Employee ideas are the backbone of any corporate innovation initiative, and therefore a strong idea generation process that can be scaled across your organization is key. Your employees’ ideas have the potential to have long term impact on your business, leading to new products, services, and processes – and ultimately providing you with a killer competitive edge. So, the process itself must be carefully tailored to your organization’s culture, needs, and fit seamlessly within your business to ensure employee adoption.
In today’s blog we will define the key steps that should be included within an effective idea generation process to maximize idea submissions, engagement, and eventually implementation.
Defining Your Idea Generation Process
The key steps in a traditional idea generation process follow a set path; submission, collaboration, evaluation, and implementation. However, there are various approaches for each step of the process which can be chosen based on what is best for your business and employees.
Arguably the submission phase is the most important step of the process. This is where your employees will submit their ideas and kick off the innovation process. During this step it is important to make the process as engaging as possible, as well as align it to your overall business goals.
Asking the Right Questions
Before the digital age, ideas were mostly shared through physical suggestion boxes. Often these were under used and under promoted, rarely achieving large-scale innovation due to a lack of structure and focus.
Ideation is most successful when it is focused on the challenges that your organization is facing and/or around your business goals and strategy. Asking the right questions at the right time can provide you with the answers to overcome business challenges, and set you on the path towards achieving your business goals.
As well as deciding on the best topic for your organization to tackle, it is key to learn how to position your questions. If your idea challenge is very detailed and asks many specific questions, you will get less ideas, but they will be of higher quality. If your idea challenge is vague or lacking in detail, you may receive many ideas but of poorer quality.
Provide a Structure
Idea management tools are useful in providing a formal process for submission via an idea submission form. When this is properly communicated and promoted across the business, employees have an easily accessible way of sharing their ideas. One of the world’s most innovative companies Amazon, know the importance of providing a formal idea generation process (a PREFAQ) for their employees, so ‘they are empowered to seek out problems and build new solutions’.
This video describes Amazon’s approach to innovation and how they use their PR-FAQ format to think deeply about our customers’ needs, clarify customer benefits, and invent on their behalf.
With any formal process it is important to fine tune this to make the process as efficient and relevant to your business and its challenges as possible. Idea management tools allow you to customize your forms so that you can pinpoint exactly what you want from your employees’ ideas and maintain their focus.
Once an idea is submitted there is still a long way to go before it is implemented. An important part of the idea generation process is to have your employees collaborate to grow and shape an idea to boost its chance of implementation.
Shaping the Idea Through Discussion
Idea management tools facilitate online collaboration, which is especially important in today’s remote era. Not only do they have collaboration features such as commenting and voting, but these are gamified to push for engagement. For example, a point system can be set up for users to earn and (if the business chooses) win prizes for their collaborative efforts.
Comments can help guide an idea, and features such as voting can also be used as a ‘rule’ to predetermine whether an idea reaches the next step of the process. For instance, if an idea achieves over a certain number of up votes, it can automatically progress along the workflow.
Create Teams Around an idea
Another way to facilitate collaboration is to create teams with specifically chosen members who can work together to develop an idea (or indeed brainstorm for new ideas). Here you can select members who you think have the best experience and knowledge to form and develop the idea.
Innovative organizations provide ways for their employees to collaborate around ideas (even in Spongebob)
Once an idea has been collaborated on and developed, the next stage is to have the right people evaluate it to see whether it is viable for implementation. This involves sifting through the idea submissions to identify which are the most relevant and have a high chance of solving your challenge.
With an idea management tool, you can set up an ‘expert review’. On the Qmarkets’ Q-ideate platform, the expert review includes methods such as, ‘score card’ and ‘token voting’.
Usually, idea submissions will give you a rough ‘feeling’ on an idea’s value and how long it will take to implement, etc. Therefore, during the evaluation phase you want your experts to dive into the detail and make serious estimations on its potential. Functionality such as Qmarkets’ ‘expert review’ provide a crucial steppingstone for further analysis. It is likely that as you use these features, your submission question will expand into many more sub-questions so that you can get all the information you need to understand whether the idea is valuable.
Shark Tank /Judges Panel
For organizations that want to include gamification in the process, organizing a ‘shark tank’ event or judges panel can be an interactive and fun way of evaluating ideas.
A shark tank or judges panel involves your employee pitching their idea to a panel of company ‘experts’ whereby they evaluate its potential. With this your organization can set up internal events around ideation, helping to generate engagement and a culture of innovation, which has been proven to increase innovation success. One of our clients, a multinational food and drink corporation, took their shark tank event even further, and created a tv show to be screened internally, promoting the initiative, and giving their employees a unique incentive to get involved.
These idea evaluation events allow ideation to become more than just a data led process, but a fun way of promoting your innovation initiative to your employees and cultivating further engagement.
At this stage you will now have a shortlist of ideas that present real opportunity for your business and present solutions to your challenges. So is it time to dive even further into the idea and plan for its implementation.
Building a Business Case
At this stage, it is good practice to build a business case for the idea, to clearly outline what the it aims to achieve and why it is needed in business terms. Budgets, time, resources, and codependences will need to be considered, as well as a risk assessment to ensure thorough analysis. After which, you should now have everything you need to secure internal approval for turning your idea into a reality.
Proof of Concept
‘A proof of concept (POC) is an exercise in which work is focused on determining whether an idea can be turned into a reality (and) to verify that the idea will function as envisioned’.
Here organizations should create a prototype to test the idea’s functionality, design, and achievability, with an incubation period to help guide your company to full implementation.
The POC should give decision makers an insight what the idea will look like once fully implemented and deployed.
This graph shows a proof of concept framework that can be adopted when developing an idea.
Deploy and Expand
If the idea has been deemed viable and the prototype has been a success, the idea can be fully implemented. At this stage, a project management team will be required and the necessary departments such as R&D should be involved.
Here the idea will be tweaked, adjusted, and organically grow as it reaches more and more of the experts within your company. Once an idea has been deployed organizations should not see this as reason to stop improving on the idea! Innovation is a continuous process, and you may even want to reach out to your employees for more ideas on various aspects of the final product.
Which Approach is Right for My Company?
Ultimately, this idea generation process should only be seen as a rough guide, not a strict route. Every innovation initiative is different, and so it is important that the process is continuously adapted according to your unique requirements, audience, and objectives. For example if your topic is highly confidential, you might not want an open a discussion phase, or if you have a technical challenge you will need a much more detailed submission stage.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to idea generation, so it is critical to utilize a sophisticated innovation management platform that is flexible enough to continuously adapt to your evolving needs.