Driving Innovation in your Company

An urgent problem facing R&D is the ability to create innovative new products at a cost and speed to market that will accelerate corporate growth. Innovation complexity and the distances and communication barriers that come with globalisation make management of innovation projects that much more difficult. In this interview Dr. Terence Barnhart, Senior Director at Pfizer Worldwide R&D, shares some insights on using a “Critical Question Mapping” technique to deliver breakthrough innovation to the market at low cost and high quality. To the interview go to Using Critical Question Mapping to Structure and Drive Innovation in your Company.

Pharma IQ: Can you give us an overview of what critical question-mapping is?

T Barnhart: Sure. Critical question-mapping is a technique that we developed at Pfizer for improving innovation, actually for… initially it was just for mapping innovation. What, of course, happens in R&D is that we build knowledge through time. The output of R&D is new knowledge – knowledge of a new product, knowledge in pharmaceuticals of how drugs interact with the body, and these sorts of things. The problem is, when you map typically how activities are done, it doesn’t tell you that you’re going to get the output you expect. So, what we found was that by mapping questions instead, we had a direct understanding of the knowledge gaps that might be there, and the knowledge that needed to be built for any given project that we worked on. So, the idea that emerged was that we could bring a team in that was going to take on a particular project, and work with them to develop a map of how they are going to innovate all the way to a launch. And that turned out to be a very powerful thing. And we then, you know, began working with some people outside and doing some workshops like this to teach it to other folks, because we just think it’s just a fabulous tool for R&D just anywhere.

Pharma IQ: And how does that drive innovation?

T Barnhart: Well, it drives innovation in two, I think, really important ways. The first we already mentioned is, what are the innovation gaps, what knowledge do we not have? So, you know, how do I do x, might be a good question. And we don’t know how to do x, so now we’re going to put some aspect of the project, some experimental thing towards that. The second thing, and probably the most unexpected, is that it opens people’s opportunity for seeing the world in a different way. One of the big problems with innovating is, boy, you know, I’ve just thought of it the same way, the same way, the same way, the same way. So, you think of how do you get to the store? I’ve gone to the store in a car the same way every time. Well, if you thought about it, you know, how to get there, rather than I’m going in the car, then you open up different avenues. I think the best way to explain this is that a critical question map for, how do I have portable entertainment with me at all times, will be answered very differently depending on what era that we happen to be in. Back in the 1600s, a king might carry a court jester, and a group of players, and some musical instruments, and maybe a chess set and a deck of cards. So, those are all portable in their fashion, but the very same set of questions end up being answered very differently by the iPod with maybe more interesting results. So, all through time, you see the same sorts of questions can yield very different answers and very much more unique answers. That, too, is interesting, because if I have the iPod, I can go back to that same set of questions, answer it differently, and come in with a totally different set of outputs, set of solutions, and so on. So, I can innovate differently from the same basic structure. So, this is the fun thing about it, is you can see people sort of dawning on them, that they’ve got many different ways of attacking a problem.

Pharma IQ: That’s very interesting. What problems is critical question-mapping well-suited to address, in your opinion?

T Barnhart: Well, we’ve used them very successfully in two places we’d been unsuccessful in creating easy structures with teams before. The obvious one we’ve just been talking about is innovation or product development designs and plans. The second one is in strategy development, which is ironic, because that has been my other job for the past ten years or so. In terms of strategy, it’s also a creative function. You don’t know where you’re going to go. You need to gather information; you need to sift through that information to find what it is you want your company to be or your division to do or, you know, what it is that you’re going to do as next steps, and on and on. So, creative functions like strategy and innovation seem to be a very natural fit. So, that would extend, I think, probably to just about any creative activity that you might have. Whether it would work in other areas, I don’t know. We haven’t tested them that widely, but those two, for sure.

Pharma IQ: And how does the company go about developing the tools and capabilities needed to facilitate their own critical question workshops?

T Barnhart:Well, boy, I think I tend to use it… This workshop should be able to have all the tools necessary. It’s fairly straightforward, it’s very powerful and a decent facilitator should be able to do this in a fairly short period of time. As an example, I helped my sister learn to do this by some conversations and a few slide decks, so I’m reasonably certain that anyone who comes to this workshop, if they’re a decent facilitator, should be able to learn to be able to do it. And we’d be available for advice, of course.

Interview conducted by Amber Scorah.


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