Oct 10, 2023

Exploring innovation part 2: How to avoid common innovation lab pitfalls

Michael Authier
Michele Endean

Michael Authier and Michele Endean

Exploring innovation part 2: How to avoid common innovation lab pitfalls

In our previous article ‘Are innovation labs right for you’, we answered two key questions: “What is an innovation lab?” and “What do you need to make an innovation lab successful?” As you continue your journey to set up an innovation lab in your own organization, you may now be asking what is needed to make it successful, what common mistakes have others experienced when starting and operating innovation labs, and what can be done to avoid those mistakes.

Harvard Business Review identified three common reasons innovation labs fail:

  1. Lack of alignment with the business.

  2. Lack of metrics to track success.

  3. Lack of balance on the team.

These three reasons certainly are important but are not exhaustive of all the common pitfalls that plague the setup and operation of an innovation lab. In our experience, there are several other critical pitfalls to watch out for. We’ll explore the pitfalls we discovered, which include the ones Harvard Business Review identified, throughout this article.

5 pitfalls in launching an innovation lab and how to overcome

Let’s explore the five pitfalls to watch out for and best practices you can employ to overcome them:

1. Lack of access to key decision makers: Sometimes key decision makers may be challenging to access or have limited availability to interact with the lab.

How to overcome: Actively engage your stakeholders and key decision makers throughout the lab’s activities, instead of only including them in decision-making meetings. Send them all the information and invite them to a variety of meetings to ensure they have sufficient perspective and understanding about how the lab is operating. If the key decision maker is unavailable to attend critical meetings, work with them to identify a proxy whose decisions they trust.

2. Seeking perfection prematurely: Many labs miss out on substantial value and key lessons by going to market late with a “perfect” idea. 

How to overcome: The goal of the lab is to deliver value quickly by moving fast so you can fail early and iterate. Push the team to prioritize speed over perfection. Remind the team that the lab serves as an idea incubator and testing ground, not an implementation hub, and that means there are tradeoffs essential to being able to move quickly through idea definition and testing.

Clearly establish the lab’s definition of “done” to help the team know when to drop their pencils and move the idea to the next step. This includes building prototypes that are “just good enough to test, knowing that further work and investment will come if the prototype is successful.

Finally, remember that metrics are a great incentive; set up your lab’s metrics to incentivize people for creating just good enough by rewarding them for creating non-perfect things, such as incentivizing the number of prototypes created or tested.

3. Falling back into conventional ways of working: Using design thinking, delivering value early and often, iterating instead of starting with perfect, learning through experiments, and failing fast and adapting (collectively known as the innovation mindset) can be challenging because it is new to most teams and therefore it can be uncomfortable at first. 

How to overcome: Incentivize people to commit to using the new ways of working by aligning their performance goals with the lab’s operating model. Identify strong team leads who can consistently teach and frequently remind lab participants of the new ways of working.

4. Difficulty aligning priorities: Lack of alignment (around any components of the lab, including objectives, timeframes, quality, team structure, roles and responsibilities, and budgets) can lead to delays in setting up the lab and inefficiency operating the lab, resulting in delayed value recognition. 

How to overcome: Have strong buy-in from the business when the lab is started. Include regular alignment meetings throughout the operating model to ensure that all lab and external stakeholders are bought in and consistent in their understanding of the lab’s goals.

5. Personal biases negatively influencing and limiting ideas: Lab participants may be prone to allowing biases to influence their ideas, such as conflating the needs of their users with their own personal desires (“me-search” and confirmation bias) or by being protective of their idea and not letting the idea iterate and evolve into a better solution. 

How to overcome: Using diverse teams, a robust test and learn methodology, and data driven decision-making, lab teams can engineer most bias out of the lab. Teams should bake user research into the beginning of the lab operating model to start the process with a solid, data-driven understanding, and rely on user testing with real audience members to validate your prototypes. Additionally, rapid ideation through design thinking exercises like crazy 8s, lighting demos, and round robin can yield a good base of ideas to build on with the larger team.

Next steps with your innovation lab

As you continue down the path of creating an innovation lab, keep these common pitfalls and ways to avoid them in mind. Take a look at the first blog post in this series for additional information about innovation lab best practices.

If you would like to learn more about if an innovation lab is right for your organization, contact Credera at to start the conversation and unlock the full potential of business innovation.

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