Standardizing innovation management with ISO

ISO technical committee meeting in Portugal

I just got back from a full week in Portugal working with the ISO Technical Committee 279 responsible for developing a global standard for innovation management systems.

At times I have received comments that standardizing innovation is an oxymoron; “you cannot standardize something out of which you cannot predict the outcome”. I do understand the concern and it is fully valid. But let me explain what is actually being standardized; it is not the “innovation” part we are formalizing, because innovation is still meant to leave room for creativity, it is the “management systems” part. The basic principle is that there are good practices for managing innovation without being completely random. Sure, acts of creative randomness may increase the likelihood of running into brand new solutions, but the way they are being managed can very much be structured and formalized, just as we are structuring it in the forthcoming standard.

As a matter of fact, there is even a general high-level framework for management systems called the Annex SL to which the innovation management systems standard conforms (or at least aligns itself). So it may be good to know that management stuff can almost always take a preset format, even for realms like innovation. Conclusion: innovation cannot be standardized, but innovation management sure can. And now it will be.

So why standardize innovation management?
Well, the most important reason is to provide guidelines and direction to organizations. There is a lot of confusion out there on which method to use, what experts to listen to, which consultants to bring in, which book to read, and so on. An innovation management standard does not provide detailed instructions, but it does provide a backbone to understand what consultants to recruit and why and what methods to use and when, etc. It doesn’t answer a lot of “hows”, but it responds to a lot of “whats”. It does leave a lot of room for flexibility, but helps to bring clarity to what a basic innovation management system should contain.

So what is the ISO Technical Committee 279?
Like I mentioned I have just spent five full working days in a conference room in Porto, Portugal working with the ISO team. The committee consists of representatives from approximately 48 national bodies, and with all continents represented it will truly be a global standard. There are also ongoing discussions/ballots on liaisons with related bodies such as OECD, WIPO, WTO, UNESCO, the World Bank, etc. From my point of view these liaisons may help to strengthen the standard, improve its validity, and ensure the standard’s dissemination across the world.

Part of the ISO TC279 at a conference dinner in Porto.

Personally I have been an expert member of the committee since 2014 as part of the Swedish delegation (managed by the Swedish Standards Institute), initially representing Uppsala University but nowadays representing KPMG. What I bring to the standard’s work is my 10+ years experience of innovation management research and consulting to help make the standard well grounded in both research and practice together with the other delegates. What I bring back from this work is a deep understanding of the standard’s contents and purpose, which I can bring to KPMG’s clients to help them align their innovation management efforts with the forthcoming ISO standard and the international best practices it has grown out of.

So how are we doing?
Well, I can’t disclose the contents of the work at this time, since it is still work in progress. But what I can do is reveal the approximate status of our work. At this point we have just decided to close the final version of the working draft. This means that in Portugal we finalized reviewing 145 pages with almost 600 comments from the participating countries to close in on a so called “Committee Draft”. This draft will be sent out to the participants for comments which will be reviewed during our next meeting in October 2017.

If everything goes according to plan we expect to have the first official version of the standard launched in late 2018 or early 2019. We are working very hard to reach that goal, so stay in touch for further updates on our progress.