As technology teams seek every avenue to gain an edge over competitors, the concept of innovation is often tossed around as the difference between companies that thrive and companies that don’t. The actual definition of “innovation” in business contexts is often murky—and even harder to document and measure.
But however you define innovation, it’s clear that companies and leaders feel they aren’t doing enough of it.
A 2020 study commissioned by Microsoft found that only 40% of executives felt their companies were innovative with their products and services—compared to 56% the year prior. The study made the observation:
“While business continuity and productivity have broadly remained unchanged, business leaders are reporting a decrease in innovation around core products and services. Why? One likely cause is that workers report feeling more distant from company culture, less close-knit to teams and less collaborative.”
Our own research on the topic has unearthed a similar refrain calling for better ways to collaborate (and ultimately, innovate) in an environment where hybrid and remote work have become the norm. 75% of surveyed employees cited collaboration—not productivity—as having suffered the most as a result of remote work, while 28% of C-suite managers admit they struggle to devise creative and innovative solutions at work.
Visual collaboration software has helped bridge the gap
It’s clear that the rapid adoption of WFH has created a “collaboration gap” between the lived experiences of employees and leaders doing the best they can under extraordinary circumstances, and their desire for a more connected way of working. It’s also clear that existing tools like email, text chat, and ephemeral video calls—while useful—are ill-equipped to be the comprehensive tools distributed teams need to feel aligned, creative, and innovative.
For example, another survey conducted by Lucid found that more than half of participants in any given meeting have a preferred collaboration style that’s not served by the tools being used. And facing a new way of working where impromptu desk chats and physical whiteboarding are not possible, leaders have also conveyed frustration that ideas generated in virtual meetings are often lost without a centralized place to record them.
Thankfully, as we move into “The Next Normal,” visual collaboration platforms like Lucid have solved many of these problems, and largely filled the collaboration gap.
Shared virtual spaces where teams can replicate the experience of being face-to-face with a whiteboard and stack of sticky notes have proven effective for 97% of managers and 89% of employees. And collaborative software that spans the entire lifecycle of your work—from ideation and user journey mapping to intelligent diagramming and cloud infrastructure modeling—has helped 82% of teams increase their collaboration and alignment.
But as teams continue to build for the future, the directive is clear and the stakes are high: Collaboration needs to predictably and regularly lead to innovation.
This is why emerging visual collaboration tools must go beyond brainstorming or communication. To make innovation predictable and repeatable, teams must turn the artifacts of the work they do in visual collaboration platforms into an innovation repository—one that serves as a holistic blueprint for how your business functions, grows, and creates value.
What is an innovation repository, and why do you need one?
One of the tenets of the Agile Manifesto is prioritizing “working software over comprehensive documentation.”
While this was never intended to be an indictment of the latter, the mere mention of documentation can be groan-inducing for fast-moving teams. Documentation is often seen as a drag, a chore, an impediment to the thing you’d rather be doing—or the thing you do when you don’t have anything else to do. Accordingly, it’s often done without rigor or regularity.
The reality? Documentation isn’t just for highly technical roles and complex technologies, and shouldn’t feel like a wall you have to climb at the end of a project. It can and should be something that’s baked into the way innovative teams ideate, plan, design, build, and launch new products.
This is why teams need to expand their understanding (and acceptance) of documentation beyond dry, impenetrable technical documents by focusing on building an innovation repository.
An innovation repository is a new way of thinking about documentation as an “always on” process. In essence, an innovation repository is constructed of all the visual documentation that forms a living blueprint of your business. It includes collaborative working sessions, storyboarding, user journeys, process maps, UX wireframes, project timelines, Sprint planning boards, cloud architecture, retrospectives, launch reviews, and more.
In the same way, a company wiki serves as a living record of personnel-related procedures, benefits, mission statements, vision decks, and branding guidelines that keep a business running, the goal of an innovation repository is to capture how ideas come to life, how work gets done, where innovation is happening, and how success is measured and replicated, in order to keep a business innovating.
When built on a visual collaboration suite like Lucid, an innovation repository distills complex ideas, processes, and plans into easy-to-understand visuals via intelligent diagramming and whiteboarding features.
When ideas can be easily recorded at the point of inception, innovation has a clear trail of crumbs. Done right, your innovation repository shrinks the gap between doing the work and documenting the work to the point where the gap is basically non-existent.
So, what makes a good innovation repository?
It’s important to note that an innovation repository isn’t a singular piece of documentation, but rather a mental model for viewing all the collaborative boards, documents, charts, and plans your teams produce as living, breathing documentation on how your company executes on its best ideas.
Over time, these artifacts should be organized, iterated on, and codified in a systematic way under the umbrella of an “innovation repository.” When done with rigor, an innovation repository would allow anyone in the business (be it a C-suite exec or a new individual contributor hire) to quickly get informed on how meaningful work is done on a given team or unit, thus eliminating the context gaps and knowledge silos that often hinder seamless collaboration.
For innovation to become the norm, keeping an innovation repository isn’t just a “nice to have,” but a requirement to stay competitive and agile. A good innovation repository:
- Acts as a launching pad for change: For organizations undergoing large-scale changes—like a company reorg, digital transformation, cloud expansion, or move to hybrid work—an innovation repository can serve as a holistic “current state” of your company that provides a common starting point for executives. Having a readily available, easy-to-understand repository of changes that have already happened, ideas that have been nixed, and bets that have been made allows you to turn your ship with confidence.
- Makes your teams more efficient over time: With an innovation repository built on a visual canvas like Lucid, you can meticulously track what works and what doesn’t over time and avoid retreading complex conversations and solving difficult problems you’ve already solved before.
- Reduces learning curves as a result of turnover or growth: For teams that have been forced to reduce their workforce—or for hyper-growth companies that can’t hire fast enough—an innovation repository serves as the ultimate silo buster. By keeping all your best notes, WIPs, and trains of thought in a highly visual shared workspace, your employees can get up to speed, provide value faster, and easily pick up where others left off.
- Democratizes decision-making: Innovation repositories help meaningful ideas and solutions that actually solve problems win out over office politics and job titles.
Using visual collaboration to make innovation the norm
Innovation without documentation is like publishing a cookbook with a list of ingredients, but no recipe. To be truly valuable, your innovation repository must be something that’s easy to understand and embedded in the places, platforms, boards, and planning documents where your teams are already doing their work.
It must paint a clear picture of not only what innovation your team produced, but how it came to life—from ideation and planning to execution at scale.
With a visual collaboration suite like Lucid, documenting the work can become second nature to doing the work. By fostering an intuitive way of working—keeping the work in a single place to make your teams more effective, productive, and efficient—you can start to view innovation as a daily occurrence on their journey to see and build the future.
Get insights into the pain points holding your team back from better collaboration, alignment and innovation—check out our 2022 The Way We Collaborate Report.Read now
Lucid Software is a pioneer and leader in visual collaboration dedicated to helping teams build the future. With its products—Lucidchart, Lucidspark, and Lucidscale—teams are supported from ideation to execution and are empowered to align around a shared vision, clarify complexity, and collaborate visually, no matter where they are. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucid.co.
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