The 5 Phases of Breakthrough Innovation

Innovation is an increasingly important skill for scientists and engineers. Breakthrough innovation — brinnovation — doesn’t happen overnight. According to Praveen Gupta, editor of Global Innovation Science Handbook, it’s a disciplined process that can be organized into five phases known as the TEDOC Methodology. The phases are target, explore, develop, optimize, and commercialize:


Defining an opportunity for innovation is critical. In order to develop breakthrough innovations, a business needs to know what to innovate. To determine what to innovate, they must look at existing needs. These needs are found in complaints, nagging or chronic problems, indecision, frustrations, technical limitations, circumstances, and competitors’ organizational limitations. A business should also look at the maturity of its industry, trends in supplier performance, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses, industry performance, and the available market. Once potential innovation opportunities are identified, the innovation team must document the key benefits of the solution to be innovated and determine the key measures of its success.


A company needs to fully and quickly research its opportunities to beef up its necessary competencies. The innovation team should identify and research keywords associated with the opportunity for innovation, generate new ideas, answer questions, discover new questions, and produce more new ideas. These ideas then need to be combined, filtered, analyzed, and prioritized. They are analyzed as input to the solution to be developed. Then, the team experiments with them to find solutions. Tools in this phase may include creativity, research, brainstorming, affinity diagrams, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), and process thinking.


Innovators need to develop alternate solutions that are significantly innovative. Experience shows that following the “rule of two” helps stretch imaginations as people experiment. According to the rule of two, in order for a solution to be a breakthrough innovation, it must affect the performance of the desired features by a factor of two (dividing or multiplying). In other words, if less is better, halve (divide by two) it, and if more is better, then double (multiply by two) it. The change is expected to force a different approach to the current position.

The extent of innovation depends upon the innovation team’s efforts (the amount of available time committed to the desired innovation), knowledge (domain expertise), ability to play (experimentation), and overall imagination (extrapolation to achieve breakthrough innovation). In order to create a unique selling proposition and overcome barriers or competition, a company must try to maximize innovation rather than just create a minimal innovation. Tools used in this phase include the competency necessary to create new knowledge, creativity for proposing alternative solutions, evaluation and analytical methods, and the facility to conduct experiments.


Many great innovations remain marginally successful and have limited shelf life because they are not effectively and economically reproducible. A great design alone does not provide a good return on innovation. The optimize phase focuses on maximizing the economic benefit of the innovation. In the current R&D-driven product development environment, the optimize phase is the most significant step missing for ensuring a product’s success. Due to a lack of optimization in the design or preproduction stage(s), manufacturing operations suffer from design constraints. Today, most designs are quickly verified for their functionality and performance, but only on a limited sample size of potential process conditions during a product’s life cycle.

The prototype or pilot run that appears acceptable may actually result in continual rework and field failures leading to a significant adverse impact on profit margins. The tools typically used in this stage are process management, optimization software programs, and the facility to conduct the necessary experiments.


Many entrepreneurs and innovators fail in this phase—an innovative solution exists, but not enough people who would value it know about it. Without development, there is no creativity; without optimization, there is no profit; and without commercialization, there is no innovation. The commercialization of a solution converts creativity into innovation. Every innovator, therefore, must learn the process of commercialization and develop the knowledge necessary to create value. In the commercialization phase, an innovation team must practice strategic thinking about methods of pricing a solution, messages of value proposition, viral marketing, business planning, and making deals for licensing or selling the breakthrough solutions.

The TEDOC Methodology is one way to teach innovation skills in STEM education programs. To learn more about the brinnovation process, download our free eBook, Implement Brinnovation (Breakthrough Innovation) in Any Industry.

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