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This article explains the FORTH Innovation Method in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.
Starting innovation is for many a struggle to master. A study of Booz & Company shows only a quarter of all companies are effective at the start of innovation.
And Stage-Gate Guru Robert Cooper shows that of every seven new product/ service projects, about four enter development, 1.5 are launched, and only one succeeds.
There is a structured innovation approach, which combines both creativity and business reality.
What is the FORTH Innovation Method?
The innovation methodology is called FORTH – an acronym found in the first letter of each of the 5 steps: Full Steam Ahead, Observe & Learn, Raise Ideas, Test Ideas and Homecoming.
The FORTH Innovation Method structures the chaotic start of innovation, creates 3-5 mini new business cases and fosters a culture for innovation in an expedition of 20 weeks. The deliverables of this innovation expedition are 3-5 mini new business cases for innovative concepts, which fit the ‘in the box’ reality of your organization, otherwise nothing will happen.
FORTH innovation was developed in practice and has been used successfully in Europe by more than 35 organizations in both B2B and B2C markets and in non-profit sectors. The method is the base of the Amazon innovation best-seller: The Innovation Expedition.
Recent scientific research, studying 10 FORTH cases (2007-2013), shows that the use of the FORTH innovation method doubles your innovation effectiveness:
- Regular innovation process: 37.5% of the screened ideas are launched.
- FORTH innovation process: 77% of the ‘mini new business cases’ are launched.
FORTH Innovation Methodology
A FORTH Expedition of 20 weeks with a multi-disciplinary team has 5 stages.
Stage 1: Full steam ahead
Good preparation increases the chance of success. First you determine the purpose and direction for the ideation phase in an innovation assignment. And you determine the criteria the innovative concepts must comply to. The second important decision is to determine how your ideal ideation team looks like. The bigger the team, the greater the diversity and the greater the chance of wild, crazy, pattern breakthrough ideas. A special mission asks for special people. That’s why top managers are also part of the innovation team. When they are part of it; they will support the end results. At the FORTH Innovation Method kick-off workshop an enthusiastic multidisciplinary team is ready to go.
Stage 2: Observe and learn
There are no old roads to new solutions. That’s why it is essential to get fresh insights. That is the essence of stage two. Who is the potential customer and what motivates and frustrates him or her? Identifying customer frictions is key. In this phase you get to know the customer and his or her behaviour. Besides customers, other sectors and thought leaders serve as a source of inspiration for the innovation opportunities, identified in the kick-off. Ask yourself the question “If we want to innovate in this direction, from whom can we learn?” This way you look for best practices and valuable experiences of other persons or organizations involved with these opportunities. Team members share their insights and lessons learned in several ‘Observe and learn’ workshops in this phase. The exploration take place in six weeks. At the end, the ideation team gained relevant new customer insights and has explored interesting innovation opportunities.
Stage 3: Raise Ideas
This step is the creative pièce de résistance of FORTH Innovation Method. It consists of an intensive two-day ideation workshop. Ideation is inspired by the discovery stage and team members normally cannot wait to share their ideas. This leads often to 750 ideas or even more. They are converged into 40 idea directions and twelve concrete concept statements. In a second session the concepts are taken a step further and are improved. External experts are invited to strengthen the team. Use cartoonists to visualize ideas and to take care of the first designs.
Stage 4: Test Ideas
How attractive are the new product or service concepts really? That’s a legitimate question. Therefore you reflect on the concepts immediately. The strength of the new concepts is checked among potential customers. This research, on a small scale, can be done quickly and simultaneously in several countries or continents, with ‘live’ customers or online. First reactions from potential customers often offer excellent handles for improvement. Another workshop takes place in which the team brainstorms how weak spots can be fixed. Having concepts tested in this early phase creates the advantage that you can use the ‘Voice of the Customer’ to gain internal acceptance for the concepts later on in the stage-gate process. At the end of this phase it is decided which 3-5 concepts are worked out as mini new business case in the last phase.
Stage 5: Homecoming
In the final stage of FORTH Innovation Method you bring home the deliverables of the expedition. It is not a bunch of yellow post-its or mood boards. Instead the innovative concepts are worked out as mini new business cases. These are business plans per concept elaborating on essential business elements as: the attractiveness of the new concepts to the target group, the sales and profit potential, how the concept fits in the business strategy and whether realising it is considered feasible. Presenting end results in this form creates a lot of appreciation in the boardroom. A business case is something top management will recognize and understand. The activities in this last stage cover around four weeks. At the end of this fifth – and final – stage the ideation team has completed its tasks. In practice it takes you around fifteen weeks after the kick-off to return with 3-5 mini new business cases.
FORTH Innovation Method users in industry, services and governmental organizations in Europe are very satisfied with the methodology. They score it a 8.1 (on a 10-point scale). The strengths of the methodology are described by them as:
- Fosters internal cooperation.
- Closely connects the end-customer.
- Generates tangible business cases.
- Increases your innovation effectiveness.
- Fosters a culture for innovation.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is the FORTH Innovation Method applicable in today’s modern companies? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for the good innovative business reflection?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Anixter, M. (2014). The Innovation Expedition. An interview with Gijs van Wulfen. Article on Innovation Excellence, url: http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2014/02/10/interview-gijs-van-wulfen/
- Wulfen, G. (2013). The Innovation Expedition: A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation. BIS Publishers, ISBN-10: 9063693133, ISBN-13: 978-9063693138.
- Wulfen, G. (2013). Innovate the Expedition Way. An inspiring short Youtube video on the FORTH innovation method, url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4aUUCuj3j8.
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