Code Name: “CEN/TS 16555-1 Innovation Management” – an edifying conversation about an essential work in progress

This February, our series dedicated to Innovation Management Standardization features an informative Q&A with experts Magnus Karlsson, Chairman of the SIS Technical Committee TK 532 on Innovation Management, and Stefan Tangen, expert and Project Leader at SIS (Swedish Standards Institute). Among the topics explored: standards bodies, the progress and structure of the Technical Specifications document, reactions from the organizations and how leadership plays a critical part in the advancement of the innovation management standardization initiative.

IM: Mr. Karlsson, Mr. Tangen, happy to have you both once again with us! Previously in this special article series we defined standardization as the voluntary process of developing technical specifications based on consensus among all interested parties (industry including SMEs, consumers, trade unions, public authorities, etc) and mentioned that it is carried out by independent standards bodies, acting at national, European and international level. Can you name these regulatory bodies and briefly describe what do they do?

S. Tangen: In terms of the formal process behind Standardization, there are a number or well-established, regulatory bodies that oversee these efforts. One of them is ISO (the International Organization for Standardization), the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards, founded in 1947 and publisher of more than 19,000 International Standards covering almost all aspects of technology and business. At the European level, Brussels-based CEN (the European Committee for Standardization) is the solely recognized organization for the planning drafting and adoption of European Standards in all major areas of business except electro-technology and telecommunications.

Another important point is that in Standardization, acronyms are frequent and formalization is a prerequisite. Hence, formal committees are established to deal with the wide range of topics. The CEN/TC 389 (technical committee) started in November 2008, for example, oversees Innovation Management. It was based on a proposal from Spain but includes other active countries. It is worth mentioning that Great Britain, Spain and Portugal were among the first nations to discuss and adopt some standards in the direction of innovation management. Currently there are 6 working groups that discuss various topics with some nearing the finalizing of their work, some being half way, and some groups with limited activity¹.

IM: Which discussions have come the farthest and why?

M. Karlsson: The discussion that has come the longest way is the one on Innovation Management Systems. The most interest among the topics discussed has been in Innovation Management (discussion group led by Spain). Another example of good discussions includes Intellectual Property Management (headed by France).

IM: We drew last time a parallel between Quality and Innovation Management standards. How did the idea of employing the future model for the ISO and using it to build the frame for innovation standards come about? Why was it accepted?

S. Tangen: The idea came from me and the simple reason is that I am Secretary of the ISO Joint Technical Coordination Group which has developed the new model. It was difficult to convince everyone in the beginning because no one was aware of the direction ISO had taken. We made sure to listen to everyone and incorporated the various views before moving ahead.  Consensus cannot be forced and getting people onboard is the only way to reach success.

IM: What you are inferring is that, essentially, anybody used to reading an ISO Quality Standard should feel familiar with its structure.

S. Tangen: To a great extent, yes. The content of the present standard for innovation will have the same structure as the new, ISO 9001 currently under revision. This will facilitate comprehension greatly and hopefully contribute to the popularity of the proposal.

IM: What is the Main Document’s title and where can it be accessed? Also, can you walk us through the table of contents?

S. Tangen: Certainly. The full title is: CEN/TS 16555-1 Innovation Management – Part 1: Innovation Management System and contains 10 different clauses with various topics discussed. Initially there is an introduction and a scope description followed by terms and definitions (not many at this stage). Next, there is the context for the organization and what the expectation are from both inside and outside the organization in terms of an Innovation Management system. Thereafter there is a section on leadership – as research has shown, when an organization tries to implement a management system and top management does not participate in the process through support and leadership, it is doomed to fail. Therefore, one dedicated section of the working document discusses what the leadership of the organization needs to do in order to have everything in place.

The rest of the sections are the ones usually found in management systems. One on planning, then an important one is on finding the innovation management process “component” of this system. Once the process is found one needs to assess abilities and improve themselves. The document will also have some annexes which will describe various innovation management techniques.

Returning to your first question: once published, CEN/TS 16555-1 will be available for purchase and download through each National Standard Body’s webpage. To gain access to drafts within committees and/or join the work in progress, those interested are invited to contact their National Standard Body. In Sweden’s case this is SIS and I am the contact point.

IM: Please expand a bit on the role of leadership in implementing an innovation management system. What are some of the key things that leadership can bring to the table?

M. Karlsson: As already pointed out, leadership is important for the success of the innovation management system. Top-management must get involved and set the vision and strategy for innovation, ensure that the system is integrated into other relevant business processes of the organization as well as assign people and other resources for the system to work. Another important role is to foster a culture that supports innovation.

IM: Can CEN/TS 16555-1 be viewed as a Playbook/ Checklist for organizations large and small? Will it be a resource organizations can refer to regularly?

M. Karlsson: Yes, it will be like a Playbook or more precisely a checklist. What the document does is that it lists things that are recommended to be in place for a system like this to work. These will not be a requirement, because this is not yet a standard for certification. Similarly, it does not include what exactly should be done thus allowing a certain amount of flexibility. Additional documents will need to be developed in support of “how-to” scenarios and best practices from the field. Overall structure, key components and what should be in place this is what it will contain. This document outlines the framework. It does not yet dig into specific techniques or tools etc. These will belong to separate documents.

At this point it is important not to disclose too much because there are many variances and we need to learn more about these. There are various ways of implementing these elements and testing the standards in an existing organization would certainly help.

IM: How much time do you estimate it will take before a document like this starts making a difference in real life?

M. Karlsson: It is very difficult to say. To begin with, management systems cannot be put into place overnight. It takes time. Then there is another aspect: some standard documents become an instant success while others are immediately forgotten and what we usually see is that if you would like a project to succeed, you try not to rush it. Generally speaking, bringing key stakeholders on board is essential. These individuals can test the framework and report on inconsistencies. And then this is reiterated…

So far the Main Document has generated a lot of interest and we hope to see it become one of the key documents on Innovation Management. It will probably take a year before the market knows about it but all in all, it is difficult to foresee what will happen and how large an influence it will ultimately have.

IM: Finally, what are the organizations you have been in touch with saying? What are their expectations vis-à-vis Innovation Management Standards and the Technical Specifications document?

M. Karlsson: Organizations are curious. Most say that innovation is at the top of their agenda but they are still struggling to find integrated and sustainable approaches for working with innovation. A management system standard can provide a common framework and language, as well as act as a necessary trigger to take innovation activities to the next level in the organization.

By Oana-Maria Pop

Interested in providing input to the standardization discussion?

To get involved, please contact your national standard body and ask how to join the mirror committee to CEN/TC 389.

About the author:

Oana-Maria is a marketing and branding professional with special interest in growth through innovation, the lean start-up methodology, online learning, and futures studies.
She is the former VP of Marketing at Her track record of collaborations includes organizations in the innovation management service industry, both from Europe and the US such as Apollo Group Ltd., FutureThink, HYPE Innovation Gmbh, Ninesigma, Planview and Stanford Education.
Oana is currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Introduction to the series

As evidence suggests, innovation – both as a field of study and as a practical discipline – has gained considerable traction over the past 15 years. As organizations become broader and more complex, the need for a systematic approach to new product, service or business development techniques strengthens accordingly. And this is merely the tip of the iceberg – there are multiple insights on why communities can benefit from an organized approach to innovation – a process at the heart of our everyday (business) lives. As of today, this approach is becoming a reality and work slowly progresses towards the creation of a unified Innovation Management Standard. Why the delay? Plainly because relating innovation to standardization² is something most practitioners still find counter-intuitive. Their main belief: the terms clash and collide.

In Europe, such persistent and biased views obstruct dialogue and impede the creation of a common framework greatly. But stakeholders and supranational bodies such as AENOR in Spain and SIS in Sweden are stepping up to overcome this obstacle. Backed by research, both qualitative and quantitative, as well their own need for a consistent set of guidelines, these entities argue that the adoption of innovation management standards is imminent. Moreover, given the gap of knowledge in the field, voluntary rules stand a high chance of following the adoption curves of those in manufacturing, safety, education and even quality management.

In an attempt to shed some light on the matter, lessen the struggle for corporations and disseminate the key learnings aggregated so far, IM has invited experts Magnus Karlsson, Chairman of the SIS Technical Committee TK 532 on Innovation Management, and Stefan Tangen, expert and Project Leader at SIS (Swedish Standards Institute), to join the dialogue. The result: a dedicated series of in-depth articles focusing on various aspects of the Innovation Management Standardization efforts in Europe as well as their implications for practitioners everywhere.


1. CEN/TC 389 Innovation Management was created in November 2008 to support a culture of innovation in Europe and accelerate the access of innovation to both domestic and global markets.

TC 389 is currently working on a Technical Specification document with different parts. The first part would be dealing with an innovation management system and it would be complemented by additional parts with a focus on additional issues such as innovation management assessment, creativity management, collaboration management, design thinking etc. as appropriate.