IPO model of systematic innovation

The Input-Process-Output model of systematic innovation

All systems can be understood using an input-process-output (IPO) model, and the system we call “innovation” is no exception. This model is likely familiar to you from information technology and manufacturing — let’s see how it can help in systematic innovation.

IPO in systematic innovation

Your innovation projects will more reliably produce good results when a systematic innovation method is followed. Such a method is a process that transforms inputs into outputs:

  • Input: This is whatever you need, or have, when you start your project — information, ideas, project goals, people, etc.
  • Process: This is whatever you do during the project, which will include various tools and methods.
  • Output: Depending on how you define your innovation project, this might be developed idea concepts, prototypes, pitches to management, etc.

Most innovation projects can be further divided into several stages, each of which can be modeled using IPO. When Thinkergy helps clients innovate, we use a five-stage process method, each of which has its own input, process, and output. How does this work as we pass through the five stages of our systematic innovation method X-IDEA?

Stage X-Xploration: Understand your real challenge

When you begin a project with us, we ask for an initial challenge — i.e., what you want to accomplish — as well as the information you already have related to the challenge. The process includes multiple tools specific to the challenge, and which might include observing customers, questioning assumptions, engaging in concept mapping, or performing a stakeholder analysis. Once this process is done, this stage produces these outputs:

  • Your final challenge. This is often very different from the initial challenge, and is always a call to action. This challenge statement will guide the rest of the project, so it’s crucial to get it right. As the American inventor Charles F. Kettering said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”
  • Insights. These are new, penetrating, often sudden understandings related to your innovation project.
  • Initial ideas. People have ideas at all times during a project, not just during time allocated to ideation. It’s important that ideas are recorded right away when they are created.
  • Idea evaluation criteria. This identifies both requirements, which an idea concept must have to be acceptable, as well as things that are desired but not essential.

Stage I-Ideation: Create raw ideas

The primary input into this stage is your final challenge statement. We then use many creativity tools like brainstorming, asking “What If?”, reversing the challenge, or playing with metaphors, to produce the primary output from this stage — more raw ideas than you think possible. These ideas do not need to make sense, and they are rough and incomplete, not fleshed out. In this stage you focus entirely on idea quantity.

Stage D-Development: Develop ideas into idea concepts

Two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling said, “If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away.” This stage starts with the raw ideas from the first two stages, and transforms the high volume of raw ideas into a few high-quality idea concepts. An idea concept is a detailed description of a solution that fully describes it and its effects. The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso said, “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” Our process uses multiple tools to discover interesting and wild ideas, to combine ideas, and to develop ideas. At the end of this stage, you will have a portfolio of realistic, meaningful idea concepts.

Stage E-Evaluation: Find your top idea concepts

This stage takes as input your idea concepts and your idea evaluation criteria from the first stage. We evaluate the idea concepts by engaging in convergent thinking and using many selected tools (such as balance sheet and rapid prototyping, among others) to identify the output from this stage: the top-tier idea concepts that will be pitched for implementation, as well as the second-tier idea concepts for later consideration.

Stage A-Action: Create your innovation deliverables

All your top idea concepts, both top- and second-tier, that are going to be pitched to the decision makers, are the input into the final and, arguably, most laborious and strenuous stage of our innovation process. The idea concepts are processed using our tools, resulting in adding such things as an idea pitch, project plan, GANTT chart, etc., as well as describing how the idea concept would fit into your processes. The primary result of this stage is a full, detailed description of the idea concept, as well as an implementation plan, all ready for you to make your idea pitch. Be sure, though, not to ignore the secondary output, which is what you learned from the process, including failures as well as successes, so that you can do better on your next innovation project.

Conclusion: Using the IPO model in innovation can help focus the process by making explicit, for each activity, what inputs you need to get started, what to do to most effectively process those inputs, and what outputs need to be created. The structure and discipline this creates will make your innovation projects more effective and more productive.

Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA? Or do you have a concrete innovation challenge that you would like to work through with the help of our well-structured innovation method (that we designed in line with the IPO model as described above)? Then contact us and let us know more about your innovation needs.


© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on July 3 2014. All rights reserved.