You launched an idea campaign. The results were fantastic. Lots of buzz around innovation and a boatload of creative energy floating around. A long list of ideas, with at least a few that seem to have real potential. What now?
From idea to implementation
The goal of an idea campaign is to get ideas out of the organization. That makes following up or acting on these ideas sometimes an afterthought. Something that is assumed to be a given, however, in our experience it is not.
If the organization’s innovation infrastructure includes a product-development group, then the follow up of an idea campaign is not a problem. Because there are employees whose task it is to come up with the next generation of products. In this case, an idea campaign brings a fresh wave of ideas to the product-development group.
However, the majority of companies, especially service organizations, don’t have a product-development group that can run with the ideas that came out of the campaign. The innovation infrastructure to do so is simply not there.
So what are you going to do with these ideas in that situation?
What needs to be done next?
Because there are still too many ideas and the ideas are too shallow to vet or prioritize at the end of the campaign, work needs to be done to elaborate on these ideas. Obviously you cannot explore all.
Voting mechanisms are rarely good at helping you identify the best ideas. The ideas that win the popular vote are often easy to understand, well-described ideas, that few people object against. They are good for the popular-vote prize, but they rarely present the best and brightest ideas.
Thus, what needs to be done?
- The ideas with potential need to be given more substance before you can evaluate them properly
- With the additional information, the ideas can go through a first vetting round to get ‘seed’ money to explore further
- Then they need to go through a second vetting round, to justify funding for the actual development
- Only then, these ideas are no longer ideas but fully fleshed out innovation projects that management can decide to invest in (or not)
The first two tasks of the list above are typically the most challenging. Not in the least, because there are still many ideas to vet and the ownership of these ideas is limited.
If you are assigning a small team to this task, they soon will become a bottleneck. A roadblock to the successful follow-up of the idea campaign. Simply, because the ideas are diverse and vetting each idea takes time, especially if you are not too familiar with the domain.
By the time this committee is done with the vetting, the buzz you created around innovation will have died.
So how can you vet all these ideas in a timely, effective, and efficient manner?
Instead of having a committee doing the follow-up work, it works better to put your employees to this task as well.
That is, invite the innovators you just created in your organization to also join you for the follow up. Enable those who want to see one of the generated ideas come to fruition to form teams and give these teams the means to further explore the idea. Their first task would to explain why they think the idea is worth exploring further and deserves seed funding.
Typically it are the domain experts, and not your business development people, who are interested in doing this follow up work. As such, you will have to give these employees guidance. You need to help them to know what they should be looking for and where to find relevant information, for example about the business potential of the idea. A workshop or (online) training can help these teams with asking and answering the right questions.
Using people in the field to further work out these ideas may seem expensive, ineffective, and inefficient. After all, they are not trained for this work and typically don’t have the necessary business acumen. And presumably, they have full-time jobs that the organization and your clients are paying for. So the opportunity costs for using this workforce to follow up on these ideas are high.
Yet, this is one of those cases that you need to be careful to be not pennywise and pound foolish. Indeed, using your talented employees to work out an innovative idea is using expensive manpower.
However, they are aware of the problem, they understand the domain, and in all likelihood, will also be the ones that will be using and perhaps even selling the solution to your (future) clients. So, they will prevent you from tossing out valuable ideas, because they were misunderstood. That is worth a lot.
In addition, you can see it as a personal development investment, in which you allow your talented domain experts to learn more about the business side of the organization while exploring an opportunity they are passionate about.
If you do so with guidance from a facilitator and/or under the supervision of your innovation manager, you make sure that the time these domain experts put in their innovation projects is spent wisely and has the highest yield.
What to do with ideas you cannot find a project lead for, who is willing to epxlore the idea further?
You could force a team on it, or hire outside expertise if you really want to make it happen. That is, however, often an expensive and risky proposition. As clearly, those ideas don’t have a lot of buy-in within the organization.
It may be difficult to accept, especially if these are ideas that management believes in, but it probably is better to let such ideas go. And accept, that if nobody stands up, the idea is simply not going to happen. Management can put out an extra incentive, but if truly none of your employees is interested, it indicates that the problem may not be as promising or urgent as you think it is.
Follow up after an idea campaign
So after an intensive campaign, you need to realize that you just have made a start. Now you need to give each idea more substance. If you want to do so in the true spirit of the idea campaign, then give your talented employees who have an interest in following up on an idea the opportunity to team up and do so.
With adequate support and guidance, they can vet your ideas in an efficient and effective way. In spite of being perhaps rather expensive labor for the task at hand. It is a great personal development opportunity for young talent.
Allow them to run with these ideas and bring them to a level that you can make well-informed go/no go decisions. From there on, you can decide what kind of team is best suited to develop the most promising projects further.