For decades, companies have tried to capture valuable ideas from customers and employees. The original idea collection device was a suggestion box, where employees and customers could write down ideas and place them in a box. However, ideas often didn’t “flow” from the box, and few people had access to comment or enrich those ideas, so the box, while creating the promise of idea evaluation and action, didn’t provide much value.
As innovation has become more important, so has idea management. Capturing and managing ideas becomes vital. Many companies are still struggling to understand when an idea management solution is required, and how to get the most from their solution. We think there are at least three drivers that can make idea management software viable and valuable.
Teamwork and visibility
The first driver is the ability to manage ideas in a database that everyone can access, always. When there are few ideas or teams are small, ideas can be shared within a team informally, but as programs scale or the enterprise grows, it becomes important to have one consistent and ubiquitous platform for idea management. This is especially true for remote workers and multiple locations. These systems create real value quickly and support repeatable process and collaboration.
Simply capturing ideas in a database is not a complete solution. Ideas need development, engagement and enrichment in order to mature. Simply capturing them in a database without supporting and engaging a larger population of people to interact with the ideas is dangerous. An idea database that captures ideas but does little else is almost worse than no database as all.
Engagement and enrichment
So that leads to the second set of drivers: engagement, enrichment, and incubation. Your company will be “ready” for idea management software when it understands how ideas should be incubated and developed. You need to think about how ideas will be evaluated, enriched, ranked, and prioritized. If your team does not have an evaluation and enrichment process, and does not designate people who are responsible for these activities, ideas won’t receive the attention they need in order to flourish. You don’t need a fully thought-out engagement model before you acquire idea management software, but you’ll need these processes and the people to support the processes as the idea management software comes online.
Steve Paladino, Global Director of Innovation and Continuous Improvement at Baltimore Aircoil Company put some of the key readiness criteria very succinctly: “You have to develop a mindset, then you propose a toolset, and eventually that embeds as a skillset in the organization.”
Another indicator Paladino found was: “When the execs say ‘I have an idea. What do I do with it? Or where do I find the status?’ That is when tools make sense.”
Making decisions and implementing ideas
While generating and developing ideas is valuable, the real payoff comes from prioritizing between ideas and implementing the best ideas as new products, services, and business models. Every new initiative will be evaluated based on its cost and potential benefits. This is true for regularly recurring projects and it is especially true for new and unfamiliar innovation projects. Idea management software won’t necessarily prepare the ideas for full scrutiny by executives, but software can capture vital information, help develop a practical business case, and illustrate how ideas support strategic plans and goals. Evaluation of new plans and priorities is simply part of a good management structure, and the more that idea management solutions can support and enrich ideas and their supporting business case through the entire development process, the more likely the ideas are to be approved and funded.
“We found a quick win with an immediate $1.2M savings within the first three months of deploying edison365,” one Chief Innovation Officer told us this summer.
Recapping the top three drivers for idea management software
So, to recap, a company hoping to gain real value from an idea management solution should ensure:
1. That any solution selected can capture ideas effectively, enhance idea visibility, and promote teamwork. (If this can be done within your everyday collaboration software like Office 365, even better.)
2. That there are mechanisms and people in place to evaluate, comment, and enrich the ideas.
3. That the solution supports the full idea development lifecycle, from capturing nascent ideas to presenting the rationale for a developed concept to a decision-making team and implementing the idea as a new product or service.
Based on these criteria, it’s easy to determine whether your team is “ready” for idea management software:
1. Almost every company will clear the first hurdle. Most companies have plenty of people with lots of ideas. These enterprises face many challenges that can be addressed through good idea generation. Surprisingly few do a good job capturing, managing, and sharing ideas effectively.
2. The second hurdle is a bit more complex. Few companies have well-defined innovation processes, evaluation metrics and people dedicated to these tasks. The act of developing, enriching and moving ideas along an evaluation process is what creates value. If your team does not have experience managing and developing ideas, or if you lack internal processes or don’t have people responsible for this activity, you will want to strengthen these attributes before you implement idea management software, or as you are implementing software.
3. The third hurdle is also exceptionally important. Every new initiative will face tough scrutiny when resources are constrained and there are many competing projects. New and unusual innovation projects will face even more scrutiny, so any idea management solution and process that neglects to support ideas through decision gates, supported by good business rationale and considering alternatives and investments strategies won’t be successful.
Other factors to consider
There are other factors you should consider—and a few factors that seem important, but can probably ignored. These include cost, integration, and continuity.
One seemingly important factor is cost. From my experience, I’d argue that the cost of idea management solutions is relatively unimportant. The major idea management software applications are relatively inexpensive compared to their potential return on investment, which can be a matter of a few months. Indeed, it is not surprising to see a quick 10x return in the first 90 to 180 days for many enterprises. Most are offered on a subscription model basis, so there’s little initial outlay and the costs are low compared to the potential return.
One factor that should be important, but is sometimes overlooked, is the integration of the idea management software into the way people work. If the software lacks integration into the way people regularly work it will likely attract few consistent users, because it seems like a diversion. Further, if the software doesn’t share data effectively with other commonly-used applications, then ideas and their supporting information will lack engagement. Lack of integration to core tools and applications becomes a stumbling block for adoption.
Another factor to consider is continuity. Idea management solutions often become platforms for sporadic innovation events that lack engagement and continuity. When users don’t regularly engage in innovation activities, they have less incentive to learn the idea management interface, and rarely visit the application unless they are in the middle of a campaign. When the application receives few, infrequent visits, ideas will not be enriched or incubated, and each visit will require a learning curve for the participants, creating less incentive to participate.
Which factors drive greater success when using idea management? Several we’ve discussed in this article include:
1. Teamwork based on easy access to ideas
2. Processes and mechanisms to enrich, incubate, evaluate, and prioritize ideas
3. Providing information to improve decision making and the implementation of ideas
4. Integrating the idea management solution in the tools and processes people are already familiar with These factors will improve the use and adoption of idea management, and will enhance the value of ideas.
Originally published in Innovation Leaders Pointer - November 2019
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash