Exploring Different Adoption Continuums for Idea and Innovation Management

We’ve been active in the Idea and Innovation Management solution area for a few years.  Initially, we introduced a point solution, CorasWorks Idea Management on SharePoint, to compete with the primarily SAAS solutions in the market.  Over the years, we have evolved to look at the “right” solution for innovation as a flexible set of modules/solutions that can be applied at the right time with the right stuff to match where our customer is along their continuum.  In this article, I’ll take a look at quite different adoption continuums (phased rollouts) from two organizations.  I’ll then provide you with my thoughts on which is most right.

The Top Down “Enthusiastic” Continuum

I was recently on a call with a new prospect that has a newly assembled “innovation team” representing their 18,000 person company.  They brought a great deal of enthusiasm to the task of evaluating us, vetting their approach, and seeking to understand product alternatives.  Leveraging the range of CorasWorks solutions and the flexibility of our software, we came up with a continuum for a phased approach to adoption.  it goes like this…

1. General Enterprise Idea Capture and Collaboration – Let’s call it the “idea exchange”.  They want to start off with an enterprise-wide idea capture and collaboration portal.  The reference site/solution is My Starbucks which is basically an inbox for public ideas with collaboration.  It is for the capture of general ideas about anything.  Our customer wants to start off with a similar type of site, but, only for internal employees across the enterprise.

2. Idea Management – They realize that they will have to then manage the contributed ideas through a process to decide what they will implement.  This is the necessary, but, mostly un-fun part of the equation. The “innovation team” will layout and manage the process.

3. Specific Challenges – Once they have that going, they want to engage business groups and launch specific, event-driven challenges.  Each challenge will be “owned” by the business group and they will manage their own process.  CorasWorks supports challenges and separate processes.

4. Collaborative Communities – This customer recognizes the value of introducing collaborative communities into the mix.  This would come after the basics above.  They are used for recognition, knowledge, communities of purpose, and, as hotbeds for collaboration to lead to ideas. In their case, this step is very powerful because they have a distributed organization with 100’s of offices and many services so they can greatly benefit by enabled this virtual collaboration.

5. Portfolio and Execution Integration – Assuming success as above, they envision the ability to look top down and across the activities.  Thus, they want to be able to see the broader innovation portfolio that includes the Idea Exchange and the specific Challenges.  They also want visibility into the downstream execution of ideas done with various project-oriented tools.

6. Open Innovation – Lastly, once the internal innovation is up and going, they will be looking to open it up to their external communities. 

The above 6 phases of the continuum represent logical enhancements/extensions to innovation.  This continuum is common for those that are new to innovation and armed with a top down enterprise mandate.  CorasWorks supports each of these phases.  They could be implemented separately as different modules or as the customer advances through their continuum, the extensions would be added on.

The Bottom Up “Practical” Continuum

For comparison, we recently implemented a customer using a more bottom up “practical” continuum.  The customer is a 9,000 person division of one of the top 10 largest federal systems integrators/government contractor.  They have been a CorasWorks customers for about 5 years.  We started talking to them about Idea and Innovation Management 2 years ago.  They came to us with an enthusiastic “innovation team” evaluating product alternatives as in the above example and following a top down approach.  For 2 years, nothing happened.

A couple of months ago a business group of 800 people within the division came to us and said basically “okay, we are ready to go”.  They were implemented within 2 weeks of the start of the project.  They had their Idea Portal up and running with 6 challenges across 3 departments.  They were capturing ideas and starting the review process.  Their continuum looks like this…

1. Challenges for Their One Business Group – launch a few very specific challenges for one business group that are each managed through a simple and common process by one team within the business group

2. Get better within the Business Group – their objective is to get better at launching more relevant/effective challenges (think about it as evaluating the challenge and the result vs. just the ideas) and at managing the process.  Their approach is that the particulars of their management/decision process will be baked out by using the software.  As an existing CorasWorks customer, they are very aware of the ability to change processes on the fly as needed.

3. Division/Other Business Group Challenges – The division is trying to innovate also using manual methods.  The idea is that at a point where the approach is validated at the business group level, they will take it up to the division level or to other business groups to do their own challenges.  Note that in this phase, they are effectively creating separate clusters for challenge management that are managed locally.

That’s it at this time…

Which is the right approach

I’d like to say it depends.  However, our experience is that the top down, enterprise approach is not effective as measured by the perceived business results and the longevity of an innovation initiative.  In fact, for most organizations that come to us with this top down “enthusiastic” approach, not much happens, and if they do get started, a year or so later the initiative fades away.  While it is logical, the real world doesn’t seem to work that way.  Thus, in the case of the prospect noted above, while we laid out their continuum, I did my best to educate them on our experience with that approach and made some progress. 

There are a host of factors here.  However, at the core is that innovation is a process that requires work, trial, learning, maturation, and, success.  People these days often enthusiastically come to the game to leverage collaborative technologies to tap their workforce, but, they lack the commitment necessary to follow through the full life cycle to show the results.  If you are asking people to take the time to contribute ideas and collaborate, and you fail to follow through with decisions and results, do not expect to build momentum. 

Alternatively, if you start bottom up, with very specific challenges, and build on your success (as in the bottom up “practical” approach) you simply have a much greater chance of succeeding over time.  You build momentum.  Think Facebook.  They did not start by launching a broad social web portal to compete against MySpace.  They built it up one college at a time to become the massive, multi-cluster network that it is. 

On the flip side, too much process discussion and diagramming to start can also kill an innovation initiative.  You need some process to start or else you have no credible way of evaluating ideas, making decisions, and investing. However, your process should evolve as you learn.

As you might conclude, we do support all of the different solutions mentioned above that might appear on Your continuum.  Each solution is modular and they can all be phased in and inter-connected as your system evolves. Yet, CorasWorks is really taking a fundamentally different approach from most pure product vendors.  By design, our software is unusually flexible and therefore supports continuous innovation of your system. The real value with CorasWorks is not necessarily what you get from “the box” when you get started, it is about having a solution that is easy to get started and evolves as you move through your innovation continuum. 


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