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Do your innovation projects boost ROI?

Roger La Salle
April 15, 2013

Just ask any project sponsor, projects are about benefits. Consequently, decisions and new initiatives need to be implemented with a mindset of returning value to stakeholders. This is one of the prime responsibilities of project managers. All significant investment decisions should be made with the mindset of the return on the investment they will deliver.

Many companies these days employ people to develop and manage innovation within the business. Some do it for the right reason, to increase shareholder value, others perhaps because it may be the ‘done thing’ to be seen to have an in-house innovation capability.

If the innovation initiative is not returning on its investment within 18 month to two years at the most, then like all investments, its ongoing funding needs to be seriously questioned.

In the case of research, the drivers are little different, especially pure research where outcomes may take a great many years to mature, if indeed they do at all.

The trusted business axiom

There is an old axiom in business and management: “If you can’t measure it, don’t change it.” Any business that makes changes without some metric to test the effect is simply flying blind. The same can be said for innovation.

In simple terms the measurement should be based on the simple equation as a figure of merit:

Outcome = Output/Input


  • Outcome should be greater than 1
  • Input is dollars spent in real terms in funding the innovation project and bringing new initiatives into the business, as well as the time cost expended in dollar terms
  • Output is revenue earned or costs reduced as a result of the innovation initiative.

No doubt many would argue, especially those charged with implementing innovation, that the above is too simplistic. However one must ask, “why are we doing this if it’s not to improve business outcomes”? I suggest this is the question that really matters. Further, many will argue that if we persist with the innovation initiative long enough it will surely one day produce that gold nugget.

On the contrary, the longer the innovation initiative goes without producing a valued tangible outcome the less likely it is, as people lose confidence and the initiative loses vigour and enthusiasm.

Real metrics

Below is a list of measures that can be gathered as fact, not opinion:

  • Number of ideas submitted for evaluation
  • The ratio of the number of ideas submitted to ones actually implemented
  • Rate or trajectory of idea submission (you can be sure this will decline over time unless the innovation initiative is producing results and rewards)
  • Number of different people submitting new ideas over time (again the diversity of submitters will decline if there are no perceived positive outcomes)
  • Cost trajectory of the innovation department or initiative within the business (you can expect this to increase over the first two years as the initiative gathers momentum. However, this must be curtailed if it is not delivering measurable outcomes).

The statistics cited in a research paper some years ago highlight the necessity for innovation. The paper noted that the life expectancy of a company in the 1920s was 65 years; today it is less than 10. Those that fail to innovate fail to survive.

Innovation is an imperative: do it once and do it right and don’t be blindsided by some idealistic vision of innovation as some mystical pursuit for the specially gifted. These are projects and projects are about delivering real outcomes and benefits. This must be the overriding consideration.

Roger La Salle
Roger La Salle is the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique. He specialises in innovation, opportunity and business development, and speaks at international events on those topics. He is the author of four books, director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas.
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