Measuring Design Thinking on the Innovation and Partner Ecosystem Level

Are we an organization capable of innovating and collaborating with design thinking? And are our partners too?

The transition from the culture change program level to the innovation ecosystem level is fluid too. On this level, we ask ourselves: are we an innovative organization? Do we consistently bring up new business opportunities, product/service innovations, and improvements within our innovation portfolio? Did we establish an internal innovation system, which does a good job of supporting our innovators? Are we embedded in an external ecosystem of partners, coopetitors, and suppliers, making all of its actors better off through knowledge exchange, co-creation, and network effects?

In politics, innovation (eco)systems are seen on even a higher out zoom level: here, they often are understood in line with Friedrich List’s and Bengt-Åke Lundvall’s notion of production, education, economic development systems in society on regional, sectoral, or national levels . There they denote the flow of technology and information among people, enterprises, and institutions of a nation. But for this article let’s stick to the point of view of an organization and look at some example metrics:

Innovation Ecosystem Activity Metrics

Improved activity metrics across all levels mentioned in the articles before, plus:

  • # and quality of partnerships and collaborations
  • # of requests for co-creation and collaboration from relevant external parties
  • % of celebrated and reflected smart failures in public
  • % of unstructured time given to employees
  • Ratio of having to outsource innovation work vs. being able to do it yourself
    (e.g. coaching, prototyping, design, user research, coding, etc.)
  • etc.
Innovation Ecosystem Output Metrics

Improved output metrics across the project and portfolio/funnel levels, plus:

  • Changes in psychological safety across the whole organization
  • Increase in employee satisfaction and productivity
  • Positive media and analyst mentions
  • Easier recruiting and retaining of talent
  • Upward trend in classic KPIs for UI, UX, CX, and brand perception across all product/service lines
  • Customer satisfaction, e.g. via NPS or Customer Centricity Score
  • Improved organizational readiness scores for innovation, e.g. via ‘readiness assessments’
  • Innovation contribution, e.g. via % of revenue from products/services created in the last five years
  • etc.

As I tried to show in the article series, metrics become more abstract with each level. The higher order levels are the responsibility of executives and top management; the lower order levels are taken care of by coaches, teams leaders and teams themselves. Yet, in reality things can get complicated. New ways of working might for example require you and your project sponsors to manage and measure on different levels simultaneously. We strongly advise you to ask yourself on which level(s) you actually plan to intervene to measure the right things and also be able to set expectations with all co-creators accordingly. The box below visualizes a not very uncommon scenario:

Your first design thinking project:

Let’s assume you start your project with the goal to design a public-private partnership business model together with business partners in another country. None of them ever worked with agile methodologies. Also, the team on-site you were able to compile, lacks experience in the hard skills needed. Usually that is user research and prototyping. So, while the project is running, you realize that both your team and the partners first need methods and »mindset« training as it turns out that they are not entirely comfortable with working in a design thinking mode yet. Even if your team and partners are ready to roll, you might often find yourself in a situation where you will have to explain or even justify this new way of working to internal colleagues in their organization and your own. This will cost additional time, which is well worth investing, but will be deducted from the project processing time and will thus influence how much you can realistically achieve. If your project sponsor now only gets your outcome metrics reported, they might think you have been »lazy« or »unsuccessful«.

Design thinking projects in non-agile organizations with low innovation mastery involuntarily have to address non-project-related issues and intervene in other higher-order levels to make progress.

So, do yourself a favor. Clearly differentiate your project-level metrics from the other ones and communicate them separately. If you have to do additional awareness and communication work with all kinds of stakeholders on top of your project, try to measure and report such metrics as they arise accordingly. It would be unfair if you were measured only by the project results. Especially in first projects it is not only about project success but also about how you have influenced and changed assumptions, thinking and behavior on the other levels.


You see, measuring innovation in general and design thinking in particular, isn’t a trivial task you can achieve with just a three-step silver-bullet method some managers wish for. But with openness and the willingness to create an operating system for innovation that really changes underlying management and performance systems, it can be done and measured. And the good news for the impatient managers is: if you measure teams with the right innovation metrics, you will not only treat them fairer, but it will also lay bare faster unhelpful or even toxic behaviors to innovation like social loafing, managing up and without doing work, polishing PPTs without content, etc. And as real innovation work is hard and getting measured against the metrics mentioned in this article series makes it impossible to hide such behaviors, you can quickly sort out innovation tourists and other unhelpful individuals your teams don’t need in their projects.

Unless we determine what shall be measured and what the yardstick of measurement in an area will be, the area itself will not be seen.

Peter Drucker

I personally believe that the next few years will separate the wheat from the chaff and show which organizations are really serious about professionalizing their innovation management. That professionalization also means not burning teams and measuring them by standards that are either unfair or too lax. In any case, it is worth keeping an eye on the driving forces around the topic of innovation accounting, which have extremely advanced the field in recent years. Esther Gons’ and Dan Toma’s excellent book “Innovation Accounting” is highly recommended for those who want to go deeper into the topic. But also, Kromatic’s Tristan Kromer and the folks at Strategyzer regularly publish practical articles on the matter. It remains exciting! What are your thoughts on this?

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