In 2011 I was part of an innovation/NPD task force whose sole objective was to understand and utilize the best ideation and innovation management tools available at the time. Toward the end of our effort we needed to decide on a platform to launch our ideation phase and involve a broad group of stakeholders. After weighing the pros and cons of various platforms we finally landed on BrightIdea. Our results were superb as we created practically overnight an online collaboration space with inputs coming from team members located across the globe.
Several weeks ago Matthew Greeley, CEO of BrightIdea and a subscriber to the Innovative Manager newsletter, reached out to me and suggested a post on innovation management platforms. It was perfect timing because I knew from personal experience how valuable these platforms can be and was planning to do a post on it at some point. What followed was an interesting email conversation we had about some of the important things to consider when choosing an innovation management platform. Below are my questions and Matthew’s answers in that conversation. Enjoy!
Q: Why do companies need an innovation management platform?
Across our 10 years as a company focused on innovation, we’ve explored why companies need to innovate more today. Many established companies are struggling to keep pace with an accelerating rate of change. As a result, companies needing to stay competitive in the market need to get better at innovation management, and our platform is designed to help achieve this. We see our offering as software for successfully managing an innovation program. As innovation programs form, they meet an accelerating rate of change, and need the tools to help establish this.
Q: How do you ensure employees engage in the platform and not leave it alone as a virtual ghost town?
The key to sustained engagement and driving outcomes is really getting the relationship right between the Innovation Program and the Challenge Sponsors. If you’re crowdsourcing to solve key challenges faced by your business unit stakeholders, your program will be more aligned with their business needs. This pushes engagement, and follow-through on the ideas to driving those outcomes. Just getting that relationship right cascades down through the business. People will know they’re working on something relevant, and they will be motivated to come up with a solution, and have a huge incentive to follow-through. With this approach, you’re acting in support of the business unit, so this keeps your program from going off the rails.
Q: How does an innovation pipeline management software suite integrate with my existing business workflows like Agile development (kanban), lean or stage-gate?
We see many different flavors of workflow processes at companies. Sometimes companies are crowdsourcing with the Brightidea platform at the front end, identifying the best ideas, and then the ideas get handed off into a portfolio management system to execute. We have full end-to-end capabilities within the Brightidea platform, so if you don’t have a separate system for tracking issues and outcomes, you can leverage our platform.
Q: How is IP and security handled given that my company’s best ideas might now be located on someone else’s server?
People are embracing the cloud and there is a list of certifications you can get, and audits you can have several times a year. Companies like Salesforce and Zendesk have set the standard for cloud-hosting IP. The cost of hosting on-premise is prohibitive, and as such, more companies are looking to move to the cloud.
Q: How does an organization decide who should be users/contributors in the platform?
There are three major pools of users: employees, customers, and partners or suppliers. For any given Challenge, you can choose the audience most relevant to invite and participate. It’s important to look at your audience broadly. You definitely want to go wider than the people who would typically help you solve a problem. It’s the benchmark of crowdsourcing – unexpected insights from other places and people. That said, you wouldn’t necessarily invite Sales to solve a highly technical problem. Essentially, the takeaway is not to be bound by business siloes. Often times, the best solutions arise across teams and business units, and the most unique ideas within your innovation program come from outside where you’d expect.
Q: I would worry this could lead to an endless number of ideas and make the organization lose focus, is that a problem or are there ways to mitigate this?
Yes, some companies have an open suggestion box where they collect all ideas, but we don’t recommend starting there. You’re not just collecting ideas for the sake of collecting ideas; you’re trying to drive impactful innovation that’s relevant to the business. We suggest starting your innovation program with very targeted time-boxed Challenges focused on pressing needs as driven by the business unit stakeholders. Our program management software provides a whole set of tools designed to prioritize those ideas through multiple rounds with key stakeholders in order to find the best ideas, and then implement them.
The targeted time-boxed Challenges are a really powerful way to get started. They help you learn how the innovation program management tools work and then as you mature, you can move on to external Challenges or ongoing Challenges.
Q: Can the product be used to test concepts with potential customers as well or is it limited to employees?
Depending on the type of idea, there are innovation processes where customer input is vital. For example, one of our customers, SAP, has an innovation program where customers around the world initiate the product enhancement requests at ideas.sap.com, and then vote and collaborate on the ideas.
Another instance is with co-creation portals where you may be building products inside the business, and at certain points, you push those ideas out to your key customers and ask questions for feedback, like “Are we on the right path?” and “Is this a good price point?” Throughout the development process, you’re truly engaging at key points with customers and determining if the demand is there. This is something that Quirky has pioneered in the consumer space. Quirky gets ideas from the consumer, and they use the crowd to vote and answer key questions on price, color, and more. You can accomplish this similarly with your own innovation program management platform using Brightidea.
Q: What is the role of the key decision makers in using the software? How are they engaged and in what manner?
Key decision makers essentially identify the Challenge that you, as the innovation program manager, need be working on for the business. They’re typically the subject matter experts for a particular Challenge. They use collaborative management tools like Ratings, Scorecards, and Stack Ranking for multiple rounds in refining thoseideas. The subject matter experts use stronger and stronger tools to manage those ideas through the pipeline, and present the most promising candidates for solving the Challenge.
Q: What steps does an organization usually need to take in order to successfully get an innovation management program off the ground?
It’s not easy to launch a successful program. Over 60% of programs lose their funding within the first 3 years because they weren’t able to show measurable outcomes from the innovation program. We’ve developed our Innovation Program Starter Kit, which is everything you need to get up and running an innovation program successfully – for instance, providing the roles you need to build, placing the objectives you should target the first year, setting up the innovation management software, and running a few Challenges to ensure you have outcomes. Customers that leverage our Starter Kit have a 300% higher chance of showing reportable outcomes in their first year with the program.
Q: What are the typical mistakes business leaders make when implementing an innovation management platform in their business and how can we avoid them?
If you make innovation everyone’s job, you make it no one’s job. This is why we recommend setting up dedicated innovation teams and programs. Proper dedicated resources are key here and, typically, we recommend 3-5 people. That’s still a drop in the bucket for shifting the mindset and culture of an organization that is 5,000 to 10,000 people.
Another mistake organizations can make with their innovation program is trying to do too much. A Boston Consulting Group Senior Partner recently said, “Too many companies want to shoot for the moon while their innovation programs are barely airborne.” Trying to do too much innovation all at once can lead to falling short on outcomes. We recommend focusing on quick wins early to build trust and traction.
Lastly, make sure your program is aligned with the business. You need to actively seek out business leaders and solicit their input on what problems are important to solve. Only by doing this will you crowdsource ideas that are relevant to them and be implemented by the business.
Q: What’s your take on prediction markets, does every company need one in order to forecast success?
Prediction markets have not yet found their sweet spot in the innovation program management process. Some vendors push them to create differentiation, but we haven’t invested too heavily into it because we haven’t found the product market fit. Prediction markets will become more relevant in the future as they become centered around very key questions, but the challenge is that the level of time and effort is high to run a market and get valuable results.
Q: How does Brightidea encourage innovation in a company?
Companies are doing a lot of different things to stimulate innovation – setting up accelerators, big companies work with startups, lean startups, design thinking, hackathons, customer insights – many of them are relevant, but not all are scalable. We’ve found that crowdsourcing has the highest leverage. You might have a small team of 3-5 people, and crowdsourcing gives them bionic arms where they can touch a large number of people, pull in those people to this process and get them thinking creatively. When it comes to what innovation leaders really need, it’s something that helps them get quick wins, scale their impact and have measurable outcomes. Crowdsourcing and collaborative innovation programs are the best way to get them this power.
Q: Where is innovation headed?
We have this concept called the “Innovation Grid”. It envisions a time where people collaborate seamlessly on their ideas together, and no idea gets wasted. Ideas will become increasingly important for the future. Einstein famously said, “Success is 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration.” Now that we can build things so efficiently – with 3D printers and on-demand manufacturing capabilities – this 2% inspiration is growing because the key question instead becomes “What should we build?”
As ideas grow in importance over time, getting that production line of ideas streamlined, and pulling people across the web for ideas also becomes increasingly important. When we talk about the Innovation Grid – it’s like a power grid where when you have a surplus of ideas, you can push them onto the grid and make money from them. If you need ideas, you can pull power off the grid. To make that grid work, we’re going to have marketplaces, reputation systems, and ways to facilitate the exchange of intellectual property and patents that are more streamlined than today. I believe we’ll have a more fluid economy of ideas, and as a result, we’ll create new jobs and individuals will be able to make a living by selling the product of their intellectual offering.
We encourage readers to reach out with any questions they may have about innovation program management. To learn more about our recently launched Jump Start Package, visit http://www.brightidea.com/ and follow us @BrightideaHQ.