Developing and Testing an Idea
|Paul Plsek, MS, Paul E. Plsek & Associates, Inc.; Author, Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation: The Virginia Mason Experience; Former Member, Innovations Exchange Editorial Board
Developing and Testing an Idea
|By Paul E. Plsek, MS, Paul E. Plsek & Associates, Inc.; Author, Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation: The Virginia Mason Experience; Former Member, Innovations Exchange Editorial BoardAn innovative idea has no value until it is put into action. Developing and testing an idea are the initial steps in a change management process that will transform the idea into a reality that advances patient care.
Strategies for Change Management
The innovator who is preparing to develop and test an idea needs to strike a balance between creative enthusiasm and realistic assessment. During the initial stage of idea generation, it is important to suspend judgment, avoid being overly critical, and brainstorm without constraints. After all, creative thinking often requires that you temporarily escape from your organization’s structures and rules. During development and testing, however, it is time to start applying critical judgment, and ask whether an idea will actually work. In order to successfully implement an innovation, you need to engage your organization’s structures and rules—at least enough to get permission to do something that might be radically new. An effective innovator must both “rock the boat and stay in it,” in the words of Helen Bevan, a quality improvement specialist with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.1 Development and testing are key parts of the change process, because they allow you to gradually engage the organization so it can embrace a new way of doing things.
The literature on change management (such as the work of John Kotter2) points to factors that facilitate the process of developing and testing an innovation, including the following:
When developing an idea, the innovator needs to cultivate support for it, while inviting constructive criticism. “Think before you speak” is a good motto during the development stage, because most people are better at idea criticism than idea creation. Initial criticism of an incompletely thought-through idea can dampen the innovator’s enthusiasm, encourage “piling on” by other critics, and cause those who might otherwise support the idea to withdraw. The idea champion should carefully select a small, representative group of people who can be constructively critical, and ask them to participate in developing the idea before it is shared more widely. Keep in mind that idea development takes time; shortcutting the development process is a common pitfall, and it often leads to half-baked ideas that will fail.
The goal of development is to strengthen the idea’s strong points, while shoring up its weak points. When conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the idea, be sure to address the following questions3, many of which are derived from the work of Edward de Bono4:
Evaluation of an innovative idea will remain an abstract and intuitive process, until you test the idea in a concrete way to find out what will actually happen. By using the language of “testing” instead of “implementing,” you can allay fears and lower resistance to the new idea. Be sure to approach testing in a genuine way: You must be willing to abandon the idea, or dramatically modify it, if the initial test doesn’t go well. Remember that testing is a way to engage others: it gives them the opportunity to tweak the idea and make it their own. Encourage people to provide input during the testing process, and avoid reacting defensively to suggestions. When people see that their input is being used to modify the idea, they will be more likely to put in the effort required to make the idea work, implement the innovation more widely, and sustain it over time.
In order to learn and to gain confidence, start by testing the idea on a small scale. This may mean testing it for just a few hours, or during just a few cycles of the process, or with just a few patients. Here are some suggestions for planning and conducting the testing process:
About Paul Plsek, MS
Mr. Plsek is an internationally recognized consultant on innovation in complex organizations. A former research engineer at Bell Laboratories and director of corporate quality planning at AT&T, he now operates his own consulting practice and is the developer of the concept of DirectedCreativity™. His health care clients have included the National Health Service (NHS) in England, Kaiser Permanente, the Veterans Health Administration, the SSM Health Care System, and the Mayo Clinic. Mr. Plsek is the Chair of Innovation at the Virginia Mason Medical Center (Seattle), an innovator-in-residence at MedStar Health (DC–Baltimore), Director of the NHS Academy for Large-Scale Change (UK), a former senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an active research investigator, a popular conference speaker, and a former member of the Innovations Exchange Editorial Board. He is the author of dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and seven books, including Creativity, Innovation and Quality; Edgeware: Insights from Complexity Science for Health Care Leaders; and Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation: The Virginia Mason Experience.
Disclosure Statement: Mr. Plsek is an independent management consultant who advises health care organizations on innovation strategy.