Staffing Innovation Teams?

October 11, 2019

In a recent Q&A email, one member of the InnoLead network asked the following question about staffing teams dedicated to innovation:

“What…information might there be about innovation staffing? In-sourced vs. out-sourced? Types of roles/functions on innovation team?”

Below are a few of the best responses — and we invite you to post your answer in the comments below.

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Keep the Innovation Horizon in Mind

“[How to staff innovation] really depends on what type of innovation you are in, [meaning] in H1, H2, or H3. In H1, you can probably do and lead most of your effort from inside… In H2, you start pulling most of the resources you need (people and [money]) from outside — as you need fresh views and a new profile of expertise that you may not have inside… When you get to H3, it’s a completely new story, and you need to disconnect your innovation process from what you are used to. It means a team of external partners that have the capabilities and experience to help you — from market research down to commercialization in an agile way with the objective to learn all along your journey and answer your uncertainties as you move forward.”

Submitted by Jean François Delage, Vice President of Innovation and Research at McCain Foods. 

Create a Front-End and a Back-End Team

“I have had success building my central team into two main functions: The front-end team and the back-end team. The front end team are Senior Innovation Consultants primarily responsible for the ideation process, problem definition, concept development, and business case creation. They tend to be more comfortable with undefined concepts and like the flexibility and challenge of the early stage of the innovation process.

The back team are defined as Senior Innovation Implementation Managers. I don’t call them project managers because they are much more than that. They pick up an idea from the front-end team once it is approved for testing or prototyping. They are responsible for working through all the details to get an idea/solution tested including: contracting, test plan, KPI’s, managing internal resources, executing the pilot, monitoring its progress, capturing and reporting on results, and transitioning to the business. Their skill sets are more for project execution and delivery.

While it would be great to get someone who can do both, I’ve found that typically a person is wired for one type of work or another. The handoff between the two also requires good internal team communication to move an idea throughout the process. None of these team members are junior – they are experienced in the corporate environment. The team is fairly small (9 people) so it needs to be effective and efficient.

I use eternal resources to fill in the gaps (provide bench strength) to my core team. Depending on the pipeline work, we may not have the time to facilitate a brainstorm session, conduct landscape research or due diligence on a particular market, so its good to have the ability to augment the work with external expertise. I also don’t staff developers because that is not the focus of our team. If we need to develop an application, we will work with IT or use an external resource. This may be different depending on your industry and innovation focus. I am not a fan of ‘outsourcing’ innovation. I believe the innovation team needs to create the innovation strategy and be accountable for how it will work within the company. We must build relationships and a connection to the business strategy to be successful.”

Submitted by Paul Puopolo, Executive Vice Presdent of Innovation at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Use Product Management 

“We are using product management. A product team consisting of Product Manager, CX/UX designer, lead engineer/architect, and engineers. So far building our first two teams, we have had two product managers on the search for a new business. We have outsourced the design role straddling both product managers. We now have [minimum viable products ready] and we are hiring two designers.

We also have opted to have one lead engineer accross both product teams, but I can see that becoming challenging very soon. … Note the above approach is all for Horizon 3/transformational innovation.”

Submitted by an InnoLead in information management.