9 Reasons Why Innovation Projects Fail

Written by Matthew Terry on January 31, 2023

Business in the twenty-first century is fast-paced, technology-driven, and obsessed with the word “innovation”. And for good reason. The rise and fall of new businesses can be linked to the success of their innovation efforts.

Some companies have entire teams dedicated to innovation efforts, others innovate by accident or don’t see the value in innovation at all. While innovation is unquestionably vital to creating a thriving and profitable business, many businesses have failed to understand the key aspects to effectively going about structured innovation. In this blog I will cover nine reasons why innovation projects fail.

1. Misunderstanding your market

Innovation teams may spend months developing a product they THINK their customer will want and end up shocked when the customer doesn’t want what they are building. Failing to involve the end customer in the early stages of product development is a mistake that costs an enonourmous amount of time, energy, and finances. Companies must perform user research before they commit to building anything. To learn more about user research, read Keeping the Human in Human-Centered Design. This philosophy might just save an innovation project life, and might just change the course of a business entirely.

2. Poor or misaligned strategy

Working on a team requires a significant amount of alignment, which can be surprisingly hard when it comes to innovation. Everyone in the room has a different picture of what the end product should look like and how to get there. The developers want to build, the designers want to design, and the business and marketing leaders want to sell and make brands. If a team can’t find a shared strategy, the product and brand will seem poorly thought through.

3. Limited support from management

Getting management support can improve charisma, funds, and speed of development for your innovation project. Without that support, other members in your organization might not take an innovation effort seriously. If the innovation effort is for an internal tool, obtaining customer interviews may be very difficult. Support from higher management is crucial to the success of an innovation project. Without management recoginizing or backing the project it will most likely get pushed to the side.

4. Lack of skills and talent

In order to build a new product, your company must have internal talent or be prepared to contract with a third-party to provide the correct skill sets. Even still, if there are members equipped with the skills to perform the tasks at hand, but the business leaders don’t have the talent to instruct them, the team will fall apart. Having team members in place with the skills and time to dedicate towards the innovation effort will help drive the project towards success.

5. Too many projects and not enough time

The time to complete an innovation project is a strong indicator of whether the innovation project will pass the finish line. If a business's innovation team is too busy focusing on other projects, it is unlikely that they will finish the innovation project at hand. Quickly adapting based on the wills of customers and management is vital to creating a successful product. Without the time to do this, you might end up building the wrong product.

6. Lack of cultural support (not creating a safe space for innovation)

Company culture is one of the most telling signs of inventive performance. A toxic work culture will constrain much of your innovation efforts. The culture of a workplace must allow team members to dream big, speak freely, and feel supported in any idea. To cultivate this culture of innovation you have to start with leadership. It is up to them to nurture unorthodox thinking and carry it through the innovation process.

7. Poor measurement of progress

The path of an innovation project is never linear, but there are certain steps you can take to measure the progress towards your end goal. One key tool to measure progress is the Hill Chart. This is a tool that provides a high-level view of what's moving forward with confidence and what needs help. Without measuring progress, you will never know if you’re running in the wrong direction.

8. Lack of funding

Without funding, a project may not be able to obtain the talent or materials needed to complete the project. Funding is necessary to reach the fullest potential of your project.

9. Too much risk

Sometimes the implementation, or even the testing, of a new project is too much risk for the business. If the testing of a new process requires a pause in an old process, this could prove too risky as there are many unknowns. Your team members also have to risk their time and energy to build a new product. Time and energy that could be used elsewhere. With all innovation there are risks, but if a business has too low of a risk tolerance they will never innovate thus risk becoming stagnant.

Interested in unlocking value for your team? We’d love to chat about how Differential can help you overcome the nine reasons why innovation projects fail.