Deep Dive

A closer look at ISO 56000’s clause 8 and what it means for innovation

by Peter Merrill

In the January 2018 Innovation Imperative column, I introduced readers to the ISO Innovation Management System Standard.1

Since then, this series of standards has been renumbered as ISO 56000. The new numbering as a round thousand reflects the strategic importance that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) now attaches to this new set of standards.

The Management System Standard, due for publication this year, is now numbered ISO 56002 and is a guidance standard. This leaves room in the future for a conformity assessment standard to be developed as ISO 56001. In the same column last year, I highlighted how to move beyond quality management to innovation management.2

We often read standards with the approach, “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end. Then stop.” I encourage you to do that when you first read through the standard. When it comes to implementation, however, I suggest a different approach. Implementing innovation management is a major change. It is important to initiate change by getting an early win. That early win is going to come in clause 8 with the inno-vation process.

This is the heart of the innovation management system. Yes—start drafting strategy and start planning the culture change. But you will find out what innovation is really like right here in the process. Set an objective, and don’t be overly ambitious and settle on a pro-duct that is fading or a process that is constantly failing. This is familiar territory for a quality professional. As you might expect, you need a diverse cross-functional team of people familiar with the issue you want to address.

In this column, I’ll hone in on clause 8 of the standard so you can get a feel for the detail of the innovation process. Text from the standard is paraphrased and shown in italics. I will expand on this paraphrased text with my own comment and explanation.

Although “Innovation Process” sits in clause 8 “Operation,” before we get to “Process,” there are some explanations of planning, terms and approach in 8.1.

8.1 Operation planning and control: Culturally, the terms “planning and control” are a challenge to us—given we are about to enter the world of creativity. Clause 8.1 is standard text from the ISO high-level structure (HLS), and I will interpret that into the world of creativity. Think here of planning the choice you made regarding the area in which to innovate—such as fading product or failing process—but taking those choices down to more detail in a specific innovation initiative. An innovation initiative is “a set of coordinated activities, and can be an innovation project or an innovation program.” A process is a “set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result.”

The criteria for the initiative will be quite loose in the early stages, and the word “control” simply means following the process steps needed to produce an output that meets the objective we have set. The considerations of “control” become more significant when collaborating or outsourcing. In those situations, linkage between organizations will weaken and risk will be higher.

Keeping documented information is essential to leverage learning during operating the process. As a result of that learning, we plan changes to an initiative. If unintended changes occur during an initiative, adverse effects are mitigated. For example, an innovative new drug may produce unexpected and negative side effects.

Clause 8.1 closes with a note emphasizing that during creative and experimental activities a higher degree of freedom is needed, as a result of the higher level of uncertainty. This may well be different from the management practices people have been used to.

8.2 Managing innovation initiatives: This clause explains an innovation initiative in more detail. An initiative will normally have a start point and an end point and is managed by following an innovation process. The clause also points out that an organization will benefit from allowing anyone to start an initiative, provided the necessary justification is given.

8.2.1 General: There are several basic practices to be observed when carrying out an initiative. Given this is a learning experience, the scope and objectives should be checked regularly and, if necessary, revised as new learning is gained. To enable this, an initiative will need indicators of whether stagewise objectives are being achieved.

The review of progress will require decision makers and must engage people with the right knowledge and competence. Knowledge and competence may also need to be found externally through collaboration.

The innovation process has certain essential steps, which are described later in Clause 8.3. As the process unfolds, intellectual property (IP) will be developed, and remember to protect this. At the same time, we should be continually aware of legal and regulatory requirements that might restrict progress.

As learning progresses, there will be failures, which should be analyzed for process failure and failure to achieve a desired output. Failures can produce great learning.

8.2.2 Initiative structure: The structure for an initiative can involve a single business unit, multiple units or colla-boration across a range of external entities, such as suppliers, customers and academia. There might be a decision to acquire an external entity or to spin off an entity to be independent. A loose structure such as crowdsourcing may be adopted. The structure may well change as the initiative unfolds.

8.3 Innovation processes: Clause 8.3 gives us the process elements, which are like the model I have used for many years. The main difference between the model and the standard is that I see the innovation process as a continual cycle (rather like the plan-do-check-act model) and not a linear process that starts and stops.


8.3.1 General: The innovation process can take many forms, but follows five essential steps. In some innovation initiatives, a given step may be minimal. For example, in some situations little validation may be required whereas other steps may be major activities. While we may fast-track a certain step, it is dangerous to leave it out.

At a given step, you may be dissatisfied with the result and go back to the previous step. Steps will, of course, overlap. You can expect every step to be connected to other processes in the management system, such as market research, IP, mergers, IT or product research. That is the nature of a system, which is a set of interrelated and interacting elements.

8.3.1 Identify opportunities: Opportunities are identified and defined by understanding the issues acting on the organization externally and internally. ISO calls this the context of the organization. Looking at external issues enables us to see emerging customer trends, find unmet marketplace needs and see the competition’s strategy. It also points us to emerging technology and new IP development. This should be combined with learning from previous work on innovation.

Tools and methods for collecting data and information are:

  • Basic research, scanning, interviews, ethnography, crowdsourcing and focus groups.

We ask questions such as, “Where do you waste time?” or “What are the biggest hassles?” Then, knowledge is gained from that data and information through:

  • Prospective analyses, benchmarking, foresight activities, user scenarios and risk analysis, for example.

Initially, we may just find an area of opportunity so we must then narrow focus and specify the potential value and its impact on a potential user. This enables us to scope an initiative and define our innovation intent. Opportunities can then be prioritized and we create a problem statement.

8.3.3 Create concepts: We develop solutions from opportunities using problem-solving techniques. Traditional problem solving has used analytical techniques that follow a common path.

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Apply a temporary solution.
  3. Collect data.
  4. Analyze the data.
  5. Select and apply the solution.
  6. Monitor effectiveness.

This approach normally will lead to retaining an existing process and repairing a broken step or clarifying requirements. Innovators have moved into creative problem solving, or ideation to find new ideas which are radical solutions to a challenge. Divergent thinking creates radical new solutions.

There are many methods such as brainstorming, brainwriting, clustering or the SCAMPER (substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate and reverse) method. Critical to success with these methods is a clear and agreed-upon problem statement. We record ideas and find many alternatives. We narrow down our ideas using the criteria of how easy to copy, how feasible, how desirable and how risky they are. At this point, we check any IP infringement and see if we need our own IP protection.

We develop the initial value proposition and the business model for delivering the solution. There will be several critical uncertainties at this point, and so the concept will require validation.

8.3.4 Validate concepts: The initial concept solution, and there may be several, is now tested through analytical study, piloting or experimentation. Work starts with the most critical uncertainties or assumptions. The aim is to quantify risk, gain knowledge and reduce uncertainty. Fail early and fail fast, and do this before incurring significant costs. Even piloting should not proceed without adequate concept modeling. Typical uncertainties to be addressed include:

  • Interaction with potential customers. Will they like the idea?
  • Partner risk. Are they reliable?
  • Internal resources, especially finance.
  • Technical and legal questions. IP protection.
  • Time to market. Can we make and sell this idea?

This work is likely to be iterative. The learning from this work is used to improve the concept.

8.3.5 Develop solutions: Using the knowledge from validation, a working solution is developed. Prime focus for developers is ease of use and speed to market. If we’re making a tangible product, we want the manufacture to be as efficient as possible. This development is best done in partnership with a potential customer, supplier or subcontractor. There may be a decision to acquire a critical partner. There also could be a decision to outsource the new offering or license it to a third party.

We mitigate downstream risks such as user acceptance, and the budget cycle with B2B customers. Upstream, partner capability is a primary risk. We continue to monitor new IP registrations to avoid infringement and take the steps we need to register the new IP we create if it needs protection.

We start to plan the capabilities we need to deliver solutions.

8.3.6 Deploy solutions: I prefer “deliver” solutions. Deploy is more the language of the multilayered corpora-tion and sounds ponderous. This step is where we put an easy-to-deliver and easy-to-use solution in the hands of the customer and do it fast.

We do this by using the value proposition and business model developed in clauses 8.3.4 and 8.3.5, and switch the conversation from features to benefits. This typically becomes the territory of the marketing and sales people. The earlier we can engage them in the development stage, the more effective they will be.

Key metrics will now be adoption rate, user satisfaction and supplier performance. As these numbers show results, scalability becomes a key issue, and many fall at this finish line—letting a competitor take their idea.

Those who ignore scalability have never had a successful new offering. From personal experience, cash and people are your two primary issues for scaling. If you don’t have the cash, you will go bankrupt. If you don’t have the people, your customers will go elsewhere because you don’t deliver.

The endgame? Remember my favorite definition of innovation: “Something new that makes people happy.”


  1. Peter Merrill, “Whereto After ISO 9001:2015?” Quality Progress, January 2018, pp. 46-50.
  2. Ibid.

Peter Merrill is president of Quest Management Inc., an innovation consultancy based in Burlington, Ontario. Merrill is the author of several ASQ Quality Press books, including Innovation Never Stops (2015), Do It Right the Second Time, second edition (2009), and Innovation Generation (2008). He is a member of ASQ, previous chair of the ASQ Innovation Division and current chair of the ASQ Innovation Think Tank. Merrill also is head of delegation for his country to ISO/TC 279 Innovation Management.

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