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Phase 4

Phase 4 Guide: Project Definitions


This short guide provides some advice on implementing the Innovation Process. It specifically focuses on the ‘Project Definition’ phase, where the many ideas and solutions emerging from the innovation event are filtered down to a handful of clearly defined projects. It is part of a broader toolkit, which provides advice, with tools and worked examples, on a full process that has been developed, tested and refined in partnership with a number of local authorities and is firmly rooted in innovation practice as well as theory.


Aims and Objectives


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to reduce the large number of ideas from the innovation event to a manageable quantity for further research and amplification. At this stage broad solutions need to be turned into sharply defined and focused projects. Researching the answers to some straightforward standard questions can produce clear ‘Project Definitions’, which outline to all stakeholders the practicalities of implementing the shortlisted solutions.


At the start of this phase you will have:

At the end of this phase you will have:

- clear problem statements around the focus, issue or target group that is the subject of the innovation event - 5-10 favoured solutions to key problems, with an audit trail of how these solutions were filtered
- over 20 proposed solutions to one or more of these specific problems - Feedback on these solutions from; users, event participants and other key stakeholders
- an early indication of stakeholder views of the solutions, with 4-5 favoured ones - 5-10 well defined projects based on these solutions; explaining how they could be practically implemented
- potential offers of support to take some of the solutions forward - Potential implementation partners identified and engaged

- a detailed and validated innovation event report 



Phase 1 Activity Map


Key activities are outlined in below, with additional detail later in this guide:


Solution and Idea Filtering


 Research and Market Scanning



Feedback & User Testing


Project Definitions


Timescales and effort

Typically this phase involves a short-listing meeting, some desk research around each solution, and the production of a 1-2 page project definition document for each solution. This phase may also involve talking to some potential partner organisations, and re-engaging with any relevant stakeholders from the innovation event.


Supporting Documents and Tools


A number of supporting tools have been developed to help with this phase:






Innovation Briefing

Short Process Guide

Phase 3: Innovation Event

Phase 5: Business Case


Project Definition Tool

HMT Proposition Template

Prince 2 Project Approach


Solution and Idea Filtering

Project Definition Examples

User Testing


Description of Activities


This stage of the innovation process is absolutely critical. At the innovation event participants focused on the quantity rather than the quality of ideas, and gradually developed them into high-level solutions to key problems. Within this creative environment any ideas can emerge and there will be significant question marks over their feasibility and deliverability. Most solutions that emerge will be high-level concepts and will lack depth. The objective of this phase of the process is to translate relatively shallow ideas and concepts into something more tangible and deliverable in the real world. Solutions need to be translated into real world projects, moving from the generalities of the innovation event towards the specifics of actually implementing the project. There are a number of activities, which can help this transition.



Solution and Idea Filtering 


In the Planning Phase some idea filtering criteria were developed. These were agreed before the innovation workshop to avoid any systemic bias towards emerging solutions.  Filtering the solutions against these pre-agreed criteria achieves a number of aims. Firstly, it helps to reduce the solutions to a manageable quantity to investigate further.  Secondly it is an opportunity to eliminate any outrageous, undeliverable solutions. Thirdly, and importantly, it helps to prioritise those solutions that have the best fit to key stakeholders needs. One of the most important principles of this stage is having a clear and transparent short-listing process. It is critical to be able to demonstrate to those involved in the innovation event that the solutions they have generated have been handled fairly and objectively.


There are a number of approaches to short listing. However a robust approach is to distribute a simple spreadsheet to a few key stakeholders, which helps them to score each solution against the set criteria. These scores are then averaged and the rankings form the basis of a short-listing meeting. The scores then help to frame a focused and sensible discussion around the projects from multiple perspectives, and facilitate a ‘sanity check’ to identify the top 5-10 and ensure they make sense. The meeting should particularly look at the solutions that do not quite make the cut. At this point the number to take forward might be increased or reduced slightly depending on the quality of solutions.


For those reasonable solutions that do not make the cut an alternative to discarding them is to agree a potential owner or champion for that idea, and arrange to send them details of the solution for them to consider further action themselves.


The results of the short listing meeting should be documented, with clear recommendations for those solutions to take forward for additional development, and a small action plan to deal with those that do not make the cut. This document should be suitable for circulating to event participants.


Research and Market Scanning


With short listing of solutions accomplished the next stage is to start to flesh them out by researching possible routes to implementation. It is important to try to avoid reinventing the wheel, or significant new developments that are unnecessary. There will always be a strong temptation to start developing a new bespoke solution, in-house, but adopting the mindset that most solutions have already been implemented in some way shape or form is a good starting point to avoid this. There will, in the vast majority of cases, be an existing product or service which can be built upon, and more importantly a potentially experienced partner who can support delivery. So it is important to spend some time scanning for potential existing projects, products and services. Areas to search:

-          Public sector; search in online project databases like Solutions4Inclusion which are searchable by theme or segment. Local government organisations such as within the Local Government Group might also be able to help.

-          International projects; there are also online project databases and case study repositories of international projects such as epractice.eu

-          Public and Third Sector; talk to key charities and private sector organisations – particularly the ones that attended the innovation event. They may have, or be aware of an existing service or product, or themselves offer complementary services to the same target audience.

-          General search; a simple search via internet search engines can often reveal existing products and services.


In some cases there will be exact matches and an off the shelf product, service, or process will be available elsewhere that is replicable or scalable. However it is important not to be constrained by searching for ‘exact fits’ to requirements elsewhere, in many cases some adaptation will be required, but this will often represent a better approach than a ‘greenfield’ solution, which starts from nothing. Figure 1 highlights the potential combinations of opportunities that might arise from market scanning.



Figure 1 - Market Scanning, Potential Strategies (Ansoft Matrix)


Quadrant A; you might find a product, service or process that exists elsewhere for exactly the same target audience/ segment. In this case replicating, transferring, outsourcing, service sharing or partnering in some way is a potential way forward.

-          Quadrant B; a service provider exists that is already offering a complementary service, product or process for the precise target segment or audience required. Here there is an option for partnership or intermediation to add a new complementary service or process to their existing service. There might also be existing infrastructure which reaches the right audience (e.g. a web site) on which a new service or product can be simply added.

-          Quadrant C; this is a very common area in which to find existing services and processes. In this case the service or process is already in place for one target group and there is the opportunity to extend the service to a new audience. For example, an e-mentoring service for university students has been repackaged and extended to children in care, or a mobile phone-based English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) application for asylum seekers has been repackaged and extended to support a local Bangladeshi community.

-          Quadrant D; in this case no product, service, process, or complementary partners or infrastructure exists. This means that a brand new solution needs to be developed and should only be considered after thorough market scanning. It could potentially be the highest cost and risk approach, but shouldn’t be discounted, as this approach can also result in genuinely innovative solutions with high impact. When comparing against other options it might be that these ‘greenfield’ projects are either viewed more positively or negatively depending on the project team, and senior stakeholders’ attitude towards risk.


As part of the market scanning process it can be beneficial to commence early discussions with potential partners. It is often the case, particularly with quadrants A, B and C in Figure 1, that another organisation will be incentivised to support the extension of its service, product or process to share costs, achieve greater economies of scale, or to develop the market for its services. Talking to such organisations can lead to effective partnerships, with investment from multiple organisations, to develop the local solution with the potential of savings, increased or protected revenue downstream. So early discussions to help to define the project are recommended.


Furthermore, at this stage of project definition it is also worth distinguishing between what the project might look like:

-          In the short term; a proof of concept project perhaps with some grant investment from a number of different partners, combined with an evaluation in order to support all parties making a longer term decision.

-          In the long term; a steady state product, service or process backed by mainstream financial and operational resources, perhaps with a clearer long term customer-supplier contractual commitment, to underpin sustainability.


What will emerge from this market scanning stage is a much clearer understanding of what the project might look like and who might be able to help deliver it.


Back to activity map

Stakeholder Feedback & User Testing


Following market scanning there should be a much better understanding of how a solution could be taken forward as a project, and what the solution might look like. In fact if relevant services, products or processes have been identified then information about these can be used to ‘bring to life’ potential solutions to stakeholders and obtain feedback. This is therefore a good time to test propositions and solutions with end users and other relevant stakeholders.


User testing is particularly important and can be undertaken in many different ways:

-          Develop mock versions of propositions and gain feedback

-          Present the propositions to existing community groups or resident groups to obtain group feedback

-          Run a small user-testing event in the community; e.g. invite the target audience to a community event with some stands on which a team member can explain the proposition, and everyone gets a couple of votes for their favourite projects.


While early user testing and feedback is essential it also important that the results are interpreted with care, and alongside feedback from other stakeholders. If users are faced with a range of projects in many cases it may be possible to predict beforehand which ones they might vote for, but less popular projects might bring wider benefits to many stakeholders. So it is important to frame the user testing and questions carefully and use it to highlight any propositions that users clearly have problems with, allowing the project team to understand what specifically will not work. The results of user testing and feedback can be used to inform and improve project definitions, and it can also be used later on in the innovation process to provide important advice to the senior stakeholder on what users and other stakeholders think of the projects that have emerged from the process to date.


Project Definitions


The final output of this stage is a very clear, succinct project definition for each solution. These project definitions are distinct from the solutions at the start of Phase 4 in that they have moved from the general to the specific. There are examples of project definition templates with this toolkit but they all typically include:


-          Name of the project

-          Outline of the implementation of the project including potential partners and existing services and products that will be foundations for delivery

-          Benefits

-          Success Criteria

-          An early view on set-up vs operating costs; not actual values, but an identification of what will need to be funded

-          Early view on short term vs long term shape of the project

-          Outstanding questions, risks and concerns

-          Stakeholder feedback

-          Updated scorings against each of the idea filtering criteria having reassessed each project in light of the improved definition


The above can typically be written in a one or two page document for each project. The scorings against the idea filtering criteria, alongside the stakeholder feedback should permit clear recommendations to be made to the senior stakeholder of which project(s) to take forward, and what to do with the remaining ideas.

Dos and Don’ts


Do develop an action plan to transfer to potential owners all the ideas from the innovation event that are filtered out in this phase. 

Do ensure that a clear and transparent idea filtering process is communicated back to all innovation event stakeholders so that they know what has happened to all the ideas. 

Do undertake research and scan the market for potential existing solutions. Don’t reinvent the wheel – build on what is already in existence when defining projects to implement solutions.

Do undertake user testing of propositions/ solutions. However, do interpret the results with care and within the context of feedback from other stakeholders.

Do try to engage potential delivery partners at this stage. Get them to help you further define the solutions and gauge their interests and incentives in helping to deliver the project.

Don’t discard existing services, products or processes from elsewhere because they aren’t exact matches to solutions. Consider how they can be adapted or built on. 

Don’t confuse innovation with cutting edge technology – a creative application of an existing or older form of technology can be a highly effective solution. 


Key Questions to Think About


  • Which solutions most closely match the original objectives and filter criteria? 
  • What to do with solutions that are filtered out at this stage? 
  • How, practically can each solution be implemented as a project?
  • Are there any existing services, products or processes elsewhere to build on?
  • Are there any potential delivery partners and are they interested in supporting the project? And in what way? What are their long term incentives?
  • What do potential users and other stakeholders think of the projects?
  • What is the potential short term vs long term shape of each project? (sustainability?)
  • How do these better defined projects evaluate against the original objectives and filter criteria?
  • Which projects are therefore recommended for proceeding to business casing and Phase 5? And what to do with the rest? 


© City of London 2010