Updated: Jan 20
Idea management is an essential innovation process — especially in large, complex organizations. In this article we present the key principles that enable companies to ideate and innovate at scale.
To streamline and accelerate innovation, companies need to integrate flexible processes and leverage advanced idea management technologies. Regardless of the approach (build in-house or leverage a SaaS offering) a good ideation platform should connect in effective ways ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ of ideas — either within the boundaries of the organization or beyond (e.g., in an open innovation scenario).
In all cases, ‘ideators’ should be able to easily share their ideas at any point in time while ‘innovation consumers’ (all those who could benefit from ideas in the context of the organization e.g., product managers) should be able to easily discover ideas that match their context.
A good ideation platform should be ‘smart’ enough to diffuse ideas through the right channels, at the right time; to route each idea depending on its context and notify the right ‘innovation consumers’.
But what makes a good ideation platform? What are the key principles and the essential features? The following summarizes a set of principles that can help companies to implement the right idea management processes — either on top of commercial innovation management systems or based on in-house implementations.
1. Always Accessible
Modern organizations should be open to the element of surprise — they should be always ‘listening’ to high-potential ideas even if they don’t align with current strategies and priorities.
What if the ‘big idea’ comes out of context, from a non-participant or after the deadline?
People usually share their ideas through innovation activities and events — e.g., ideation contests, hackathons, brainstorming sessions, or ‘calls to innovate’ by the leadership. In such cases, ideas come with references to a specific context expressed in the form of problem statements or innovation themes.
In many cases though, ideas are conceived and shaped without a trigger or an ask: Great ideas can come as just-in-time discoveries, or conceptions of solutions not only to known but also to new problems. Although such ideas may seem less relevant or even disconnected from particular business goals, companies should pay the necessary attention and process them as potential opportunities: an out-of-context idea (one that is not aligned with the strategy of the company) could prove to be so powerful to set a new focus area, a new direction for the company.
People should feel encouraged to share ‘random’, crazy ideas at any time. A good ideation channel should be always-on; it should be able to effectively capture any idea and trigger the right activity — for instance, notify the most relevant teams, or invite the community of innovators for feedback and contribution.
2. Everlasting Ideas
The principle here is that ideas should not expire or get auto-archived — unless the originator wishes to withdraw them. Ideas should be considered always ‘active’, ready to be re-discovered by the right team, in the right context, at the right time. Instead of deleting or filtering out ideas to reduce the ‘noise’, innovation teams should prioritize them intelligently, against different business intents and timelines.
Many great ideas come ahead of their time; they should remain accessible and discoverable — to be reassessed in the right context, at the right time.
3. Simplicity over Bureaucracy
A modern ideation platform should accept and handle ideas, even if they come semi-structured or as plain text. Instead of discouraging ideators by asking for all the information up front, a modern ideation channel should be welcoming draft idea submission through a simple process.
Strict rules, rigid linear processes, and multiple checkpoints can slow-down or even kill innovation.
Ideators should feel empowered to submit their early, rough ideas and then use the tools and utilities offered by the platform to further model and refine them — possibly with the inputs of fellow innovators and stakeholders. Using Natural Language Processing components, a modern ideation system should be able to process unstructured text, extract the entities, and retrieve the context — which is then used to orchestrate the idea enrichment process and also to identify the right stakeholders that should become aware of the idea.
The ideation platform must provide full transparency regarding the underlying business rules and processes.
Transparency is the basis of a ‘healthy competition’ innovation culture.
Users should be able to access the detailed history of their ideas — including all the changes, decision points, contribution history, selection and prioritization actions, and other significant updates. Ideas should encapsulate their evolution — the detailed history of changes through a versioning system.
A great ideation platform maintains a growing corpus of interlinked ideas — as a special form of knowledge and a source of opportunities for the organization — and allows innovators to browse this ‘repository of potential opportunities’ in personalized ways.
Discoverability is much more than a good search engine.
Ideas should be seen and managed as a special form of knowledge. In an obvious scenario, ‘innovation consumers’ query the ‘corpus of ideas’ using natural language: search operations use semantic matching of ideas to user’s context — profile, business title, role in the company — to implicitly personalize the search experience and set the right focus.
In a more advanced scenario, a smart ideation platform may trigger idea suggestions autonomously. For instance, by connecting to existing product backlogs it can become ‘aware of the context of ongoing product development efforts and use this context to recommend highly relevant and fresh ideas to different product owners according to their development plans.
Moreover, a modern ideation platform should be using internal and external signals to empower a smart ‘idea discovery function’ — by regularly reassessing the relevance and the importance of the entire corpus of ideas against the current context of the organization and the state of the market.
6. Objective Assessment of Ideas
Idea assessment must be done by a diverse group of experts and according to a well-defined system of evaluation criteria — which are available to all.
All ideas must be objectively evaluated as potential ‘innovation opportunities’
Furthermore, a good idea management system should support ideation processes with optional, conditional anonymity, based on a time frame or other conditions. This would also allow ideators to ‘test’ their ‘crazy’ idea and capture authentic feedback — which is not influenced by the identity of the ideator — a great way to reduce the bias observed when the owner of the idea is known and influential in the organization.
7. Ideas are Interlinked
A graph of semantically interlinked ideas allows novelty estimation and synthesis of various ideas in solving a single problem.
Identifying how particular ideas relate to each other is essential — especially when ideation happens at scale. For instance, ideas may overlap (they solve the same problem in a similar way) or compete (they solve the same problem in a different way) or extend each other (they solve different aspects of the same problem).
When a new idea is submitted, specialized components analyze its similarity and its relationship against the entire corpus of ideas and guide the user to consider the best route — for instance, to merge, combine, split the idea or keep it is stand-alone as a ‘novel’ idea in the corpus. A graph of ideas — semantically linked. Source: The Innovation Mode
8. Collaboration, Team Formation, and a Community of Innovators
When the right innovation culture is there, ideas evolve and mature — they receive feedback and contributions from others. A good ideation channel promotes collaboration and provides the means to allow ideators to work together on ideas — through feedback or creative contributions.
A good ideation platform sets the basis for growing an active community of innovators.
As ideas mature, collaboration may need to become more formal — e.g. a team with the right skills might be needed to prototype or otherwise test the concept. In an ideal scenario, the ideation channel uses the ‘understanding’ of the idea and the knowledge of the organization and the innovation community to recommend the right colleagues as potential contributors — along with the tools to simplify and facilitate the communication among innovators.
9. Smart Notifications
Handling a high-potential, complex, business idea might require input from multiple stakeholders — for instance, the CPO, product managers, commercial experts, R&D technologists, and even legal experts if there are IP opportunities. A modern innovation management platform should be able to scan the hierarchy of the corporation, its inner structures, particular roles, and business profiles, in order to identify the right stakeholders for any given idea.
In large corporations, the identification of the right stakeholders could become complicated.
This way, when a new idea is submitted, the system can automatically raise personalized notifications to the right stakeholders or, when a user edits a new idea, it can recommend stakeholders to consider.
10. A Solid Measurement Framework
A good idea management platform must provide a solid measurement framework – the data-capturing methods along with accurate reporting and insights regarding multiple aspects of the ideation process.
Executives should be able to instantly obtain the state of the corpus of ideas — e.g., statistics describing ideas by topic and function, by status, quality level etc. Beyond the state of the corpus, a set of well-defined performance dashboards is also a must-have - to present levels of activity, idea submission rates, collaboration levels, feedback activity levels, idea conversion rates and more.
Modern ideation platforms need to be open, to expose functionality and data through APIs: ideas, process performance, business insights, and other aspects of the idea management function, need to be available for other corporate systems to query and use.
For example, a ‘smart’ corporate building -one that leverages sensors, equipment, and software to interact with people in it - could consume the ideation APIs, to power interactive scenarios with employees and teams. For instance, to retrieve the most recent ideation activities or the ‘ideators of the month’ and present them on specific connected screens in the office space.
In another example, content authoring tools query the ideation platform for ‘innovation activity summaries’ to be shared as part of a regular ‘innovation newsletter’.
In a gamification context, other corporate channels – such as the innovation portal or a team collaboration system – query the ideation platform for the latest ‘leader boards’ of top-performing innovators or the latest high-potential ideas or problems-worth solving – which are then communicated to a broader audience.
Corporate innovation needs a strong supply of high-quality ideas that feed into an effective ‘innovation opportunity discovery’ process.
Driving the supply of high-quality, high-potential ideas is not an easy task: it requires processes that are simple, inclusive, flexible, and objective; it needs effective communication to inspire people but also the methods to manage the risk of ‘internal disruption.’
While these can be covered by a modern innovation platform implementing the above principles, companies also need the right innovation culture along with a general organizational readiness to react to high-potential innovation opportunities.