We’ve all been there. You’re quietly minding your own business and then suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, one creeps up on you setting your mind racing. Yes, brilliant ideas are unpredictable things, and so when you do have one it is vital to make the most of it. Sadly, for many firms the vast majority of this valuable input is either lost during an inefficient evaluation process or more likely doesn’t even leave that particular individual’s head.
With recent Brexit events, the importance of this process becomes ever greater. The one thing that we can be certain of is that there are a lot of 'Rumsfelds' out there, and the known unknowns will be taxing the minds of most organizations in coming weeks, or months. In order to successfully adapt to these challenges, firms will need to increase their points of influence, effectively capturing the thoughts, concerns or behaviours of their clients and competitors. Those firms that manage to construct an effective model to capture, funnel and filter the broadest possible range of information input will, almost certainly, be the most successful in adapting to the new reality of a Brexit market.
As an enlightened organization that wants to capture the thoughts of their extended workforce, how do you go about providing an effective communication and collection channel for new ideas? In the old days, this may well have been an ice cream tub with a slit cut in the top and 'Suggestion Box' scrawled on it, but actually there was something remarkably effective about that method. Everyone knew that this was how ideas were collected, they could be submitted anonymously, and there seemed to be a clear interest in actually listening to the team. In a modern working environment the corporate intranet provides a very good platform through which to capture these initial thoughts, but then they must be effectively channelled through a meaningful process. On top of this, it is also absolutely vital that organizations demonstrate the value attributed to any ideas submitted, in order to clearly demonstrate that they are being read, considered, and then potentially put into action. There is nothing more likely to kill the goodwill of your employees than appearing to ignore their views regarding what they think could be improved in your organization.
Remembering, and again demonstrating, that neither the senior management team, nor the product team sitting in an ivory tower, have a monopoly on good ideas, is a fundamental part of the improvement process. Individuals from across the organization, irrespective of their role, are perfectly capable of having a eureka moment, so it is vital to provide them with a recognized route through which their innovation can be channelled. Additionally, this will ensure that your product management process is fed with a much more rounded set of views, coming from different departments, divisions or regions, than would otherwise be the case. Given that the modern office can sometimes make it hard to retain that old anonymous approach, a recent enhancement across some product idea collection tools is the ability to effectively 'phone a friend' and get their opinion before the idea is submitted through the official portion of the system. These capabilities ensure that the idea is shown, with the requisite level of back-up information, to an individual’s trusted colleagues in the first instance. Those colleagues can then provide their feedback on whether the idea is brilliant, misguided, or perhaps needs a little more thought, before it is sent through to the management team. The confidence gained through this extra validation stage can be vital in ensuring that staff have the courage to be innovative, rather than fear being made to look foolish in front of their managers.
Once an idea is captured in the pipe, the essential next steps are to evaluate it and decide whether it should be acted upon, which provides organisations with a multitude of different possible approaches. In the first instance, there will always need to be some sort of filtering process, even if that is to effectively direct ideas to the right area for due consideration, rather than sifting any duds out. The second step would then be to rank it which, again, provides firms with a dilemma regarding how best to do this. Amongst the options are; simple consideration by one individual, a regular review by an innovation panel, a more inclusive voting session, or the 'gold coins' ranking mechanism whereby individuals are invited to allocate a proportion of their coins across a selection of different ideas. Some of the best product management solutions are now taking this process to the next level, by allowing management teams to compare their potential new products, along with enhancements to existing ones, in the light of the available budget (both human and financial). These tools are thereby allowing management teams to shuffle their options, ideally producing the best possible return on investment across the product portfolio, which is a far more effective outcome than relying on 'he who shouts loudest' which often dominates the process today.
A further concept that we have examined in our own work is whether an idea should be considered to be either 'revolutionary' or 'evolutionary'. In our definition, a revolutionary idea is something which needs to be carried out immediately, perhaps for competitive, regulatory, or even performance reasons, but it is an item that needs to be considered and implemented as quickly as possible. For those reasons an idea of this type should be channeled directly to the product management process flow, then looked at in this more urgent context or window of opportunity. On the other hand are the evolutionary ideas which, whilst they may be brilliant, do not have that critical time factor and so can be fed into a more considered evaluation model. For most product managers that probably means including these thoughts in your product plan, then working towards an annual review meeting where your overall needs and budget requests will be considered by the management team. By using these two distinct approaches, we have seen firms process their new ideas far more safely and effectively.
Last, but certainly not least, is the need to provide feedback. Which ideas are being used, why have they been considered the best, what were the reasons for not selecting others, and how are we thinking of bringing them to fruition? Ensuring that those who have raised ideas feel valued will make sure that the stream of ideas continues to flow, which can only be to the benefit of your team’s morale and your products’ performance. The alternative simply brings frustration and an incentive for your staff to move to other employers, who might be willing to listen to their brilliant ideas. So, in reality, the choice should not be a difficult one!