Idea Management: Driving results with “Events” and Web 2.0-Style Features

In my overview to CorasWorks Idea Management solution for SharePoint, I touched on our support for custom-tailored, event-driven idea communities, such as Campaigns and Challenges.  In this article, I’ll drill down into what these are and how this approach to idea management complemented by the new Web 2.0-style feature sets drive improved effectiveness.

Most people I talk to about Idea Management initially bring a mindset that is based upon the “Suggestion Box”.  In this classic approach, you have a passive email inbox, form or community for people to enter ideas.  It is passive.  If people have an idea and remember how to share it properly – they contribute.  Its a start…

However, the studies over the last 10 years have shown that proactive, event-driven approaches to idea generation and capture are much more effective.  The event-driven approach involves having specific-purpose, time-constrained “events” for outreach to your community.  Here are three examples:

  • You want ideas for new features of an existing product.  You will have a campaign for 60 days to get ideas.  Then, you begin your formal review process by a smaller team.
  • You are working on a global application for product management.  Instead of meetings, you launch a challenge for 30 days to have all interested parties enter their requirements, and collaborate, vet, horse trade.  Then, you take what you have and work up the requirements.
  • You have a particular manufacturing process that is broken and needs improvement.  You run a two week challenge to get ideas and collaborate on them. 

The key change up here is that rather than being passive and general, you are taking specific business problems and objectives to your community – be it employees, vendors, partners, customers, constituents, or the general public.  You are leveraging your workforce to meet specific objectives, within a specific timeframe.

Further, now with the new feature set of Web 2.0-style communities, you have the opportunity to really drive participation and collaboration with rewards, visibility, peer feedback and collaboration, process updates, fame, and focus.  These features appeal to the fact that we are all human (in addition to being worker bees) – a little competition, fame, reward, and knowing that something is important right now – helps motivate us to participate and do so in a quality way. 

To provide some structure and best practices to use the new methodology, it is common in idea management circles to categorize “idea communities” into 4 types as follows:

  • Standing Communities: This type is most like the Suggestion Box.  You may have Standing Communities for General Ideas, New Products, or Process Improvement.  These still serve the purpose of allowing people to more broadly contribute when they think of it.  However, you now strengthen the motivation with the human features mentioned above.
  • Campaigns:  These are generally event-driven sub-sets of standing communities.  Such as “Spring is the Time for New Ideas for our Omega 2010 product line”.  The campaign runs for 30 days or so, with an objective about the scope and quality of ideas.  And, you put 50,000 Amex points or $500 Amazon dollars up for the best ideas during the campaign.
  • Challenges: These are even more specific.  Here you have very specific calls to action: requirements for this application, solutions for a specific RFP, questions like “How should we change our business in 2011” and “who and why are our top competitors” that will be part of next months planning session.  Challenges may have very short duration, even days.  Your idea community is really a tool to quickly capture, collaborate and vet the challenge.
  • Contests: This is also a specific type of event.  It is simply emphasizing the competitive and reward aspects.  It is often used with external audiences to encourage participation.  Or, it may be an approach to heighten the attention internally.  It really is about putting some reward behind the campaign and get many minds to participate in a competitive way.  

With CIM, we have designed it to make it easy for you to create individual communities of all four types.  Each is a stand-alone SharePoint site where the data is captured and the community is administered.  Yet, the participation is done in a common UI, such as our Idea Community Portal.  In addition, each community can be custom tailored to its purpose.  The most common customization is to change the Tagsonomy for each community.  This means modifying the categories and tags to provide structure for each community.  You can also change the look and feel.  You can add additional fields to capture different information or expose different feedback.

The takeaway is that you will be most effective at driving participation and innovation when you move from passive to targeted event-driven outreaches to your community.  The basic Web 2.0 features of CIM allow you to heighten the human factors that make Idea Management “ideation” successful.  And, the flexibility of CIM allows you to really tailor these community outreaches to be most effective for each objective, and, to be able to handle them separately.

In truth, this approach and this flexibility, really shift the burden onto management to proactively figure out how they will leverage their workforce and communities.  We now have the studies, the tools and the methodologies to influence the results.  Idea Management and its impact on an organizations innovation is now much less the result of chance, but, can be greatly influenced through managed planning, process, discipline, and execution.

With that said, make sure to sprinkle in a bit of fun, sizzle and excitement.  At the end of the day, it is all about people…


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