How do I manage an Innovation Pipeline?

Three Horizons Innovation Pipeline strategy template

There are a variety of approaches to managing innovation pipelines. Here are some tips, information and templates.

How do I manage an Innovation Pipeline?

We recommend representing and managing concepts in your pipeline using the Three Horizon model:-
Horizon 1: These are the new projects and concepts that are close to your core business, and that you are close to launching – e.g. in the next few weeks / months.
Horizon 2: These are the projects and concepts that are departures from your normal business that you are launching in the mid-term – e.g. in the next few months / quarters.
Horizon 3: These are the new projects and concepts that are large changes from your core business that require significant new capabilities and are long term innovations – e.g. in 1-3 years.
In your innovation pipeline, you will be bringing new Horizon 1, 2 and 3 ideas into the fold constantly, then testing them, discarding the unfeasible ones, and developing the promising ones as appropriate.

Where did the Three Horizons Model come from?

McKinsey created the Three Horizons model to explain how businesses must invest in current products (1st Horizon), incremental innovations (2nd Horizon), and breakthrough innovations (3rd Horizon).

Is there a good Three Horizons Innovation Template?

Yes – we have one here and also a more fully featured Three Horizons Innovation Pipeline Template on our companion marketplace Spitmarket.

How Does the Three Horizons Framework work?

A good innovation programme invests in regular and open innovation activities (e.g. the FROST Innovation Framework). Sometimes this is managed using an R&D team, and other times all teams spend a percentage of their time on innovation. There are also mixtures of both models.
In all scenarios, there are a stream of new concepts being discussed and prototyped at any one time.

Invest in open innovation with your staff!

A good innovation programme invests in regular and open innovation activities (e.g. the FROST Innovation Framework). Sometimes this is managed using an R&D team, and other times all teams spend a percentage of their time on innovation. There are also mixtures of both models.

In all scenarios, there are a stream of new concepts being discussed and prototyped at any one time.

Track your innovations in three categories – your “Horizons”

  1. Horizon 1:
    1. Innovations close to your current business.
    2. They are close to launching – e.g. in the next few weeks / months.
  2. Horizon 2:
    1. Innovations that are departures from your normal business.
    2. Launching in the mid-term – e.g. in the next few months / quarters.
  3. Horizon 3:
    1. Innovations that are large changes from your core business.
    2. Require significant new capabilities.
    3. Launching in the long term – e.g. in 1-3 years.

Concepts and Projects move through the Three Horizons.

Promising, feasible projects that start as “Horizon 3” ideas (long term), develop into “Horizon 2” as time progresses.

Concepts that do not test well, or that do not show good results as prototypes, are discarded – i.e. not all ideas will progress from Horizon 3 to 2, and from 2 to 1. In fact, most ideas should not!

Three Horizons Innovation Pipeline strategy template
Structuring your Innovation Pipeline, using the Three Horizons Innovation Pipeline strategy template

Concepts and Projects start as being less important / visible, and rise in importance

Naturally, projects and concepts that start as “Horizon 3” are intrinsically less visible within an organisation – they are not yet “important”!

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Last Updated : August 25th, 2020

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