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The value of the KTH Innovation Readiness Levels as a tool to promote and assess innovation

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Innovation is the process of creating new or improved products, services, processes, or business models that meet the needs and expectations of customers, stakeholders, and society. Innovation is essential for economic growth, social development, and environmental sustainability. However, innovation is also challenging, risky, and uncertain. So how can we measure and manage the innovation process effectively?

One possible tool has been provided by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska högskolan in Swedish) in Stockholm. KTH has produced an helpful innovation model called the innovation readiness levels (KTH-IRLs), which are a set of nine stages that describe the maturity and readiness of an innovation project or initiative. The KTH-IRLs are based on the widely used technology readiness levels (TRLs), but they also consider other aspects of innovation such as market, organisation, and society. The KTH-IRLs are:

  • IRL 1: Idea. The innovation idea is identified and formulated.
  • IRL 2: Exploration. The innovation idea is explored and validated through literature review, market analysis, user feedback, etc.
  • IRL 3: Concept. The innovation concept is defined and specified in terms of features, functions, benefits, etc.
  • IRL 4: Prototype. The innovation concept is translated into a tangible prototype that can be tested and demonstrated.
  • IRL 5: Validation. The innovation prototype is validated and evaluated through experiments, simulations, user tests, etc.
  • IRL 6: Optimisation. The innovation prototype is optimised and refined based on the validation results and feedback.
  • IRL 7: Implementation. The innovation prototype is implemented and integrated into a system or a platform that can be deployed and used.
  • IRL 8: Diffusion. The innovation system or platform is diffused and adopted by the target market and users.
  • IRL 9: Impact. The innovation system or platform is assessed and measured in terms of its impact on the economy, society, and environment.

The KTH-IRLs can help innovators to plan, monitor, and communicate their innovation projects or initiatives. They can also help innovators to identify the gaps and challenges that need to be addressed at each stage of the innovation process. Moreover, they can help innovators to align their innovation activities with the expectations and requirements of different stakeholders such as customers, investors, regulators, etc.

The KTH-IRLs are not meant to be prescriptive or rigid. They are rather a flexible and adaptable framework that can be tailored to different contexts and domains. They can also be combined with other tools and methods such as design thinking, lean startup, agile development, etc.

Of course, no such tool is complete in and of itself. One might imagine useful extensions to the KTH-IRLs that could further enhance their impact. For example:

  • Incorporate more feedback loops and iterations between the stages to allow for more learning and adaptation.
  • Include more indicators and metrics to measure the progress and performance of the innovation projects or initiatives.
  • Provide more guidance and support for the transition and integration between the stages, especially from IRL 7 to IRL 8 and from IRL 8 to IRL 9.
  • Adapt and customise the KTH-IRLs to different contexts and domains, such as social innovation, service innovation, or digital innovation.
  • Compare and contrast the KTH-IRLs with other frameworks and methods such as design thinking, lean startup, agile development, etc.

Nevertheless, the KTH-IRLs are a very useful tool for advancing innovation in a systematic and structured way. They can help innovators to increase the chances of success and reduce the risks of failure in their innovation endeavours.

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