The Innovation Blog

Two models for evaluating early innovation

Posted by David Culton on Oct 6, 2010 5:35:00 PM

A few weeks ago on this blog I posted "The "SNIFF" test - criteria for early innovation decision making".  This is a simple, but effective five criteria model for evaluating concepts early in the innovation process. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Jay Paap.  Dr. Paap is the founder of Paap Associates, Inc (PAI), and has been consulting to major companies in the field of innovation for 40 years. In his work, he has also dealt with the issue of client companies seeking to apply metrics or find some other useful criteria for making early stage decisions in innovation, and has a slightly different, but intriguingly similar model to offer.

Key to Rational Decision Making

As Jay Paap puts it, the key to rational decision making is to a) ask the right questions, b) seek the best data possible, which may or may not be quantifiable, c) involve a broad cross section of the organization - for quality and commitment d) use formal frameworks to guide collection, storage, analysis and sharing - be systematic in collection and e) use "informed judgment" to make the decision -- be intuitive.  He offers a six criteria decision model called NOMMAR.  I'll paraphrase his approach here, but to get the counsel direct from the author, visit


©2009 Jay Paap, Paap Associates

N: Customer Need? (someone will want it).  

  • Need versus wants/requests.  Is there a real current or future/emerging need for this.  Don't focus on the product, focus on understanding the need first.

O: Technology options (someone can meet the need)

  • Are there existing or emerging technologies within your firm, your industry or other industries that can meet the need?
  • Are there other organizations with similar problems?
  • The key is to focus on the problem/need, not the expected solution.

M: potential market?  (someone will pay)

  • Past innovation adoptions/analogs
  • Customer interactions
  • Be sure to realistically assess resistance

M: business model (someone could do it)

  • Models are "rules of the game" - independent of players
  • Look at past adoption trends for innovation
  • Consider analogs of approaches used in other industries
  • Look at both numbers and logic -- "I could see this being big"

A: realistic approach (we could do it)

  • Fit with three Rs: resources, risk, resistance
  • Consider all development options: traditional, corporate venturing/OI: internal ventures, partnering, aquisition, licensing, spinouts

R: Relevant (we should do it)

  • Fit with strategy
  • Fit with image
  • The key is to look at both what it does and what it prevents you from doing.

As I listened to Jay (yes, we had a lot of fun with that... Jay listening to Jay, etc.), I became excited by both what he was offering in NOMMAR as a simple and useful tool, as well as the validation it offered for our approach "SNIFF".  Two independent sources, both in the business for decades, arrive at very similar positions on a major need for innovators.

The similarities, SNIFF and NOMMAR:

SNIFF places Fit with Strategy as one key criteria.  NOMMAR uses relevance in the same way.

SNIFF uses Feasibility as a key criteria.  NOMMAR uses both "A realistic Approach (we could do it), and "O: Technology options" -- two ways of considering feasibility.

SNIFF uses Need as a key criteria.  NOMMAR not only has "N: customer need" as a criteria, but makes the point throughout to focus on the need, not the technology or solution.

SNIFF uses "Feel -- Gut Feel" as a key criteria.  NOMMAR doesn't have this per se, but throughout, Jay Paap stresses the use of "informed judgment".

One other piece I like about Jay's NOMMAR, and one that our SNIFF doesn't cover is the second "M" for business model.  We are also great believers in business model early in the innovation process.  SNIFF does not include it primarily because we use SNIFF at a point slightly earlier than when a business model is created.  We tend to use SNIFF to choose between dozens of business or product concepts to help decide which few will get the attention they need to envision a new business model.


Two useful models for evaluating early stage innovation thinking. Created by two different consulting firms who both see the same need in the market, created synergistic models that have decades of experience to back them up.  We (Jay Terwilliger and Jay Paap) hope you find them useful in your pursuit of innovation.

NOMMAR is ©2009 Jay Paap, Paap Associates and discussed with permission of Jay Paap.

SNIFF is ©2010 Creative Realities, Inc.

Topics: Innovation, criteria for innovation, decision-making, technical innovation, criteria

Early Innovation Decision-making and the 'SNIFF' test

Posted by David Culton on Sep 27, 2010 11:41:00 AM

Innovation clients frequently ask us how to make better decisions when pursuing breakthrough innovation.  Decision making in pursuit of breakthrough and transformational innovation is significantly different that which is for sustaining or incremental innovation (where frames of reference, past benchmarks, etc. exist).  There are five key decision points along the journey.  At each point, beliefs, assumptions, SWAGS, etc. will get tighter, and more useful.  

Today I'm going to address the second decision point.  Once you have had full range of beginning ideas, and selected a manageable number to fully describe and turn in concept outlines, how should you decide which ones to take into a more rigorous process of creating "Business Visions"?  The creation of Business Visions involves significantly more thought, time and effort.  It involves an escalation of resource commitment, and therefore is deserving of some thoughtful selections from within the existing range of possibilities.  And it is early in the game.  So what criteria to use?

SNIFF test

The Creative Realities "SNIFF" Test©.

Five criteria should be considered at this stage.  All five require the use of judgment, rather than any real metrics.  Because for "breakthrough" innovation, there is no frame of reference, no empirical data, etc.  Here are the criteria to consider, we recommend using a 5 point scale to make judgmental evaluations of each:

Strategy:  How well does this fit with our strategy and further our Vision?

Need: How well does this address an important consumer/customer need?

Impact: Opportunity Size. Have we envisioned a sizable enough market with money to spend? 

Feasibility:  Can it be done technically within our timeframe?

Feel:  Most important -- What does your “Educated Gut” say?

As you consider these criteria, it is easy to simply select those few that have the highest average ratings on these criteria.  But before you do, look at what the ratings are telling you.  Used properly, they can identify the key areas of strength and weakness.  Before you make your decision, consider each criteria and ask yourself "How could I make this concept stronger in this criteria?  And how would that affect the other criteria?  Problem-solve your way to the strongest form of the idea before you make the decisions.  Then make them in an informed manner.

Take a "SNIFF".  What does it tell you?

SNIFF Test ©2010 Creative Realities, Inc.

Topics: Innovation, creative problem solving, breakthrough innovation, leadership, strategic innovation, Strategic Goals, criteria for innovation, decision-making, defensible SWAG, approximate thinking, developmental thinking, implementation, execution, criteria