The Innovation Manager’s Mission

Interview with Mathieu Menet at the Wagon Lausanne event.

From fighter pilot to innovation manager. Mathieu Menet tells us his story and presents his role in the innovation department of tl (public transport of the Lausanne area).

Q1. What is your professional background ?

My childhood dream was to become a fighter pilot. It came true when I was 23 and I worked for the French Air Force for 3-4 years. When it was no longer compatible with the family life I wanted, I moved to Switzerland in late 2011. At first, I didn’t necessarily want to find a job as an engineer (I had a machinal and micro technical master’s degree).

In the end I started working in the engineering field for a company called Lemo.A few weeks after my arrival, I was asked to work on special projects. Many ideas circulated among my colleagues but very few succeeded, despite everyone’s willingness. I enjoyed the impact these ideas could have within the company, so I started specializing in innovation. It was from the need for centralization that a structure specifically dedicated to innovation was finally set up in 2013. By 2018, it had 24 people spread out across 14 countries.

Nowadays, I am responsible for La Ruche tl, the public transport innovation platform in the Lausanne region.

Q2. Can you elaborate on your role as innovation manager?

The role of innovation manager depends on the company’s maturity level. Often, everything needs to be built. This is what we call intrapreneurship, a little like an in-house startup. It is crucial to have a methodical approach and put a strategy and an action plan in place to make it happen.

In addition, there is a great deal of political work to be done. Innovation is often seen as a threat by R&D (in technical firms) or marketing (in other companies). It is important to accompany change by creating a trusting environment, thus allowing to set up synergies across different teams.

There are two different approaches :

1. A dedicated and independent innovation lab,

supported by top management, which allows very fast results. The flip side is that these projects often encounter some resistance when they need to be implemented. This is likely because the company’s collective strength is less acquainted with these projects as it had little involvement in their development.

2. Open Innovation,

a slower approach, but more successful during the implementation phase. In this case, the lab has a role of catalyst and innovation facilitator, based on the ideas and dynamics of employees. We organize this as follows: we dedicate 80% of a day to work on the breakthrough innovations that have been identified, and the remaining 20% are used to support employees with their own initiatives. We support their discovery of new (more agile, more digital) ways of working.

From an organizational point of view, our team consists of about 5 people, but only 2 are permanent (a UX designer and myself). The other 3 change every week! We invite collaborators, experts and external consultants based on what we are testing that specific week.

Subscribe to Mathieu Menet’s Innovation Spark Youtube channel

for quality content about innovation.
[I’ll have a look !]

Q3.Tell us more about your innovation projects.

Our role is to support the project from idea to proof of concept. It then moves to other people’s hands for the production phase. We do three explorations a year. For a month we collect as many ideas as possible on a certain theme (e.g. blockchain). We then select one, depending on its potential.

We spend the three following months validating the concept and reducing the various risk indicators we’ve identified.

  • Is it aligned with the company’s strategy?
  • Is it attractive to users?
  • What are the possibilities to push the idea further (scalability)?
  • Is it financially viable?
  • Is it technically feasible?

In terms of rendering, a mock-up is usually enough as long as it is quite representative. For functional prototypes, we work alongside Olympe. It is a front and back-end development platform that enables application development on the fly, among other things, even with little programming.

It only took 6 DAYS to develop the functional prototype for the project Colision (parcel delivery via public transports)

Q4. Is this the first challenge you addressed with help from Olympe?

Absolutely. Colision is a pretty typical example of business innovation that is far from its core business. The idea was brought on the table in 2016 by Innokick students, in collaboration with our marketing department. Their proposal was centered around reducing the carbon footprint of Internet purchases by using public transport for parcel deliveries, and by encouraging citizens to deliver parcels to each other at the bus stops they use. However, tl did not have the space and culture to accommodate such an idea at the time. It was a fantastic opportunity, especially in response to current climate issues !

Public transport is generally like ready-made clothes; users adapt to fixed schedules and stops. Now, the goal is to develop tailor-made services more and more and to ask ourselves how we can adapt to customers and transition towards an on-demand public transport system.

tl’s answer is that they transport from A to B while accompanying from A to Z.

Q5. What were your alternatives to Olympe for the development of your solution? Why did you choose Olympe?

The alternative for us was either to develop this internally, or to mandate a development agency. Since I had been following the Olympe adventure since its inception, I had long wanted to find an opportunity to test the platform, hence our choice to go through Olympe for Colision.

Q6. How has Olympe changed the way you work? How has this created new opportunities for your business?

The positive experience we had with Olympe during our Colision exploration gave us the following opportunities :

  • Being able to develop functional solutions in a few days
  • Not limit ourselves to mock-ups, but also test functional aspects
  • Being able to introduce the real-time concept across different systems
  • Correcting bugs detected on the fly, even during a test

Q7. What evolution do you predict for the innovator profession? What will be the main challenges to overcome?

This field is a response to a shift in society. Breaking and changing cycles are getting shorter, and the need for innovation specialists is becoming increasingly obvious to most companies.

Some invest in different superficial means that we call the “innovation circus” or “innovation theatre”. Instead of asking the right questions and thinking strategically about what to do from an innovation point of view, they prefer to invest a substantial amount of money in open spaces with cool objects such as a ping pong table. This is the best way to kill your momentum. In addition, there are many innovation consultants on the market who have technological knowledge, but few have experience in large-scale implementation – which is normal because this is all quite new, still.

Therefore, I think our job is currently moving towards increased professionalization and maturity on these various aspects.

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