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Should/Could Assessment – A Tool for Innovation Portfolio Management

Larry Schmitt

Innovation Partner

Experienced innovation practitioners know that some of the most valuable tools are ones that help decide which opportunities to spend more resources on – money, time, and attention. One of the most helpful tools in the toolkit is the Should/Could Assessment.

The Should/Could tool is used to compare a set of opportunities by both their inherent potential and the company’s capabilities to deliver on that potential. It allows a team to independently assess a set of opportunities along two dimensions to create the Should/Could canvas shown below.

The Should dimension is about “Should anyone” pursue the opportunity (not “Should we“).  It is an assessment of the future potential of the opportunity in the world, regardless of who creates it. Think of the “should” axis as what will drive the S-curve of adoption.

The Could dimension is about “Could we” pursue the opportunity successfully. It’s an assessment of the company’s current and future capabilities against what the opportunity will require – how well we could create such an opportunity (alone or with partners) and the likelihood that we could be successful. Think of the “could” axis as how the company can participate in the evolution of the S-curve.

The upper right contains opportunities that have high potential value and for which the company is well suited with existing capabilities

The upper left contains opportunities that have high potential but require the company to develop new capabilities – this is often an area to focus investments in new capabilities and partnerships that can move opportunities to the right.

The lower left contains opportunities that have low potential and for which the company has little competence – this area should hopefully be empty

The lower right contains opportunities that have lower potential but are well within your capabilities – these could be low-hanging fruit

This tool, and the canvas it creates, is used by innovation teams and innovation portfolio governance bodies to make decisions about which new opportunities to pursue. In the front-end of the innovation process, innovators are dealing with high levels of uncertainty.  It is impossible to know detailed answers to all the questions about specific opportunities that people want answered. Ambiguous, uncertain, qualitative information is all that is available. The Should/Could Assessment tool helps individuals, teams and companies make decisions in this situation.

The tool should be used (along with other tools) to foster discussion among interested parties. No tool should be used as ‘gospel’ to make decisions about which opportunities to advance. Often the most interesting aspect of the tool, and the canvases they create, lies in seeing who rated specific opportunities high or low on a specific attribute and discussing why. More sophisticated versions of this canvas reveal this ‘people’ side of the assessment.

The Should/Could Assessment tool is consistently popular and useful. It is helpful when building a portfolio of uncertain opportunities. It lets you see where you are stretching, where you are not, and whether you have the right mix. It is only one of the assessment tools available to support innovation decision making when uncertainty is high.

Download a simplified version of the Should/Could Assessment tool and try it for yourself. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in learning more about the full playbook for Innovation Portfolio Management and how to make systematic decisions under uncertainty.