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The fight for resources when innovation comes calling

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Times are still tough at the moment, so the competition for internal resources is a fierce one.  When you attempt to implement any kind of innovation project, you will be competing for talent and money from elsewhere in the organisation.  It’s quite probable that these other departments will have a track record to fall back on.  They probably generate money for the business.  They may have significant political clout.

Surviving, let alone thriving in such a world can be tough for any innovation project.  As such it’s likely that members of the team, and its sponsors, will have to work extra hard to get the support the project needs.

Central to this challenge is that of the budget itself.  The core of the business will probably have a degree of certainty to it courtesy of the track record it has built up over the years.  Managers can feel confident that if they assign a percentage of the budget to an existing activity, they will get a return on that investment.  Obviously it’s not guaranteed, but the odds are decent because of that track record.

The innovation project has none of that certainty, and whilst members and sponsors of the project will probably be comfortable with that uncertainty, other members of the business may not be.  You may be requesting a decent sized increase in investment, with very little track record to provide confidence in that investment.  What’s more, that investment may be made out of the budget of a more established part of the business.

There are some ways to help manage these conflicts, and they may help your project flourish:

  1. Pay for what you use – if your project utilises shared resources, make sure you pay for them in full, and make sure it’s at market value.
  2. Pay for what you commit – you might budget for 10 units of support, but only use 5, thus creating a temptation to only pay for the 5.  Resist that urge.  The business has supported you to the tune of 10 units, so pay for those 10 units.
  3. Separate metrics – the core business might be worried that investing in the innovation project might see them take a hit on their metrics.  Therefore it’s important to ensure measurement is separated out.
  4. Plan for risks – think through some of the contingencies you might need in advance, especially when forecasting is fuzzy and unpredictable
  5. Unify the plan – arguably the most important step is to ensure that planning and budgeting decisions are made according to a single plan.  You may be requiring things from other parts of the business that haven’t secured their buy-in.  It’s much better to ensure that everyone is involved to ensure short and long-term goals are aligned.
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