Allan is the Director of Front-End Innovation at VELUX Group. He has over 25 years of experience in working with innovation in a big legacy company.
As with many things, it was by coincident. My background is in construction and engineering, and I started in VELUX Group with a job within that field of work. My curiosity and a multitude of ideas led me into product development, which I have been working with since then. During my 25 years of working with innovation, I have seen the field shift from being very tech-focused to being more customer-focused. We have become better at focusing on the customer first, and instead of seeing ourselves as “window engineers”, we now call ourselves “daylight engineers”. We now have more designers employed that are able to maintain that focus throughout the process. I have found that designers are more comfortable in being in the uncertain, initial phase of scoping than e.g. very product-focused engineers.
Working with innovation in a big organisation like ours is a balance between being open and safeguarding projects until a certain point. There is a lot of work on my end to ensure backing from the rest of the organisation.
The main part of my job is to check in with the teams and help in their projects. I usually work around in the offices a lot, talking to people, helping them and reinstall bravery in what they are doing, if they are experiencing difficulties.
Other than that, a big part of my job is to clear the road for the teams and pave the way to other resources in our organisation. Our work in the frontend of innovation is very dependent on collaboration with other units. In particular, our strategy department that sets the direction for the future. My job is to align with this department and the managers of other organisational units to make sure we share where we are going – although we cannot be too open too early because people will shape their opinions prematurely. Working with innovation in a big organisation like ours is a balance between being open and safeguarding projects until a certain point. There is a lot of work on my end to ensure backing from the rest of the organisation.
Our most prominent task is to think holistically, including where we can go as an organisation, while not stepping into other people’s domains. It is not always easy being a change agent in a big, successful company that rests on many years of successful execution of standard products. We challenge the dominant focus on execution and that is sometimes hard for people to take in. Further, we generally have very high requirements for profitability, which makes it hard to accept projects that hold very limited profit compared to the majority of our business. On the other hand, we have the necessary resources to really invest and scale fast once we decide to do so.
A good example of how we, as a big organisation, can utilise our resources is a recent story. We set up a small workshop to produce a low number of items of new products (MVPs) and test their market validity, before investing in a full production setup. Through co-creation with a partner, we found that they requested a certain product, and instead of doing as we would normally: spend a long time specifying that product, investing in production and then actually launching, we tried to do it differently. We now have a small workshop that can produce small numbers of new products and get them to the market fast, without huge investments. Of course, we still need the necessary approvals and certificates, as well as supporting processes (SAP, VAT etc.), but by circumventing the standard ways, we can now do it much faster.
”Bravery” is the first thing that comes to my mind – there will very often be many reasons to not move on with an idea, but we need to be brave enough to hold onto the few good ones. And at the same time understand when to call it quits. When that is, is a hard question to answer, and sometimes the answer lies in simply bad timing. We need to be able to let go of ideas, move on, and be ready to pick them up again at a later point of time when circumstances have changed.