Businesses today understand that ideas and innovation are the way to develop new products and processes. This leads them to leapfrog the competition. The term idea management is fuzzy and non-specific and is sometimes confused with innovation management. With a lack of understanding, idea management can be accused of not being action-focussed enough.
What is idea management?
Idea management is the process of deliberately collecting, understanding, and improving ideas. These are insights that will have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line. This involves implementing strategy, processes and measurement.
As a result, without this process, ideas can circulate without actionable next steps. If left to the normal course of business, insights can get lost. Consequently, this makes idea management a worthwhile investment.
Ideas come from different areas of a business. For example, these can be customer feedback, product suggestions, staff suggestions (employee engagement), or from innovation workshops. Idea management seeks to capture insights from both internal and external stakeholders. For this reason, it is best used when built into a systematic framework that analyzes, and prioritizes idea enhancement.
Why is idea management important?
Every improvement starts with an acknowledgement that the old method can be improved. This could involve doing things better, faster, or at less cost.
For organizations to increase the probability of succeeding in innovation, the natural way is to create a system. This system governs the manner in which they collect, analyze and action ideas. This is because ideas are only a first step.
Yet it is a step which cannot be skipped if you want to develop a successful product. Companies cannot create a schedule to come up with an idea for a new product. Creativity cannot be programmed. Therefore, a structured process is the best way to capture it.
Many organizations are only able to implement a small percentage of the ideas they generate. As a result, it is best to have a system which does not let any good ideas slip through the cracks. The challenges to good ideas are already many. Think of ideators being disconnected from the decision-makers, or decision-makers having other priorities.
Idea management strategies
Idea management, by the very creative nature of ideas, needs a strategy to bring the ideas down to earth. It is best to have practical and actionable next steps. It needs a strategy in the same way as any other product development process.
For best results, a company needs a high level plan to achieve and capture goals into something that can be worked on. Aligning important strategies like innovation and idea management is a crucial part of this success. Idea management cannot be left outside of central activities.
Businesses are advised to treat all business strategies as interconnected and equally important and valid. These strategies should be related and should rely on each other.
Idea management processes
It is crucial for ideation success to have a systematic and deliberate idea management strategy. Making decisions consistent with your objectives and outcomes becomes easier. Timelines become concrete and mandates become firm.
The best idea management processes create a democratic set of rules that make the process transparent and understandable for everyone.
Common idea management processes
All idea management processes must follow a similar pattern. Ideas are collected, then they are discussed, polished, and weighed up. Then, a decision is made on which idea to put forward. Some common forms of idea management processes are below:
- Limited-time campaigns
Limited-time campaigns allow companies to experiment and gather experience on ideation and idea management. In-house idea challenges are a good way to start this process. This way you can iterate and roll out tools and try to drive results quickly.
- Continuous idea management processes
This is a way of perpetually working on set strategic goals. This might mean continually making small changes to process or products to realize incremental wins. Products that benefit from this approach are ones which have many new versions.
- Centralized idea management processes
This is mostly for small to medium-sized organizations. The ideation process spans the entire organization. Everyone has sight of the ideas and everyone knows how they will change and affect the company.
- Decentralized idea management processes
Some organizations prefer to run a decentralized idea management process where different departments get to run their own idea management.
This is because the ideation needs of large organizations are so diverse. Typically large organizations will run limited-time and continuous processes as well as decentralized processes all at once.
Managing your idea portfolio
Not all ideas will turn out to be a success. Companies can reduce that risk by adopting a portfolio approach. This is the process of hedging your bets on multiple promising ideas so that your chances of success do not rely on one product. You can even make strategic investments in individual ideas that are riskier, but could have a greater benefit down the line.
Measuring the idea management process
Like any process, you need to find a way to make sure that it is working for you. Companies need to answer questions like: Which parts of the process are working? Which parts are not? Are there any repeated drawbacks or bottlenecks?
Some telltale signs could be that ideas get abandoned at a certain stage. Approvals could take too long. It’s very important to not only know what is in the funnel but also how long it stays there. This will give you an idea of how quickly new products will be born and how many ideas eventually succeed.
Idea management is a great way to harness product ideas across the business. They can come from anywhere in an organization. But talk is cheap, as they say, and idea management is the best method to bring some of the many good ideas to life.