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A 7-Step Guide to Unlocking the “Intrapreneur”

Innovation within a large organisation is always a challenge. While ideas are often easy to come by, getting organisational traction and delivering an innovative product to end-users can be quite a battle.

One way companies can innovate is by encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset, or what I like to call “fostering the intrapreneur.”

As guide and coach for teams that create, develop and deliver a range of innovative products that aren’t always on their company’s ‘official’ roadmap, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to harness entrepreneurialism internally.

My 7-step guide to unlocking intrapreneurship

Step 1: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate!

Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum. They grow out of discussions you have with those around you. I regularly attend other teams’ stand-ups. Talk to product managers, developers and delivery leads across the organisation. Grab a whiteboard. Involve the whole team. Involve other teams. The more you talk the better you’ll understand and the more ideas you’ll get. To paraphrase one of my colleagues, “Serendipity happens by being EVERYWHERE.

Step 2: Show and tell

”Have something to show others – mock-ups, proof of concepts, prototypes– the more tangible, the easier it is to get buy-in. Like a snowball, interest will grow, creating a pull from the business, which in turn will spawn more interest and demand. Example: One of our product ideas got real traction after we produced a working prototype (in Excel of all things!). I’ve organised a team ‘hackathon’ to help explore ideas and setup a ‘labs’ section to showcase results.

Step 3: Just do it

We often get caught up in ‘analysis paralysis,’ talking and thinking over same things ad infinitum. Sometimes, it’s better to just do something. Build a POC. Show it can be done, rather than just talk about it. Example: I’ve organised a mob programming session where the team was able to smash out the foundations of a new product in less than a day.

Step 4:  Be patient

It can take time. Overnight success is the exception rather than the rule. New ideas often smoulder before they catch fire. Iterate on your ideas. Pivot if necessary. Actually ‘build, measure and learn.’ Example: We found an unexpected product audience – the organisation’s marketing and sales people found the data we exposed invaluable for putting together proposals. In turn this gave us insights into how the product could be modified and enhanced to suit their needs.

Step 5:  Stay the course

If you truly believe in your idea, maintain your commitment. Doubt often creeps in. You need to have an element of faith the team is doing the right thing. It’s tough to prove ‘business value’ for new things against the backdrop of more traditional business objectives, particularly when even you don’t know which direction you’re heading. Having influential supporters’ buy-in helps.

Step 6:  Think small

You don’t always have to think big. There’s a lot of talk about disruption—the next big thing to shake up the industry. But ‘sustaining’ innovation is important, too—new features or tools that further enhance user experience or product set. Small things can grow into bigger things. Example: We built small widgets that were eventually incorporated into three other products across the organisation and became the foundation for an entirely new product.

Step 7:  Make creativity, experimentation and exploration the norm

Be innovative every day. Repeat steps 1 through 6 on a daily basis. Teams can easily get into their comfort zone, become ‘boring’ and lose their spark.

Intrapreneurship is a marathon not a sprint

Don’t let your intrepreneurial mindset decay through lack of action. Change things up, try something new, explore alternatives, be spontaneous. Most importantly, innovate!

This guide is by no means exhaustive, nor is it applicable to every organisation, situation or context. However, I hope it will help trigger ideas and get you thinking about how your teams can be more innovative. Give it a go! The satisfaction of creating something new can be quite infectious.

What are some of the things you do to encourage innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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