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Innovation Strategy | Go to Market

Unleashing Speed: Strategies to Slash Time-to-Market for Innovations

Time is money. Being fast to market is a key differentiator between firms amortizing their innovation investment and money burners. Successful innovators run faster and more efficiently through different innovation stages and, thus, outperform less successful firms in time-to-market. Our research explores the phases in which innovation leaders are particularly fast and the time-to-market strategies they use to move fast. In a nutshell: investing more time into the early stages and less time in approvals/meetings results in a time surplus in the later execution phases, likely returning as higher revenue from the innovation costs. 

The effect of the industry on time-to-market

In an increasingly digital, automatic, and autonomous world, the speed at which a company can move from opportunity to market – commonly known as 'time-to-market' – is a critical factor for success. Fast movers have the advantage of creating considerable entry barriers compared to late movers. Being fast allows firms to set industry standards, build a reputation, create high switching costs, and lock in users. However, the pace does not solely depend on a company's efficiency or resources; it is also heavily influenced by the industry within which a firm operates and the degree of innovativeness.

Different industries have inherently different innovation cycles and clock speeds. Some are pressured, requiring companies to rapidly iterate and launch new products, while others move at a more measured pace, given the nature of the customers, competitiveness, products, and the regulatory landscape. The time-to-market can be incredibly swift in industries like software and consumer electronics. These sectors are characterized by rapid technological advancements and high consumer demand for the latest products. Companies in these industries are under constant pressure to innovate quickly and efficiently to stay relevant. For example, software updates can be developed and deployed in a matter of weeks, and consumer electronics companies often release new product models annually. Even more radical innovations hit the market within a timeframe of one to three years which seems like innovating with a sledgehammer compared to the pharmaceutical or defense industry.


Conversely, industries such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace have much longer innovation cycles. The development of a new drug, for instance, can take over a decade, primarily due to the rigorous clinical trials and regulatory approvals required to ensure safety and efficacy. Similarly, in aerospace, the emphasis on safety, precision, and reliability, combined with stringent regulatory standards, extends the time-to-market significantly.

Although seeing considerable differences in the time to innovate between the industries, digitalization is affecting all industries alike. All companies have begun embracing digital transformation in their internal operations and have become more open in their innovation activities. These shifts are enhancing their capacity for innovation, resulting in a surge in innovation across multiple sectors. Consequently, the industry is increasingly becoming a critical pacemaker for companies. To avoid lagging, businesses must align their strategies and actions more closely with their competitors. And while the difference between industries is significant, also the difference between innovation leaders and laggards within the same industry is significant as our research shows. 

Where innovation leaders accelerate time-to-market

We recently surveyed innovation leaders across different industries to allocate how much time they spend on the different innovation stages and how much the innovations contributed to earnings and cost savings. In our sample, innovation leaders, on average, spend 33% less time in total to bring an innovation to market. Taking the average time for bringing incremental innovation to the market, this is a time saving and advantage of nearly 6 months (or 1.5 years for more radical innovations). This time advantage not only allows them to start collecting new revenue or saving costs earlier, but it also helps innovation leaders to keep their prestige and lock in customers.


What is the secret of innovation leaders in accelerating speed-to-market? Looking into the data, it is quite interesting to recognize that leaders and laggards move quite synchronously until the testing stage. For the five phases, “understanding the problem”, “idea generation”, “research & concept”, “development & prototyping”, and testing, they allocate 71 percent (leaders) and 79 percent (laggards) of the total innovation time. Yet, how they spent time and put emphasis on each phase is different. Leaders spent more time on “understanding the problem”, “research & concept”, and “testing”. This might be explainable with a stronger focus on clarifying what to innovate and for whom. What is the actual problem to be solved? And, what will be the reach and impact of a problem-solution fit? In fact, innovation leaders invest nearly twice as much time in these early phases.

In contrast, laggards heavily invest in collecting ideas and finding the right ideas. More than a fifth of the total time leaders spend on the innovation process, laggards invest in the idea-generation process. As correlation does not automatically mean causation, it is unfair to state that they lack speed-to-market due to this strong focus; however, it is - at least - worth a revisit for these companies. Another remarkable difference is the stronger time spent by laggards on “development & prototyping”. Again, the exact reasons are more manifold but lacking a clear focus, requiring more iterations, plays into delays.

In the later innovation phases, the leader chaff visibly separates from the laggard wheat. Along the two last innovation stages, “regulatory approvals” and “launch/go-to-market”, as well as the cross-procedural dimensions of “internal approvals” and “slack,” laggards spend more time than leaders. Consequently, the impression manifests that leaders apply specific time-cutting strategies that help them to slash speed to market.

The strategies to slash time-to-market

While investigating the strategies innovation leaders use to accelerate their speed in innovation, our results confirm McKinsey’s statement that “innovation, at its heart, is a resource-allocation problem; it is not just about creativity and generating ideas.” During interviews with participants, we found four main reasons that slow down innovation processes. These four are: improper resource planning, inefficient resource utilization, confusion or ambiguity, and over-engineering.

Improper resource planning happens with not having the right resources ready to finish tasks on time. This can be caused by only short-notice requests, unparalleled planning, or too many planned activities at once. Often, this is flanked by inefficient resource utilization. Inefficient resource utilization refers explicitly to choosing the wrong resource for task completion and often manifests in lacking automation. In this respect, individuals are assigned to tasks that a machine can do significantly faster. In addition, confusion or ambiguity is the main reason for delays in time-to-market. Less clarity leads to more improper suggestions, taking the wrong pathways, realizing the objectives too late, and double work. On the other side, over-engineering reflects in too ambitious plans and designs that combine must-haves and nice-to-haves and leads to significant time investments into developments that might turn out to be unnecessary later during the testing stage.

Based on these findings, we have developed our SLASH Time-to-Market (TTM)-Template. SLASH is an acronym for the general strategies to reduce time-to-market and stands for:

  • Settle & Focus: Decrease time by a clear focus and less room for interpretation
  • Lacerate & Split: Decrease time by cutting unnecessary tasks or splitting them into smaller tasks and different responsibilities
  • Automate & Parallelize: Decrease time by utilizing machines and running tasks in parallel, not in sequence
  • Store & Recycle: Decrease time by recycling earlier insights gained and by cutting time to find relevant information
  • Harmonize & Standardize: Decrease time with clear, repeatable guidelines and smoothly integrated interfaces/processes

These five general SLASH time-to-market strategies summarize all the strategies we found used by fast-to-innovation companies. For each of the innovation stages represented, we have compiled SLASH strategies that will help you improve your innovation time-to-market into a unique template. For each strategy, you will find further information so that you can implement it immediately. Just follow the links in the document.

For example, we found one pattern in the discussions with innovation leaders. They use a “Settle & Focus” SLASH strategy for “Understanding the Opportunity,” which spilled over into “Idea Generation” and the SLASH strategies “Lacerate & Split” and “Automate & Parallelize”. Instead of broadly collecting ideas from the majority of employees, they run multiple specific idea collection campaigns in parallel with a particular, specialized topic focus and for a smaller yet specific audience of experts. These innovators also run these challenges, the idea submission, refinement, and exchange on one digital platform, easing the accessibility and speed of exchange. Some of them (less than a handful) already take it to the next level and ask idea submitters to first let their ideas be confirmed and refined by machines, i.e., artificial intelligence, before actually submitting them (read how to do this here). 

A second successful pattern we found appeared in the later go-to-market planning stages and in making the plan on how to commercialize the technology. Instead of sequentially picking up IP protection discussions after building the first prototypes, fast movers already incorporate the planning early during the “research and concept” phase (which might also be a reason why innovation leaders spend more time on this phase compared to laggards). Already in the early planning phase, they evaluate the different IP protection and commercialization options and start to involve marketing teams or legal attorneys (read more about finding the right strategy). This early involvement gives them a time advantage when it comes to the filing of patents or preparing marketing materials. 

Our outlined findings, the facts on where innovation leaders spent time as well as our interview observations, show a pretty clear picture that spending more time early on accurate planning of key parts pays off later financially and to capture a prestigious market position.  



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