What is Idea Management and How You Can do it

Everyone has ideas. The quality of these ideas and what you choose to do with them is another story. That’s where idea management comes in.
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In most businesses, idea management isn’t treated as a distinct concept. Instead, ideas come and go intuitively, without being captured, developed, and applied in any systematic way. 

Treating idea management as something you can practice and improve can unlock great benefits for your company. By bringing structure to your thinking processes, you get access to better ideas, develop them faster, and seek wider input from experts.

In this post, we’ll explain the basics when it comes to idea management. With our help, you’ll be able to get serious about how you innovate and implement your best ideas. 

Idea management: a quick definition

Idea management is the systematic process of generating, developing, and implementing ideas to push them to their fullest potential, generally using an idea management software.

This means having systems in place to: 

  • Source great ideas (either internally or externally)
  • Understand and refine problem definitions and development requirements
  • Evolve ideas step by step from an initial brainstorm to a pilot or proof of concept
  • Take these proofs of concept all the way through to a finished, functional product

Idea management is a core part of building a culture of innovation within your business. Not only can idea management contribute significantly to productivity and profitability, but it also leads to higher levels of staff engagement.

The problem with ad hoc idea management

You might be reading this thinking, “What’s wrong with our current processes for idea management? We’ve got whiteboards, we’ve got a filing system – what else do we need?” 

That’s understandable, as most businesses manage their ideas in an intuitive way, using ad hoc processes that evolve according to whoever is doing the thinking at the time. 

Let’s take a second to think about what this ad hoc approach looks like in practice. 

Depending on the part of the business an employee is in, and the nature of their role, their valuable ideas will (hopefully!) be captured and stored in a documentation of some kind. This includes memos, proposals, project specs, or other technical documentation. 

From there, these ideas are at the whim of whatever knowledge management system the business is using. This is the biggest risk with an ad hoc process: if an idea is simply written down and filed in some obscure place, it won’t be much good to anyone.

These undefined and unconnected processes mean that most businesses and organizations aren’t using their best ideas to their full potential. While they might hit a home run with a great idea every once in a while, there’s a lot more they could do to improve their chances. 

That’s why businesses need to structure and improve the way they generate, evaluate, and implement their most valuable ideas. 

Isn’t idea management the same as innovation management?

Idea management and innovation management are distinct but related processes. They might sound similar, but they’re separate concepts.

Even if you’re a regular reader of innovation blogs, it can be confusing to tell these two things apart! 

Here’s the difference:

  • Innovation management refers to the ways in which companies develop new concepts and suggestions that may benefit them. 
  • Idea management can include things beyond innovation. For example, businesses need a way to manage existing ideas, and to test whether they’re still fit-for-purpose. 

Managing innovation and ideas draws on related processes and methods, but these methods aren’t quite the same.

Innovation management software is different from idea management software. 

For example, let’s say you’re working on developing a product roadmap. With innovation management software, you could seek input from a pool of innovators on this roadmap and could channel the best new concepts to improve the working draft.

With idea management software, you could capture all of your existing thinking as it relates to the roadmap, and could examine and test this thinking to determine which ideas you should retain, and which may be outdated. 

Most ideas will fail – that’s why you need to get serious

Idea management is more than just brainstorming sessions for new products, or using a shared folder to collect and store suggestions for service improvements.

Being disciplined about ideation can do a lot to boost your capacity for innovation, and can help you make sure you’re getting the best possible ideas from your most talented people.

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Getting serious about idea management has some major benefits. Source: Unsplash

After all, statistics suggest most ideas for new products and services will fail. According to innovation specialist Mark Payne, the failure rate for innovations is around 90%

That’s a pretty sobering number for whoever is organizing the next whiteboarding session! 

This sky-high failure rate makes it crucial for businesses to put in the hard work developing and assessing ideas early on. Companies can save a lot of time and money by dedicating their resources only to the most promising concepts and suggestions.

That’s because most businesses only get to develop a very low percentage of their ideas. If you dedicated your resources to every bright idea you or your people had, you’d run out of money pretty soon. 

So, how should you manage ideas in your business? 

If this post has you feeling a little worried, don’t worry – it isn’t all doom and gloom!

Luckily, there are a lot of great solutions out there when it comes to the idea management process.

Just like there are plenty of different ways a company can generate new ideas (such as crowdsourcing, customer co-creation, open innovation, and innovation contests), there are also a lot of different software platforms to help you manage these ideas.

With dedicated idea management software, you can: 

  • Capture employee ideas in the necessary detail, no matter where they come from.
  • Test and develop these ideas against the core requirements and problem definition.
  • Progress the best ideas through to concept, pilot, and eventually product development. 

You also need a way to measure the overall performance of your idea management ecosystem. This includes setting and tracking KPIs like the number of new projects approved each quarter, and the percentage of revenue generated by recent products.

Idea management software can help with all of these things, and can generally make it faster, smoother, and easier to capture and develop your company’s best ideas. 

The benefits of dedicated idea management software

Some companies are able to progress their best ideas without a dedicated software solution. After all, businesses introduced world-changing products and services for centuries before software even existed! 

However, for modern businesses, it pays to have all the help you can get your hands on. Having dedicated idea management technology helps organizations at every step of the ideation process, and has a huge range of benefits.

#1) Faster and more efficient ideation & evaluation

Idea management software can speed up the ideation process by identifying blockages and bottlenecks in the thinking process. 

In fast-paced businesses, ideation often takes a backseat to more pressing daily demands – especially for managers and executive leadership. By automating and standardizing the ideation process, an idea management software makes it less likely for projects to stagnate. 

This software isn’t just helpful for the early stages of idea generation, either: it also makes idea evaluation faster and more efficient. This makes it easier for decision-makers to prioritize their best ideas, saving time, money, and effort.

Idea management software is also a lifesaver for project management, as it sets strict deadlines for input, sends automated reminders when these deadlines are approaching, and makes sure key tasks (such as problem definition) are completed on time.

#2) More diverse and divergent thinking

Even in businesses with a true depth of creativity and practical know-how, groupthink can still be a real risk. If employees or members of an organization get a little too comfortable with the status quo, they can lose their ability to contribute true aha moments. 

By guiding and prompting new and different ideas, idea management software can help businesses of all kinds to break out of this rut and drive innovation forward.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but having a more structured approach to ideation can encourage a more diverse and divergent range of thinking. 

#3) Easier collaboration and group input

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to effective ideation is knowing how to encourage people across different business units (and sometimes even across different businesses or organizations) to share ideas.

We’ve all been there: what starts off as a productive discussion between three or four people tends to spiral out of control as more and more people are asked to contribute. Without someone taking the reins, these kinds of projects can grind to a complete halt.

By structuring this kind of group input, idea management software makes it easier to collaborate across the business. The right software can also boost employee engagement by making the ideation process more compelling.

#4) Better knowledge management

Idea management software isn’t just great for engineering and product development – it’s also a lifesaver for whichever poor soul is in charge of knowledge management. 

By standardizing and automating the documentation involved with the ideation process, an idea management software makes it faster, easier, and more dependable to store and search for information. 

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Idea management software can really improve your knowledge management. Source: Unsplash

As anyone who has ever had to scour a stack of paper files can tell you, this is a big deal! 

This isn’t just a question of convenience, either. If a business has poor or inconsistent knowledge management practices, this makes it far more likely that its best ideas will be lost in the system.

#5) Neutralized stage fright

For some people, pitching an idea can be terrifying. No matter how great their instinct is, or how finely-honed their creativity is, they might still get stage fright when presenting to a group of people. 

This is where an idea management solution can be so helpful. By giving structure to the ideation process, and by automating a lot of traditionally face-to-face processes, software can make it easier for those thinkers who aren’t the best crowd performers to contribute their best work.

Trust us – somewhere in your organization, there’s a brilliant thinker who gets a little tongue-tied in group situations. Idea management software will help them unlock their potential.

#6) Ideation as a shared responsibility

The ideation process can always be a little tricky to navigate whenever someone takes too much ownership of a particular idea. 

We’ve all seen this happen in practice – someone is so convinced by their own proposal that they lose the ability to think objectively and take criticism from the group.

By providing a structure for the ideation process, idea management software can make it a lot easier to ask people for their contributions and to ask others to critique these contributions, without anyone becoming too personally attached. Essentially, it’s a release valve.

With a dedicated idea management system, you can commit yourself to the continuous improvement of the ideation process without worrying about whether you’ll be stepping on someone’s toes.

#7) A superior customer experience

This may be last in the list, but it’s a biggie: idea management software can ultimately help you contribute to better experiences for your fans and customers.

After all, you’re not just kicking around ideas for the fun of it. The end goal of the ideation exercise should be to have a feasible proposal for a product or service that will improve clients’ lives. 

By making your ideation processes more effective, efficient, and collaborative, idea management software is ultimately great news not only for you and your business but for your customers too. 

Taken together, these factors all add up to a significantly easier ideation process. 

How 3M and Cisco manage their ideation processes

Many of the world’s most innovative companies use idea management tools to help them generate new solutions to meet their business challenges. 

Let’s take a look at two great examples: 3M and Cisco Systems. 

How 3M uses idea management software 

Manufacturing giant 3M has always been ahead of the game when it comes to ideation and innovation. What else would you expect from the company responsible for the post-it note? 

Along with the company’s famous 15% innovation rule, 3M uses a bespoke technology platform to seek ideas from its employees at every level. This software classifies 46 technology types into four product management areas: materials, processes, capabilities, and applications. 

According to Gayle Schueller, Vice President of New Platforms, “3M’s technology platform helps guide efforts to maintain world-class knowledge and differentiated capabilities that advance specific products, services, processes, and business models.” 

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3M uses a bespoke software platform to help gather ideas. Source: 3M

In simple terms, this means it uses dedicated software to guide and structure its thinking about new products and customer experiences. 

How Cisco uses idea management software

Like 3M, technology leader Cisco Systems also uses a dedicated platform based on open-source technology to guide its ideation efforts. This platform not only encourages Cisco employees to contribute their best ideas – but it also seeks contributions from Cisco customers. 

Cisco organizes its idea management platform to reflect each step in the software development life-cycle. This means there are different steps for users to contribute ideas for the selection, customization, implementation, and ongoing support for Cisco’s software tools. 

This bespoke platform results in an ideation and innovation process that is tailored, efficient, and suited to the company’s particular needs.

Boost your innovation with idea management 

When it comes to accessing new ideas, the stakes are high. Most suggestions for new innovations will fail, and you need a way to make sure you source, develop and evaluate ideas in the best possible way.

Idea management is much more than just setting up a suggestion box and sitting back to wait for the ideas to pour in. It’s also more than leading a brainstorming session and taking a bunch of photos to be filed away somewhere nobody knows about.

Instead of sticking with an ad hoc approach, you should treat idea management as something you can define, structure, and improve over time.

This is where idea management software can be so helpful. With the right software solution, your company can benefit from: 

  • Faster and more efficient ideation
  • More diverse and divergent thinking
  • Easier collaboration and group input
  • Better knowledge management
  • Neutralized stage fright
  • Ideation as a shared responsibility
  • A superior customer experience

Idea management doesn’t have to cost the world, either. 

Rather than develop bespoke software solutions like innovation leaders 3M and Cisco, you can simply establish standardized systems for the way your company sources and develops ideas, and make sure everyone understands and participates with these systems. 

So, before you pull out the whiteboard one more time, think about how your company can get serious about idea management!