Innovation Pathways: Managing Innovation Through Collaboration

To help illustrate where the pursuit of innovation management can lead, our Innovation Pathways series asks our current students, recent graduates, and established alumni to describe their journeys.

Vineet Agarwal photoVineet Agarwal WG’20 has 13 years of experience in developing products from inception to launch, building and leading teams, coding, and process improvement. He currently manages a $200M budget project for Qualcomm, where he works with a global cross-functional team including marketing, supply, sales, internal engineering, etc. In the past, he has developed three products for Qualcomm, which resulted in over $50M increase in the bottom line. He enjoys taking a customer-centric approach and developing new products that target customers’ key pain points.

What have you learned about managing innovation in your career?
As part of my past engineering manager role at Qualcomm, I was the chair of the innovation team for a 300-people global team. The role primarily involved fostering innovation, introducing new workflows, developing internal products to improve efficiency, and exploring and adopting new technologies. My key takeaway from that role was that any innovation process is a team-wide collaborative exercise. Earlier, we used to have a small central group to recommend any change we should adopt. But when I took over the role, I started holding team-wide pain-point gathering sessions and brainstorming sessions. These sessions served two purposes. First, it let small groups in our large team discover who else might be facing similar problems. Second, it opened up a dialogue about what has worked or not worked in the past. I ended up unsubscribing to the leadership philosophy, ‘Do not bring me problems. Bring me solutions.'” I believe that everyone should highlight any problems when they spot it. It doesn’t matter if that person also brings forward a solution or not. Surfacing the problem allows the leadership to assign the right set of people to tackle it. Issues highlighted by our summer interns triggered a couple of innovative changes we made in our processes!

What stands out to you most about the Mack Institute’s Collaborative Innovation Program (CIP)?
What stood out the most about CIP was the opportunity to work in a domain/industry that was entirely new for me. We worked for a German van manufacturer, and no one in our team of five had any background in the automotive industry. The situation needed us to ask fundamental questions, which led to fascinating insights. It taught me how important it was to break down the problems into simpler, smaller pieces. Further, I was amazed by the benefit of diversity-of-thought from our team. We ended up proposing a simple solution to a rather complicated problem. Still, it wouldn’t have been possible if we were not looking outside-in and understanding the situation in a new light.

I ended up unsubscribing to the leadership philosophy, “Do not bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

What did you find most rewarding about working with your CIP team?
CIP offered the opportunity to solve a real-world problem, and in the process, leverage concepts we learned from multiple classes. We used concepts we learned from microeconomics, linear programming, and optimization, linear regressions. I also really enjoyed working with my team. Our team comprised Wharton executive students and full-time students in varying stages of their careers. Working with such a diverse team helped me realize the homogeneity of thought at my workplace. I encouraged our management to recruit folks from very different but a related background to help explore paths we would have skipped otherwise. Last but not least, it gave us immense satisfaction that our work would have a material impact on the approach of our corporate partner. We helped shed light on various unidentified challenges and built tools to tackle the problems.

Do you think all professionals can benefit today from thinking about or studying innovation management?
Most of the established companies adopt some form of innovation management. But if you are from the startup world or even a venture within an established organization, innovation management may not be practiced correctly, if at all. Although the company’s culture significantly influences it, if appropriately adopted, innovation management can prove its worth in gold. I strongly encourage every professional to study, practice, and infuse innovation management in their daily routine.