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How to Execute on Innovation: 3 Critical Questions


Coming up with solutions to insurance industry challenges can be exciting. My colleagues at RGA and RGAX come out of their 5-day Life Design Sprints exhausted but invigorated. But wrapping up a successful sprint isn’t where the innovation journey ends – not by a long stretch!  

My role at RGA is to lead the Global Accelerator team that is responsible for helping bring the best, most promising ideas to market. I touched on the role of Creating a Culture of Innovation in my last post but what happens after an idea makes it through a Life Design Sprint or an innovation brainstorm? And, more importantly, how can you turn innovation into real solutions in your organization?  Let’s explore.   

Life After Life Design Sprints 

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the Life Designs Sprints framework includes an element of concept validation and even early prototyping. The Global Accelerator team builds on the work done during this phase to answer three essential questions. 

1. Is the innovation feasible?

Every idea has a series of hypotheses to validate. Our role is to further evaluate and test our hypotheses to determine if they prove valid. There are all sorts of reasons why an innovation might not be feasible. For example, a critical technology element may be missing. The team might run into a legal issue. One of the partners might not have the bandwidth or funding to pull off their piece of the puzzle. The list is endless. 

Here are a few tips for conducting a feasibility analysis: 

  • This IS the time to sweat the small stuff. While Life Design Sprints brings “big thinkers” together to come up with big ideas, the acceleration team brings together those with an attention to detail. The acceleration team sets up a series of hypotheses to test the idea and determine if all aspects are true to support the initial intent of the idea. Areas an idea may fall short include technology maturity, regulatory complexities, or a similar solution already exists in market. When an idea’s tested hypothesis proves false, the acceleration team will either pivot on a variation of the solution or kill the idea and move on to another innovation with a greater chance of success. 
  • Save your ideas. This is especially true for ideas that have a technical hurdle to overcome. Let’s say, for example, that the idea requires a degree of data interoperability that just isn’t available today. That doesn’t mean it won’t be there a couple of years from now. Your old notes can be a goldmine of new possibilities. 

2. Is the innovation desirable?

That is, does the market want or need this solution? Again, Life Design Sprints may include some element of this by including market representatives or partners that deeply understand the target audience in the ideation process. In the execution phase, concept validation goes much deeper, including more intense market research, especially focus groups. 

Here are a couple of quick tips for assessing desirability: 

  • Go to the market. I cannot stress enough how important it is to validate a concept with your target market. While your CEO, best sales reps, or department heads may have valuable input, their feedback is no substitute for asking potential customers for their input.  
  • Remember your partners. Desirability doesn’t just focus on the needs of the insurance buyer. For example, many of the innovations we explore are for the benefit of our carriers and their engagement with their customers. They should feel the innovation meets a need they care about solving for them or their consumers. 

3. Is the innovation viable?

Here, we’re looking largely at the business model. It may be a desirable innovation that could work, but it’s our job to help ensure we are investing effort and dollars on a potential solution that brings impact and scale not only for us but that our partners can share in that return.  During the concept validation phase, the project owner builds a business case for the innovation.  

The tip for this stage may be the most important of all: 

  • Be ready to revise. As you move from concept validation into pre-scale, you learn more precision around the original hypothesis from the concept validation phase and this impacts the original assumptions in your business case.  This requires a fresh look at the assumptions and even the structure (e.g., original cost projections, conversion rates, partnership share, etc.) of the business case.  As your innovation moves through the pre-scale phase, which I will cover next, new information can dramatically impact cost and return projections. 

Scale or Fail 

One of the biggest innovation mistakes a company can make is to try to leap from the concept validation phase to market scale-up. Companies can invest millions of dollars bringing an idea to market and never see a dime’s worth of value. Time and again, the companies that win are those that can execute with a disciplined, repeatable approach.   

The pre-scale stage covers everything from building the minimum viable product (MVP) all the way to bringing the product to scale in the market. At RGA, we manage our innovation efforts through disciplined “stage gates” where key milestones are defined and evaluated to determine progress and continued review of the feasibility, viability, and desirability. You can think of them as checkpoints where key milestones are reviewed. We run every project through three-month stage gates for the entire duration until we reach a scaled solution. 

One way to think about it is to align key milestones in your project against the stage gate windows.  This contributes to the continual evaluation of desirability of the solution and, potentially, on project feasibility and viability as well. 

We often refer to these stage gates as “funding stage gates” because funding for the next stage gets approved each time a project makes it through. In the early stages, the funding amounts tend to be smaller. As more significant key milestones like ‘building the MVP” are passed and the project looks promising and the business case shows impact and scale, there is a strong business case to fund the idea further.   

Failure is an Option 

In innovation, it’s vital to be comfortable with the concept of ‘failing.’ We are very clear with our project leads that when a project has “failed” it does not mean they have failed. In fact, the bigger failure would be to keep moving forward with a costly idea that has very little chance of success. Better to allocate people and funds to the next big idea than to keep pouring money into an idea that won’t work.  The learnings out of a tested innovation initiative are just as valuable as the those that succeed to scale.  We leverage those learnings as we approach the next big idea. And, as I shared in the beginning of this article, the act of innovating or of coming up with a new, fresh idea or approach is critical to the industry -- but the true differentiator lies in the fluid and organized execution of it.  

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Written by: Sandi Hubert

Sandi Hubert is Senior Vice President, Chief Operating Officer of RGAX and leads the RGAX Innovation Center of Reinsurance Group of America, Inc. In her role, Sandi oversees the RGAX Global Accelerator and the Ventures & Partnerships teams. She has been instrumental in developing the Innovation Process Methodology, used to advance innovation efforts in the center by leveraging stage-gate funding disciplines.

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