Innovation Manager Roman Šiser was a guest in our Innovation Rockstars Podcast, where he takes us on the innovation journey of ŠKODA AUTO and explains how innovation management has changed in recent years.
Founded in 1895, ŠKODA AUTO is the fifth oldest automobile manufacturer in the world, with its roots in the Czech Republic. A subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group, the company stands as one of the biggest and most popular car brands in the global automotive scenario today.
Roman Šiser has always been enthusiastic about making a career in doing something creative, which drove him to innovation management. He started off his career in marketing at Johnson and Johnson and The Coca-Cola Company. And for the past four years, Roman has been a part of the innovation management team at ŠKODA AUTO. As someone who has officially trained to become a “black belt innovator”, Roman is well acquainted with how innovation management has changed in recent years.
Roman joined us on the Innovation Rockstars Podcast to share his insights on what systematic innovation management would look like and mean for a company.
Recalling how ŠKODA AUTO started with bike production, Roman praises how the company has always been able to reinvent itself to match the markets. About five years ago, the ŠKODA AUTO management realized that things were changing dramatically with the new age of technologies, power trains, and services. This led them to focus on a more radical, transformational innovation. Consequently, an innovation management team was established.
Roman looks back on how the initial phase of innovation management at ŠKODA AUTO was driven by a top-down approach. The company held a two-day management workshop to define the innovation culture program and even introduced a ‘Casual Friday’ culture. But it wasn’t long when they realized that the program would not work without complimenting the top-down approach with the bottom-up movement. So, they started working very closely with innovators, involving them in expert functions which in turn kickstarted a movement where people were embracing innovation as a part of their daily jobs.
Roman briefs us about all the core principles and processes ŠKODA AUTO adopts and follows in order to systematically approach innovation management.
The ŠKODA AUTO Innovation Dashboard is a platform on which the innovation team regularly tracks the potential of new ideas and proof of concepts as well as their results upon implementation. The innovation dashboard was partly formed to make people realize that with all the external challenges, innovation might not be a fast process, as opposed to their initial expectation when the team was formed. Roman adds that the innovation dashboard also keeps any “innovation theater” in check when people see that it takes a lot of events, inspirations, workshops, and resources for an idea to mature and make an impact in the market. So, the ŠKODA AUTO Innovation Dashboard helps the company evaluate how the ideas can bring value, mostly financial. The Proof-of-Concept (POC) program, Roman mentions, was their highest leverage activity because it helped stimulate ideas from innovators, as well as gave them support and resources to validate their ideas, increasing the chances of their implementation.
Roman briefs us about an innovation blueprint that ŠKODA AUTO has started using in recent times. In principle, the innovation blueprint is a framework, used especially with the management, to systematize the internal discussions around what needs to be done in order to advance innovation maturity and proficiency of ŠKODA AUTO. Roman goes on to describe each of its four elements:
These four components contribute to what Roman refers to as the 'innovation maturity'. This innovation maturity framework enables ŠKODA AUTO to understand where they stand on each one of the aspects outlined in the blueprint, and, in turn, allows them to nurture and work on the component that needs focus. Further to that, the innovation index helps the organization benchmark with competitors so as to see where they are lacking and where they need to catch up.
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Adopted from the Adobe KickBox program, the Innovation Toolbox is a physical box that contains a set of canvases, guides, notebooks, post-its, and other things that one requires in their journey of innovating. But more importantly, it is a program that begins with a two-day training where the trainees are encouraged to understand their motivation and find opportunities for innovation. The next step involves a set of tools the trainees can use to come up with ideas, test the ideas with customers, and prepare them for the proof of concept phase. A part of the program is also mentorship, to support the innovators with their ideas.
When asked who is responsible for driving innovation culture, Roman exhibits a strong conviction in how every single person in a company should play a part in the process. He further details Škoda's Innovation Mindset Index which helps them understand what the sense of innovation culture is in each of their departments so that the managers can nurture it further.
Upon being asked about the operating model for innovation, Roman answers:
The right innovation starts with inspiration.
He further elaborates that an inspiration is any piece of information that could catapult a thought process or jumpstart thinking. He believes that having a task to innovate and then looking for a solution is the worst-case scenario for the process of innovation. Therefore, ŠKODA AUTO is systematically introducing these inspirations into their day-to-day operations.
The first step involves actively searching for inspirations. Roman states that these inspirations can be found everywhere; from conferences, the internet, trend reports, customer interaction to even trying their own products. They look for ideas, challenges, opportunities, and competitor activities to jumpstart a thinking process and evaluate how they could make sense of the areas of their needs.
Then comes the step of infusing these inspirations into day-to-day operations. They have tasked their trainees to begin their team meetings with three to four inspirations that they find in those sources, which are actively discussed and put into the ŠKODA AUTO IdeaSpace - their innovation management platform.
When asked if in the future the AI technology could assist them in identifying new inspirations, Roman agrees on the endless possibilities of the technology and goes on to describe their so-called ‘innovation simulation game’ where ŠKODA AUTO looked at how AI would define innovation strategy for the company. Interestingly, the AI procedure did propose some good strategic measures to address the innovation ecosystem, even scoring higher than humans.
Roman talks about new 2030 strategies that the company will implement to identify opportunities for ŠKODA AUTO in the next five to 10 years. He emphasizes that in order to actualize these high-level strategies, it is imperative to define the innovation corridors, which refer to specific courses of action and focus areas that need to be addressed. Additionally, in order to keep up with the rapidly changing technologies, Roman asserts how a company must foresee a few years into the future so that the innovation efforts can be accelerated.
The corporate world is never free of external challenges. Companies must always be on their toes regarding technological revolutions, changing customer expectations, new trends, and several other factors. These challenges bring along a sense of urgency and a need for innovation, which is exactly what a systematic innovation management approach addresses. Implementing a practical set of tools is a good way to guarantee that a company is looking at innovation from every possible angle. Systematic innovation management, hence, assures an effective and successful innovation.
We thank Roman for this insightful interview!
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