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Decision Boards in the Innovation Process

Posted on January 29th, 2016 by in Chemical R&D


It’s easy to get enthusiastic about a good portfolio management – or even a stage process but, far too often, we forget the importance of a well-functioning Decision Board.

I define a Decision Board as the right people, with the right information and the authority to make a decision on the direction of a project or prioritize a portfolio.

Typically, we gather too many leaders and participants in a room – all of whom find it necessary to voice their opinions about a project or portfolio, but ultimately never come away with a decision or direction. This just leaves everyone frustrated. In most cases the people who do have the authority, budget and resources are missing from the meeting all together. How many times have you left the room and asked yourself, what was decided?

Another blunder commonly exhibited and witnessed by members and leaders is a judgmental behavior  – making members feel inadequate or inferior. No wonder the presentations get watered down and never surface the critical issues that must be identified early.

Fundamentally, innovation has many risks and uncertainties in market, technology, manufacturing scale-up, supply chain – the list goes on. And let’s not forget, that most budgets and resources are limited, and effective choices need to be made.

It’s so critical that we mitigate these risks and uncertainties early on in the innovation process. Decision Boards are critical in helping the innovation teams maneuver through the commercialization process and set priorities in a portfolio.

To form and implement an effective Decision Team, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Members must have the authority to decide the budget and resources.

Translation – empower your people! When they make a decision, make it stick. Support them. Depending on the size of the project or portfolio, membership will scale with authority. Big innovation projects generally have VP+ members, while smaller projects tend to have more manager level members

  • Keep your Decision Team small.

Try to keep it within 4 to 8 people. Larger decision boards struggle sometimes to reach a consensus. Keeping it smaller will increase efficiency, and decision making.

  • Don’t forget other key stakeholders  

The innovation process isn’t strictly R&D.  At a minimum, we need to include individuals from R&D, marketing and business leadership.

  • Your attendance is critical.

We get it – everyone is busy. But decisions won’t stick if members send their delegates. It’s better to reschedule the meeting than have half the members show up. One method is to schedule key decision making meetings 6-12 months in advance, or block off a certain day of the month or week.

Usually, if these meetings are well run and decisions are made, members aspire to attend. Emergencies can happen, but the missing member should relay their decision to another member in advance.

  • Prepare for the meeting.

Members have a responsibility to prep for the meeting. On the flip side, innovation teams need to provide presentation and backup material at least three days in advance. So for example, if you’re a Decision Board member and represent the Marketing function, you should be knowledgeable about all marketing issues on the project or portfolio. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the project team members prior to a Decision Board meeting for materials.

  • Only members get to ask questions during the presentation and vote at the end.

Many times you have these so called “experts” in the room voicing their opinion, but ultimately don’t add value to the decision process. Experts can offer their opinions to team members prior to the Decision Board meeting. Remember, decision board members if prepared, what to get to the bottom line in the most efficient way possible.

  • Behavior is key.

Members are there to enable innovation teams and make priority decisions. Your leadership experience and ownership of budget and resources allows you to help the team meet its objectives. There is a time and place for a “Shark Tank” venue. This is not it. There is nothing wrong with redirecting, reprioritizing or cancelling a project. It’s how you behave during the meeting and communicate your decision. A well-functioning Decision Board works with each other to resolve issues and empower the team.

  • Get to the point, please.

Keep project or portfolio presentation material between 20 to 30 minutes. Start with “What’s the decision required” and withhold all questions until the presentation is complete.  Allow more time for Q&A with the Decision Board members. You’ll be surprised how much gets done.

  • Communicate your decision within 24 hours.

Send an email draft to the members immediately after the meeting to document the decision or direction and nail down action items and next steps.  It’s amazing how differently we hear things. Once you’re all on the same page, send a formal email to all participants involved in the meeting within 24 hours. Keep it brief.

I know it seems simple enough, but following these best practices will help innovation teams get the decision and support they need to move forward.

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