The article below is based on an article written in French by Frédéric Bouty, published in the armament engineers’ magazine n° 108 ( http://www.caia.net/page/517/la-revue).
In a group like Nexter Systems, what does a process called “innovation”, with the adjective “participatory” tagged on, mean when it is part of the quality management system of a company? Is it simply stating the obvious, or is it a proof of mistrust in the quality of the work done by the research department (40 % of human resources)? No, in fact the aim of this process since 2011 has been to identify all opportunities to innovate and to involve the most people possible by calling on their creative powers.
Of course, a company that spends 14% of its turnover on R&D relies principally on its research department for developing competitive and innovative solutions. The first merit of the “participatory innovation” process was to highlight this reality: the research department innovates!
Meeting a requirement does not mean limiting oneself to attaining a given technical performance. Thus putting a mixed marketing/engineering duo as pilots of the innovation process: Benjamin Favart (marketing) and Thierry Le Goff (engineering), has led to a better understanding of market needs which are difficult to determine, and has thus led to disruptive innovation and to a real differentiation. “Participatory” means that one broadens the population concerned by the mission of finding an “idea”, the raw material that may become an innovation.
The “Participatory Innovation” process thus deals with the management of ideas linked to the company’s strategy declined along three axes (market, products and services, production processes) which are themselves declined along precise lines to provide a framework and to incite the generation of ideas. This dynamic is stimulated through challenges or creativity sessions but many ideas are spontaneously put forward via the dedicated intranet page.
The challenge for the two pilots of the process was to make it normal to deposit ideas and, simultaneously, to sanctuarise participation as a tool for finding answers or brain-storming. In both cases action is taken via intense communication whose very form itself is innovative and whose content shows the success and strength of the Group’s resources: almost 2,000 ideas deposited in five years!
As the French proverb says “When one is alone one becomes necessary”, but fortunately today this no longer applies to the research department. Upstream or down from the idea, the implication of different actors, both internal and external to the company, allows an innovation to mature and the multidisciplinary committee that analyses these ideas allows each skill set or job (operational, purchasing, architecture, product development, marketing, competitor analyses, intellectuel property, production, human resources, etc.) to contribute. This participation federates staff around company projects, allowing some to stand out and modulates some of the mores and customs by becoming part of the development process, just as “make or buy” did in the past. Taken to its extreme, a completely participatory development on general themes is perfectly feasible, even if major results will only be exploited later: this deployment of medium and long term projects will lead to greater differentiation and will make it easier to mobilise.