Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How To Choose An Idea Management System: Follow The 'Why-What-What-Which'

Which of the 44 Idea Management Software Systems would be best for your organization?

Someone contacted me recently to ask this question. She had produced a sensible list of requirements for an Idea Management System, but all of the software solutions in the list seemed to meet those requirements! It was difficult to evaluate and select a preferred option.

To implement the best Idea Management System for your organization's needs, I suggest a 4-step process that I call the 'Why-What-What-Which.'

1. Why?

First, begin by asking why your organisation is innovating. Consider the 4 drivers for innovation, and ask: exactly why is it your organisation seeks to innovate? Is it to improve revenue growth, to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, to improve competitive differentiation and positioning, or to remain relevant in a changing competitive landscape?

The more strongly you can answer the why question, the more strongly you will be able to engage internal resources in the change, and the more strongly you will be able to focus your selection process to meet your organization's real needs.

Take care to consider if the mandate for innovation is in response to a short term problem, or responding to a longer term structural shift in your market. Sometimes there might be a real difference between the two, and being clear about which it is can help the decision making process and assist in developing infrastructure that will continue to benefit the needs of your organization in the long term.

2. What? (what will it do?)

Once you are clear about the reasons you are innovating - and the reasons that an Idea Management System will help address these needs - then it is time to get specific about what will your Idea Management System do to help achieve those objectives?

One way you could explore this is to step in to the future ... if you could wave a magic wand and the perfect Idea Management System for your organization was already operating and producing ideal results, what would you see? What would it accomplish?

To get the most out of this exercise, get specific! For example -

  • What are the benefits - for example in terms of revenue from new products and services, in cost efficiencies, or in terms of other metrics? 
  • How many ideas are being put in to action each year or quarter or month? 
  • What kinds of new products or services or changes are being generated, and what is the commercial return on those ideas? 
  • Where do these new ideas come from - which parts of the organization, from which roles and responsibilities? Who is contributing, and how? 
  • What kind of ideas are they? 
  • How are people working together, what kind of activities are taking place to take place to generate and capture great ideas, evaluate them, and select and implement the best ones? 
  • How does everybody feel about the system, what kind of difference has it made? 
  • What new capabilities will you have? 
  • How is the system affecting different aspects of your business, for example your strategic planning, competitive positioning, and your brand?

Think about how the organization will be different as an result of implementing the ideal Idea Management System, and how this will address the mandate for innovation from stage 1.

3. What? (what has to happen?)

The next stage is to ask: what has to happen in order to achieve these objectives? What systems and processes and activities are needed? How will the Idea Management System achieve these results?

This stage is about exploring and defining the system, processes, roles and other aspects that are required to achieve the objectives.

For example, the best ideas may need to be financed and managed through to commercialization. It may be appropriate to start thinking about how your innovation project portfolio are going to be financed.

Similarly, which roles and responsibilities will be required in order to fulfil your innovation goals? Who needs to take responsibility and ownership for the system at the leadership level and at the management level in order to achieve the benefits? What role should subject matter experts play in developing or evaluating ideas?

It is also important at this stage to 'know thyself'. What are the specifics about your organization, such as your culture, processes, and capability strengths that define the context in which the Idea Management System will be implemented in? For example, is your organization highly process driven? Does your organization support a culture of creativity?

I suggest you do this before entering in to discussion with or engaging a software vendor, so that you explore this independently first without being influenced by a company biased towards a particular architecture, approach, or solution.

4. Which?

Finally, you are well positioned to begin to draw your list of requirements for an Idea Management Software solution - and to begin discussions with Idea Management Software vendors to test and extend your thinking as well as to ultimately select a software solution.

In thinking through your requirements, it may be useful to

  • become specific about technology and systems integration issues. If you have other software systems your Idea Management System will need to integrate with, articulate these requirements here. Some technologies may be more future proof than others, so it may be appropriate to be concerned about the technology platform the software solution is based on.
  • focus on the whole idea management lifecycle. What has to happen after ideas are generated and selected, and how do software solutions assist with that?
  • compare and contrast vendor Idea Management software solutions with alternatives, such as building a bespoke solution, or building Idea Management solutions into existing corporate infrastructure such as Sharepoint.

By clarifying why you need to implement an Idea Management System, what you expect it to do, and how it achieves those objectives (what systems and processes are needed) before you engage in a process to select which technology you use, you are positioned to make clearer and more effective decisions during your technology selection process.

Is this process useful for you? Let me know by leaving a comment!


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I share many of your views. My experience is that careful moderation is key to successful ideation.

Few organizations lack ideas, but are unexperienced in brainstorming around them. Hence, the role of the moderator.

I have experience with MillionBrains (, but there are other platforms available.

Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon said...

Hello Frode,

It's great to see you here, I agree, the role of moderation and the processes of evaluation and selection are critical.



John Gabrick said...

This is a very good article about how to select the best idea management platform. I'd add that you need to consider how you will measure the performance of your system, such as ROI, participation, or throughput. This is important because you will ultimately have to justify the results of your system and your organization's commitment to innovation. When thinking about how to measure your system, it's helpful to think about making an executive presentation one year after the system has been operating. What sorts of metrics would your executive team expect to see, and does it match what the innovation team is measuring. Finally, when making a selection, consider the expertise of the organization that will be helping you. Do they just install the system and leave, or will they work with your team to make sure that all of your workflows, processes, and cultural nuances are factored into the system. An organization that has had experience in creating innovation success can bring you best
practices and suggestions for making your innovation program a concrete pillar of your company's strategic and competitive success.

Read this white paper for more on this subject:
Three Learning Phases of Innovation