10 Questions about Innovation Management

By: Hutch Carpenter | March 9, 2012

In a recent edition of Product Management Talk radio, I had the opportunity to speak on the topic, Expanding the Innovation Pie, along with Prabhakar Gopalan,corporate strategist at Dell. The show lasted an hour, and will be available as a podcast.

In preparation for the show, host Cindy Solomonasked me to answer ten questions about innovation management. Those questions, and my answers, are included below.

Q1. What is the “customer job” (Clay Christensen sense) that needs to be filled by innovation management software?

When I seek innovations for organic growth, streamlining operations and customer engagement, I want to leverage the full cognitive diversity of my organization.

Note, for information on customer jobs, see here: http://www.therewiredgroup.com/jobs-to-be-done/”

Q2. Which employees are “right” for participating in the innovation process?

Those who can think.

Really, there is no stereotypical right employee. We™ve seen innovation communities involving highly educated professionals, and communities with in-store retail staff. Both get results.

Q3. How do you find high potential ideas from high volumes of them?

Three keys:

  1. Ask the right question of the community at the outset
  2. Scale the effort to find high potential ideas with the help of the crowd
  3. Employ experts to find high potential ideas in their domain

This graphic from a previous post illustrates the point:

Q4. What are some models for engaging employees in a process that falls outside their “day jobs”?

Multiple ways:

  1. Intrinsic motivation: This idea will help me do my job.
  2. Burnish credentials: Success in the innovation program reflects well on the employee.
  3. Part of their annual review: I recently came across a company that makes participation in the innovation program part of the annual bonus structure.
  4. Prizes for participation and top ideas: Prizes can vary from smaller scale (e.j. Amazon gift cards) to career-altering (e.g. internal VC fund for your idea).
  5. Game mechanics: Some employees really get into the game mechanics. A particular favorite is the Spigit system™s reputation score. It™s based on the feedback your submissions receive, and can be a source of friendly competition.

Q5. Isn’t this a popularity contest for ideas, and what company would operate that way?

Popularity, as in, an idea struck a nerve with front line employees and management is going to ignore it?

On the crowdsourcing front, think in terms of three insights being sourced. Ideasrepresent a pain point, or an opportunity someone has spotted. Commentsare the refinements to an idea, as well as the supporting context and clarifying questions. Votesare the judgment of individuals.

Crowdsourcing taps the cognitive diversity of your employees to identify high potential concepts sourced beyond the usual suspects.

Q6. What does it mean to “evaluate” an idea?

At the front end, the crowd is great for sourcing and identifying high potential ideas. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they automatically become projects. As Don Norman wrote:

Products enter into a complex eco-system, both within and outside of the company. Successful products have to navigate a complex path. The idea and initial design is only one piece of the story.

Part of the winnowing process for ideas is to have experts from different realms look at them, after the crowd has. Most ideas will require the scarce resources of an organization, and the evaluation phase is part of that allocation process. Evaluation includes rating the idea on different criteria, approvals and structured questionnaires.

Organizations need a way to move ideas forward after those with the most potential as identified. Otherwise, innovation programs risk falling off a cliff.

Evaluation also serves another sneaky purpose. It creates buy-in from those entrusted to do the evaluation.

Q7. How to say ‘no’ to an idea, and not discourage future participation?

Provide two elements in the feedback: (i) What is potentially interesting in the idea; (ii) Why the idea cannot be accepted. For employees, this feedback is valuable to plug into what makes innovation tick inside the organization.

An important element of participation is not to overly focus on generating ideas. Yeah, that sounds funny. But in the Spigit system, quality commenting is highly valued. Systematically, comments are part your reputation score, and virtual currency can be awarded for comments.

Q8. What are some best practices for running an employee innovation program?

Focus: Focus efforts on a particular challenge. Challenges are terrific for eliciting tucked away ideas people have had.

Marketing: The best campaigns are marketed to the internal organization. It raises awareness and creates an event feel. Efforts can include newsletters, special emails, posters around the building, videos, branding, etc.

Clearly defined outcomes: Before the innovation campaign starts, know how it™s going to end. Participants should have a clear understanding of selection bases and what happens with selected ideas.

Q9. What about expanding beyond employees, and bringing customers directly into the innovation process?

Incredibly valuable to get customers™ perspectives. After all, they (i) know their needs better than you do; and (ii) are a source of potentially valuable ideas.

The important thing here is to be ready to handle the ideas from customers. Before you ever set up an innovation platform for customers, you should think through these items:

  1. What sort of ideas you are seeking
  2. How to engage the community
  3. How ideas will be evaluated internally
  4. How to manage ideas that (i) are accepted; (ii) are not accepted
  5. Who will own ideas that are accepted

Q10. Where does a crowdsourced innovation management platform fit within the enterprise software ecosystem?

Innovation management is carving out a new category of enterprise software. It™s predecessors are the suggestion box and email account to which ideas are sent. It™s part of the broader social movement sweeping through organizations, but also includes elements of evaluation and workflow. The back end of an innovation management system is tied to project management and portfolio management.