels are turning. My experience, however, is that you do not have to be sick to get better. And what is also my experience, is that instigators of innovation projects are not specifically recruited with the right skill set for these, that an ineffective approach is adopted, and that the internal culture and assessment systems tend to obstruct innovation.' 'You could stick with the status quo, or you could build on the innovative strength of your organisation. With my methodology, we achieve twice as many results in large programmes with roughly half the budget. That is not because we work harder, but because effective portfolio management is possible using my innovation process.'


Why did you choose Boer&Croon?

'Because Boer&Croon operates on a strategic/tactical level, where impactful decisions are taken for an organisation. What I find important is that our consultants do not just want to stand on the sidelines and tell you how things should be done, but instead work on projects and put their shoulders to the wheel in order to make transitions possible. Boer&Croon has as its motto: Get it Done, and that really suits me to a T. I get my energy from working with people, showing them that speck on the horizon and getting them on board with my story to get there.' 'At Boer&Croon, I can work with clients to build up the innovative capacity of their team and organisation. In the first instance, this is done by listening carefully to what is needed where, and then combining that with my insight into innovation processes. Next, we bring this knowledge in, set up the process and train the innovation team. This is the way you achieve long-lasting results.'

Methodology: Value Adding and Implementation Process


The complete name of it is Value Adding and Implementation process; and it stands for innovations that add value and are also implementable. It consists of no less than seven phases. Or actually eight, if we include phase 0.


Phase 0 is the definition of the problem. It is always clear what the higher goal is, but what is often neglected is to specify the way in which we want to innovate. What are the internal work, process and commitment agreements? Do we innovate in an 'openly', with commercial parties or not, are there certain agreements about financing, how are we going to involve IT; those are the kinds of things you have to make very explicit before you start the whole process.


The innovation scan is carried out in Phase 1. This is a kind of X-ray image of the innovation, which also shows organisational aspects, success factors and levers. As this is the first step in an innovation process, the scan should be completed in an afternoon. Which is why I have designed a canvas, which actually makes it an exercise in filling in the blanks.


In Phase 2, the value of the innovation is examined. This includes identifying the costs, benefits and (social) effects for primary and secondary target groups, including a risk and measures inventory. What often goes wrong here is that weighing up is done on the basis of the outcome of the above. In fact, the correct comparison is one in which you compare applying an innovation with not applying it. What are the consequences of doing nothing? Will we end up going from a situation with a desire to innovate to a situation where we have to; (let's not use the term 'crisis situation').


Phase 3 is the phase in which we examine the feasibility of what we have in mind. Here, four questions need to be answered favourably. Should we go ahead with this innovation? This means that a sense of urgency is felt. Do people also want it? This is about gaining broad support. At the executive organisation, for example. It's a matter of talking things over and seeing if you can get the right strategic managers on board. And is it actually feasible? - Is there sufficient capacity during the entire life cycle of the innovation? In other words, from the development, realisation, management to the maintenance. And what is our upscaling potential? Because if you do it once, you want to be able to do it repeatedly, so that you do not end up with a patchwork of all kinds of different innovations. That would be very awkward and inefficient from a managerial point of view. And last but not least: Are we allowed do it? Does the intended innovation comply with legislation and regulations?


Phase 4 encompasses the preparation. This is when you find out everything there is to find out This is very important before you embark on Phase 5, the pilot phase. This is essentially a very expensive phase, so you want to be confronted with as few surprises as possible. In phase 4, we look specifically at all the various uncertainties, bandwidths, interdependencies and, of course, the 'riskiest assumptions'. The abovementioned matters are inherent to Innovation. What is important here is not to try to avoid them, but to embrace them and at the same time, make them manageable. During this phase, we also define which parameters need to be monitored, so that you gain insight into the functionality of the innovation. Both on its own and as part of the system.


In phase 5, we will run the pilot on the basis of the plan drawn up in the preparation phase. Not only do we want to use the pilot to determine empirically what it means to apply the innovation and what the effects are. We also aim to help the innovation move from being a stand-alone technology, or methodology, to being an integral part of the whole where it is being implemented.


The pilot phase is followed by phase 6, in which an evaluation takes place. In this phase, you establish whether it works or not and if upscaling can then take place. Or if it can also possibly be implemented by another organisation. If you adopt such a structured approach, it is also highly likely that innovations and knowledge about innovations can be shared. This does not happen often enough at the moment, and therefore this methodology could very well have a much wider impact.


Finally, we reach the scaling-up phase. We have established that everything works, the pilot has delivered the intended results, but what is needed now to make the innovation widely applicable? This is what we focus on in this phase.

This innovation process offers a great deal of support and structure to almost everyone who is willing to innovate. It boosts the chances of success of innovation processes and partnerships. I feel that I am really leaving something of lasting value behind once I leave after an implementation project. But I never really lose sight of anyone; fortunately, I regularly meet up with them, for example, in the peer review group Quartermasters of Innovation, something I recently initiated.