There’s only one thing in your organization that there’s no shortage of. And that's ideas.
The problem with these ideas is that their potential is too often unrealized, for a number of reasons, notably a lack of effective processes and inertia caused by an organization’s hierarchy or culture.
That's why we’ve created this guide. Whether you're just getting started with idea management or already know the ropes, this guide will help you to master the process of idea management and use it as a tool to drive innovation in your organization.
So let's take a closer look at the scope and components of a successful idea management program.
The term "idea management" refers to the systematic and structured collection, processing, and implementation of ideas within the domains of innovation and efficiency programs.
And as mentioned above, there’s usually no lack of ideas in any type of organization, small or large. Typically, what’s missing is the “systematic and structured” part of the process. Ideas might be flying all around the organization, but with no structured process in place, they might never reach the right people who have the authority to actually do something about them. Or they might get stuck in the backlog of your to-do list because new ideas might not be seen as a priority in the organization.
Idea management is one facet of innovation management. In other words, innovation management in general, and more specifically collaborative innovation management, are superordinate terms of idea management. Other components of organizations’ innovation ecosystems include technology and trend scouting, strategic foresight and road mapping, innovation partnering, and innovation portfolio management.
For many organizations, idea management is the only form of systematic and structured innovation management. In these organizations, the terms idea management and innovation management are often used interchangeably, adding to the general confusion about the term innovation. And those managing these programs are often called innovation managers.
In the context of collaborative innovation management, these two terms often mean the same thing. In other contexts, "ideation" usually only refers to the creative process of coming up with an idea. Within the innovation community, ideation’s wider definition also includes the process steps that follow on from the initial idea.
Idea campaigns (or idea challenges) take a time-bound, collaborative approach to topic-focused idea crowdsourcing to help managers find the right ideas at the right time. An idea campaign typically runs between two and four weeks, during which repeated updates and reminders drive the selected audience to submit and collaborate on ideas. The benefit of running an idea campaign or challenge is that strategic topics and a limited submission time create a sense of urgency that leads to more idea submissions.
Originally referring to a creative collaborative software coding event, today the term hackathon is widely applied to short-running live and virtual events lasting one or days. Typically, the goal of a hackathon is to collect as many diverse opinions on a topic as possible in order to find a creative and out-of-the-box solution or to come up with a new product or service.
Innovation challenges are usually longer than hackathons, typically lasting a week, a month or more. They might be carried out entirely online or in combination with live and in-person demos or other events. Innovation challenges are run to gather collective insights and diverse opinions to resolve a known issue, e.g., an efficiency issue along an assembly line, or to reach a strategic organizational goal.
These types of challenges are great for uncovering hidden insights and resolving issues capitalizing on the full range of expertise within an organization or from third parties like suppliers and customers.
These ideation campaigns, which are the equivalent of classic employee suggestion schemes, are always open for submission. A channel manager — or designated "caretaker" — is responsible for managing incoming submissions all the way through to implementation.
The key benefit of this type of campaign is that employees don’t have to wait for a specific occasion to share their thinking; they can submit their ideas as soon as they have them. And having a dedicated channel, tools and processes in place means that it’s easy for everyone to know where and how to put their ideas forward.
Rather than gathering ideas to resolve a specific issues, this type of idea campaign is designed to uncover smoldering issues or hidden expertise and underestimated talent within an organization.
Very similar to always-on campaigns, continuous improvement campaigns gather ideas for ongoing business improvements, such as a new sales approach or cost-saving and more efficient ways of working.
Pharmaceuticals company Merck, for example, has an old employee contract dating back to 1853 that includes a provision to give employees a monetary award for their ideas (find out more about idea management at Merck here). In Germany alone, the cost-saving ideas generated from Merck’s continuous improvement campaign saved the company €7.5 million in just one year.
For many organizations, idea management is the first step toward structured and scalable innovation management. The concept is straightforward: to solve a business challenge, crowdsource ideas from a wide group of people within and/or outside your organization.
Idea management also offers secondary benefits.
Once established and supported through dedicated idea management software, it's a means to reach out to employees and engage them in two-way communication.
A successful idea management program helps to create an inclusive organizational culture where employees feel empowered to have their say about the future of the organization. This type of program can become a statement that the company is always improving and evolving and that everyone can have a direct impact on that change.
Equally advantageous is the high degree of flexibility that idea management offers; like a Swiss army knife for a business challenge, you'll always find a tool to solve it. You can address all three horizons of your growth strategy (here’s an overview of the three horizons model) and you can run cost-saving campaigns when times are harder.
While the general concept is fairly straightforward, setting up idea management successfully for the long run can be challenging. You must get several key components right and there are a number of pitfalls to avoid.
The idea management process typically consists of the following phases:
As with any other campaign in any department in your organization, everything starts with identifying goals. Make sure that you’re very clear about what you’re trying to achieve and ensure that everyone involved in the campaign is fully aligned with these goals.
In this phase, contributors work on their ideas, individually or in teams, add relevant information, such as examples, experts, evidence, and calculations, and submit the ideas to the innovation team, on the idea management platform, or on another medium.
In this phase, contributors review other ideas and provide feedback. There is often a voting option too, where contributors can rate or "like" ideas. This “community” activity helps to mature ideas and enhance them with additional information.
During the evaluation phase, a team of reviewers, typically subject-matter experts or the innovation team, evaluates submissions based on pre-defined criteria. The evaluation method and criteria often vary from organization to organization, and even from idea campaign to idea campaign.
Sometimes, one idea is selected as the "winning" idea; sometimes, every relevant potential solution is moved into the conception and realization phase.
At this stage, the chosen ideas are moved into a new funnel that progresses them toward implementation. Depending on the specific idea, there will be various methods of approaching new projects, for example, running small-scale pilots and then rolling them out to everyone or implementing quick wins that don’t require significant resources and can be built and rolled out in one go.
Efficient and sustainable idea management programs that deliver tangible results need three key components from the outset — alignment, people, and process — even if your innovation program involves only a few stakeholders.
As the innovation ecosystem grows, the number of ideators increases, and your idea campaigns start to address more topics at the same time, technology, in the form of dedicated innovation management platforms, becomes a necessary fourth pillar for success.
Let's look at these key pillars in more detail.
Strategic alignment is essential to ensure the long-term success of your idea management program: If your program doesn't address the topics that are strategically important to the success of your company, it will be difficult to get everyone on board and engage them in the ideation process. These programs die quickly, especially in the face of any sort of crisis. However, if your program addresses important challenges and has clear goals, there’s a high chance that you’ll gather a lot of great ideas that people will feel invested in.
But that’s easier said than done. If your organization is just starting out with idea management, you’ll need to build trust over time, start small, and gradually gain your stakeholders’ attention.
Case in point: Liberty Global's, one of the world's leading converged video, broadband and communications companies, "Spark" program was created by founder of Riverstone Blue and former innovation manager at Liberty Global, Roel de Vries. When de Vries started at Liberty Global, he saw the lack of alignment as the company’s main challenge. However, he didn’t have access to senior management’s attention at that point. So he analyzed the company’s annual reports and public strategy documents and formulated an innovation strategy. He addressed the operational challenges and built the trust he needed over time.
"When just starting with idea management, I’d focus on improving current operations instead of fancy radical innovations. That’s because you often need to prove your value as a starting innovation team; that is possible by taking an idea completely into implementation and value creation. That’ll probably take you years with radical ideas, which would thus not convince skeptics on short term."
Roel de Vries, Founder of Riverstone Blue and former innovation manager at Liberty Global
Another crucial component of ideation is the people. Technology like AI and dedicated databases offers fantastic opportunities to uncover trends, technologies, companies, patents, and so on. But this is still a far cry from the human brain's creativity and ability to connect the dots in order to find solutions to existing challenges.
So for the foreseeable future, we'll still depend mainly on people when it comes to unearthing great ideas. And people require guidance and motivation if your idea management program is to be a success.
That’s why communication is everything. To communicate effectively, you must first understand your audience. You have to communicate differently depending on whether you’re running an idea campaign with your R&D team, the marketing team, all your employees, or even the public.
In each case, you'll need to answer the following basic questions:
When getting your stakeholders on board with your idea management program, it’s also important to consider your organization’s culture:
Let's take Swisslog, a globally active Swiss company specializing in integrated automation solutions for warehouses, distribution centers and hospitals, as an example. Mike Hatrick, an experienced innovator from the aerospace industry, became Swisslog’s innovation manager in 2011. After some initial small-scale enthusiasm, participation and engagement in Hatrick’s idea campaigns subsided. Mike had run a range of successful idea campaigns at his previous company, so what was different here?
Quite simply, the culture was just more skeptical for a number of reasons, including lack of transparency about the ideas process, the failure of management sponsors to engage employees, and campaign topics that were too challenging.
Mike Hatrick turned things around by analyzing the company's innovation culture and addressing the reasons behind the employees' overall skepticism.
The chart below shows the typical state of engagement among participants three months after the launch of their organization’s idea management program:
The second chart shows the level of engagement among Swisslog employees at the start of Mike’s Hatrick’s first idea campaign:
The third chart shows the dramatic increase in engagement after Hatrick relaunched his idea campaign after tackling the company’s communication issues and enhancing the innovation culture:
Getting communication right is also a great opportunity to shift a company’s culture toward collaborative participation. That's what most managers want to see, right? If you'd like to read the whole Swisslog story, download the Swisslog case study here.
Process is the third component. Expectation management is key if you want to get people engaged in your idea management program, and it’s vital that your process is part of that communication. The process must be transparent, clear and scalable. For example, everyone should be able to view the status of an idea and see who’s responsible for taking it forward.
Idea management processes will differ from organization to organization but, as noted above, the main phases of the process are usually very similar: goal setting, idea submission, collaboration, evaluation, selection and realization.
While using the right technology is beneficial at any stage of an idea management program, it becomes a crucial component as soon as your program starts to grow. Viima, for example, enables teams of up to 50 ideators to collaborate to run effective and efficient innovation campaigns.
If your program involves more than 500 stakeholders and you want to run a wide-ranging campaign (perhaps also involving people from outside of your organization), tools like HYPE Ideation become essential for keeping everyone aligned and running efficient campaigns.
What does success mean for you, for your boss, and for other stakeholders?
Who is responsible for realizing ideas?
What does the realization process look like and which preconditions will ideas have to meet to fit into this process?
Who is the budget holder? And so on.
From the outset, stakeholders and participants must have a clear understanding of what will happen to the ideas that have been selected. How, in terms of process, is value being generated?
Don't stop the process at selecting ideas. Make sure you have a clearly defined validation process. Your process might include agile, iterative phases or a more rigorous phase-gate process. This is where your stakeholders create business cases and predict the financial (or other) impact of ideas.
This will occur earlier or later in the process depending on the nature of the ideas you’re dealing with. Efficiency improvements can be quite easy to implement, or at least it's fairly clear what needs to happen, and may even happen straight after the selection of an idea.
Product ideas may have to be handed over to product management teams and project management software platforms.
Innovation ideas for future markets, services, or business relations may be much harder to implement and involve much more planning and input from different stakeholders. In these cases, detailed business plans are often required. In these cases in particular, it's even more important that everyone knows who’s responsible for what early on.
Innovation platforms are great for scaling your idea management program and maximizing its efficiency. Idea management programs are straightforward to run in a physical world, face-to-face, if only a small group of people are involved, but if you want to involve your entire organization and beyond (including partners, suppliers, and customers), you’ll need dedicated software.
Some companies try to get started using enterprise social software, such as SharePoint and HLC Connections (the former IBM Connections). While linking your innovation platform to this type of software can sometimes make sense in terms of enabling better visibility, the networks themselves don't include the much-needed specialized features for engagement and reporting.
Beyond scale and efficiency, an innovation platform can also become the "home" of your program. Over time, participants will associate the platform with continued change toward a culture of collaborative innovation and participation. Similar to a company’s website, it becomes the "virtual business card" of your innovation program, helping to enhance your innovation culture and internal branding, and turning your program into a long-term sustainable project.
The market for innovation platforms and tools is vast. You find smaller vendors with specialized tools for a specific scenario as well as holistic vendors addressing the entire innovation ecosystem. And different vendors focus their offer on software, consulting, or solutions (meaning strategic consulting and dedicated products for specific use cases).
However, in recent years, we’ve seen some market consolidation. Some of the bigger players began acquiring smaller players to add specialized tools to their suites of innovation software. HYPE, for example, acquired Viima among other companies, to add a quick and flexible alternative for ideation within teams and departments to its corporate-spanning HYPE Ideation platform — just one component of the HYPE Enterprise Suite supporting the entire innovation ecosystem.
While idea management is a great place to start on the innovation journey and is an easy principle understand, there’s a lot to consider before turning it into a successful innovation story. But there are so many great examples out there! And getting started, on a small scale initially, to gain some experience, isn’t difficult.
So go ahead and set the goals for your first idea campaign!
And if you’d like some professional support, reach out to HYPE’s team of innovation experts to help you create a scalable, easy-to-manage, and high-impact idea management program from the outset.
HYPE Ideation is an idea management software for collecting, evaluating, and identifying the most promising ideas.