đŸ”„ Recently Launched : AON, SHRM and Vantage Circle Partnered Annual Rewards and Recognition Report 2024-25
+

Idea Management: How to Create a Systematic Approach to Capturing Bright Ideas

7 min read   |  
Last Updated on
idea-management

Startups pride themselves on speed. Big companies take months to implement projects and small ones pivot as soon as there's a great idea. But as you scale a business there’s a risk of losing that dynamism.

Idea management enables big companies to capture great ideas where and when they occur. They can then systematically review them and decide if they’re worth turning into real projects.

What is idea management?

Idea management is more than just a box of suggestions or the occasional brainstorming session. It’s a set of practices carried out every day by everyone that builds a culture of innovation and better collaboration.

Some of the most valuable companies in the world prioritize good ideas from internal employees. Manufacturing company 3M encourages staff to spend 15% of their working day exploring new ideas. Google lets employees spend 20% of their week working on anything that might benefit the company. So far this has resulted in products like Gmail and AdSense.

Good idea management encourages input from a diverse range of backgrounds. This is good for morale and will improve employee retention, but it’s especially important as we start to see more of Gen Z in the workforce.

Let’s say a new member of your telesales team is researching VoIP phone systems on behalf of their manager. They spot a prediction from Gartner that 70% of customer experiences will involve machine learning in the next three years. It occurs to them that your company would need to implement an artificial intelligence sales system soon to keep up with that.

But aside from maybe scribbling that down in their notes for the manager to consider, they don’t feel it’s worth surfacing this big idea. They’re a junior member of staff. “What do I know?” they think. They forget about this fleeting notion, and three years later everyone has a machine learning system but you.

What could have gone differently? What’s the process for building a culture of people-powered innovation? How can you capture these vague but promising ideas and rapidly develop them into real projects?

People-Powered-Innovation-guest-post-1

Image source

There’s no set-in-stone process for idea management. In practice, it looks a lot like the Getting Things Done (GTD) method that individual team members might know already.

GTD is a five-step process for “stress-free productivity” that’s not about making time for work, but making more mental room. It does this by managing the flow of ideas and turning them into actionable projects. The five steps of GTD are Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. What GTD does for individuals, idea management can do for whole companies.

How could you create an idea management system?

Different companies work in different ways. You should allow the idea management process to adapt to your company as you break it in. In any case, it should look something like the following, mapped to the five steps of GTD.

Capture

As soon as you have an idea, write it down and forget about it.

One tenet of GTD is “your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”. For individuals, this avoids the stress of having to remember everything from that billion-dollar startup idea to buying milk. In idea management, this lets employees get on with their days knowing their ideas are stored away for later.

The most important thing is that writing ideas down should be as low-friction as possible. Ideas are fleeting. By the time you’ve gone through folders looking for the “ideas” document, you might have forgotten the crucial detail already.

Writing ideas down should be extremely quick but also extremely easy: if you have to go across the office for a post-it note, you might decide it can wait til you’re back at your desk. By the time you get there, you’ve been stopped by a colleague to talk about something and you’ve forgotten you even had an idea. Encourage staff to get ideas down however suits them, even if it means they’re typing a note into their phone in a meeting.

All that matters is that the ideas are all kept in one place. In GTD this is called the “inbox”, and it’s where ideas will begin their journey into becoming real projects.

Take a few minutes every week to look through this unsorted inbox of ideas and decide what to do with them. If it’s a quick job, email the relevant person about it. If it’s worth more consideration, it’s time to move to the Clarify stage.

Capture-Guest-Post

Image source

Clarify

This is where your system, whatever it is, must be strictly defined. All ideas should be evaluated with the same criteria, so they all need to follow the same format here. This way, your ideas will become successful and generate leads and sales for your business.

One easy way to handle this would be a Google Form. For example, you could have team members start with a 500-character summary of their idea. Then they could answer questions like the benefits, risks, and specific criteria for success.

The written format and its clear structure improve the quality of the suggestion and can help you differentiate ideas versus opportunities. Before meeting about a new idea, Amazon has people write a six-page memo for everyone to read in silence beforehand. This is partly to save time in the meeting, but it also forces people to think deeply about what’s being proposed.

Organize

At the Organize stage, we take these ideas and turn them into well-defined projects with clear “next actions”.

However you collect these proposals, you want to avoid a situation where people are writing ideas down only for them to gather dust. For your company, this might mean you’re running a monthly innovation meeting to discuss everything that’s been collected.

A good idea management process allows you to discuss ideas more objectively than you otherwise would. No personal attachments, no biases. It’s a good idea to keep proposals anonymous to everyone evaluating them.

You may use a cloud based communications system to run video calls or text messages about the proposals. Whatever you do, it’s a good idea to keep a written record of the ideas and the discussions you had about them. Over time, you’ll build up a useful archive for managers to refer back to. If you end up archiving an idea, file it away with notes on the discussion.

All proposals should be evaluated by the same criteria. Say you’re an eCommerce company and you’re reviewing an idea to implement online personalised recommendations. How are you going to evaluate that in a systematic way? And how can those criteria also evaluate an idea about how you’re building marketing emails? Aren’t they apples and oranges?

Look at the world of project management for models and criteria you could use. RAID analysis (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies) is a flexible one. Setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Frame) is a good habit to get people into.

In practical terms, there need to be clear answers about time and resources. What resources do you need and what will they cost? Is someone setting up a free io domain when they have a slow afternoon, or is this going to take serious budgeting and cost control? You should also have very clearly-defined criteria for success, whether that’s “X many signups” or “Y dollars per conversion”.

Guest-post-image-1

Image source

Ideas shouldn’t make it to this evaluation stage unless they’re detailed, well-thought-out proposals as defined by the input form. Despite that, some of them won’t be taken further. Maybe they’re not right for the company. Maybe they’re good ideas but ahead of their time, so they’ll be filed away in an archive which is reviewed once per quarter.

The relevant, viable ideas will stay. In the process of answering the questions above, the evaluators should be developing the proposals into real project plans with proposed timelines and resource requirements. This means they can be presented to senior management in great detail, but in a way that allows those time-poor managers to quickly decide whether the project should go ahead.

If a project gets the green light from senior decision-makers, it gets handed over to the team who’ll make it happen. The idea management process moves into its “Reflect” stage.

Reflect

In GTD “Reflect” just means regularly reviewing your projects to make sure everything is still relevant and up-to-date. At this point, your idea management system is overlapping with your day-to-day operations. Regardless, it’s good for the “idea management” team to stay in the loop and report the success of these projects to the rest of the company.

This lets you track the success of the idea management system. This will encourage more ideas, and the telesales colleague who suggested the AI system gets to see how her idea is benefitting the whole team. To encourage ideas, make sure you have some employee rewards for the best ones.

Engage

Hopefully, it won’t take long before your idea management system is turning out some great projects. But culture change takes time and patience. To keep track of your success rate even at the grassroots level, it may help to conduct workplace surveys every now and then. Treat idea management as a skill and keep looking for ways to improve the system as you go.

Think of the performance based marketing definition of success. Performance marketers pay every time a specific action is taken, like click-throughs to a landing page. This gets them good value for money. But it also lets them monitor how specific marketing efforts are performing and iterate accordingly.

Is there one right way?

Every company likes to think of itself as innovative. But without idea management, they’re going to leave a good idea lying around every day.

There’s no one way to do idea management - maybe yours will become the gold standard? - but now that you’ve seen an outline of the process you can try it out and find out what works for you.

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better team collaboration and customer relations with features such as the Dialpad small business phone system. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Here is her LinkedIn.

+
+
Book My 30-min Demo
Join us in driving a
Culture of Employee Appreciation Globally!
Discover
Vantage Rewards
Celebrating 2M+ Happy Corporate Employees
Elevating Company Culture Across
700+
companies

100+
countries
Know More
Not Interested
 

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Rewards and Recognition

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Rewards and Recognition