Product Architect | Tech Inventor | Entrepreneur
Sticky notes are great to quickly capture ‘ideas’- they also help the team look busy and productive. But, when it comes to an ideation channel, you need some serious technology to capture, process, and diffuse ideas within your corporation.
What makes a good ideation platform? What are the key principles and components that need to be there?
There are several commercial ideation platforms out there, which are typically offered as-a-service. You can always consider developing an in-house solution, but this is a risky and costly path.
Whatever your strategic approach is, your ideation technology and processes must encourage idea submission and collaboration. A good ideation platform, should be perceived as an always-on channel, always ready to accept and process ideas. It should be able to intelligently handle them, and ensure they are discoverable, and manageable by the right teams, in the right context.
The following points, reflect some key principles of an effective ideation channel. It is the set of characteristics, I would recommend you to consider before you buy or built:
A good ideation channel should be always-on, and always-open to ideas. In many cases, employees generate ideas as a response to a ‘call to innovate’. Typical examples include, a hackathon, a brainstorming session or a programming challenge. But, employees should be also encouraged to randomly submit ideas — not necessarily as a result of an event or a call-to-action.
The ideation channel should be able to handle both supervised and unsupervised ideation processes
The technology should allow ideas to be always accessible and discoverable, in the right business context. The principle here is that, ideas should not expire, or get auto-archived — unless the owner wishes to withdraw them. Ideas should be considered always ‘alive’, ready to be re-discovered in the right context, at the right time.
Instead of deleting ideas to reduce the ‘noise’, you can prioritize them intelligently, against different business objectives and timelines
Strict rules, multiple checkpoints and aggressive deadlines can kill innovation.
The ideation channel and the underlying processes must be flexible, adaptive and efficient. It should be able to understand the content submitted by the user, and automatically set the right context. This context understanding, is then used to empower discovery, communication and collaboration strategies.
What if the ‘big idea’ comes out of context or after the deadline?
The technology should be able to handle an idea, even if it is described through a plain block of text. Using Natural Language Processing components, modern systems can automatically process unstructured text, extract the entities, and retrieve the context.
Less structure and rules; More intelligent post-processing, entity extraction and automated handling
In more advanced scenarios, the system could automatically recommend optimized titles, tagging and classification of the idea. At the same time, this process could enrich the underlying knowledge base the ontology, the patterns, and other important metadata.
An idea may be submitted as an outcome of a particular event. This could be an ideation contest, a brainstorming session or a ‘call to innovate’ by the leadership. In such cases, ideas come with reference to a specific context: the source event, the topics, certain objectives and problems to be solved.
A good ideation platform should accept and handle ideas with, or without context
In other cases the idea can be randomly generated, without an obvious trigger or context. It could be an ad hoc discovery, a new product concept, a novel feature for an existing product, a process improvement and so on. These ‘out of context’ ideas need to be effectively handled by the ideation channel.
The ideation channel must provide full transparency on the underlying business rules and processes. Users, should be able to access the detailed history of their ideas, including all the changes and decision points. The sequence of events, collaboration activity, prioritization or other significant updates need to be clearly visible and accessible.
Ideas should be easily discoverable via both search and recommendation functions.
The ideation channel should be able to process signals, extract the business context, and use it to make intelligent, contextual and timely idea recommendations
In an obvious scenario, users such as CPO’s, product managers and engineers, should be able to instantly query the ‘ideas store’. Search operations should be based on full-text-search and measures of relevance.
The system could implicitly personalize the search experience, by using user’s profile, history and role in the company
In a less obvious scenario, the system should be capable of capturing the business context, and make recommendations on its own. For instance, your ‘ideas store’ could be connected with your product backlog, thus extracting the context of your product development efforts. Having this context, your intelligent ideation channel could recommend highly-relevant and fresh ideas to the product owner. A great way to empower the overall product development process.
A modern system, could autonomously recommend highly relevant ideas, to the right teams, at the right time
In a more complex scenario, the system uses the business context to identify key users, who could significantly contribute to the particular product. The key-users could be ‘top performers’, based on historical data on relevant idea generation. Then, it recommends the key-users to the product owner, as potential contributors.
Discoverability is much more than a powerful search engine
A good ideation channel should accept ideas with conditional anonymity, based on a time frame or other conditions. This allows the owner to ‘test’ the idea, and capture original feedback and thoughts. It is a great way to minimize the bias observed, when the owner of the idea is known upfront, and visible to the reviewers.
A good ideation channel should provide advanced operations such as idea merge, extend and split.
Whenever a new idea is submitted, specialized components analyse its similarity against other entries in the ‘ideas store’
If strong similarity is identified, the users will be prompted to consider merging those similar ideas. In such case, the system needs to provide idea versioning mechanisms.Detailed history and references to the previously stand-alone ideas, is also a key requirement here.
Similarity with existing ideas, can be identified at editing time, thus preventing unnecessary processing and communication cycles
Another similarity-driven scenario, is the idea grouping operation. In this case, the system identifies again strong similarity among a set of ideas. But, it also recognizes the difference on the proposed solution — the actionable part of the idea. Hence, the prompt is to ‘extend the original idea’ through a ‘grouping operation’, under a master idea.
Finally, a split operation could be proposed when an idea is too complex, or covering multiple problems and use cases.
This is a core aspect of the ideation culture. A good ideation channel, must promote collaboration, and provide functionality to allow users to easily and effectively share opinions. This drives knowledge exchange and value creation in reference to a particular idea.
As soon as an idea attracts interest, its owner might need to form a team to further explore the concept. This could happen informally (externally to the ideation system) or formally by setting up the team within the ideation channel. In the latter case, the ideation channel could also recommend the right colleagues to consider inviting. It could also support the end-to-end invitation process to simplify the formation of the team.
The ideation channel should be capable of maintaining a history of changes, and properly version the idea throughout its life cycle. This, also enables insights along with a clear representation of the history of the idea — including all the major updates and important decisions.
The major stakeholders in the process, are the idea and business owners. The identification of the business stakeholder/owner could become complicated in large corporations. It could be any or all of the CPO, product owners, commercial managers, the R&D manager, up to the legal teams — if IP is involved.
Each stakeholder, is notified for relevant-only ideas, based on the most appropriate template and the right level of detail
A modern ideation channel should be able to capture the hierarchy of the corporation, its inner structures and particular roles. This is the source of important metadata, allowing the system to automatically identify the right stakeholders for any given idea.
When a new idea is submitted, the system can automatically raise personalized notifications to the right stakeholders
This process, could become even more personalized, by identifying the most appropriate call-to-action and communication templates.
A good ideation channel must provide accurate reporting and insights. Executives should be able to instantly capture the levels of activity, along with the right KPIs, across multiple dimensions. A set of well-defined performance dashboards need to be there, to cover these analytical needs.
Modern systems need to be open, to expose functionality and data through standardized APIs. This is also the case for a good ideation channel: ideas, process performance, business insights and other objects, need to be securely exposed to other corporate systems.
A smart corporate environment could consume the ideation APIs, to support several intelligent, interactive scenarios. For instance, to retrieve and present most recent ideation activities on selected, approved screens. Or, share the most active ‘ideation users of the month’, via a dynamic email signature. Or, dynamically generate ideation activity summary, as part of a regular news-letter targeting subscribed users.
In a gamification context, ‘leader boards’ of top-performing users could be provided for visualization through integrated systems
The above principles and functional scenarios should be considered in the right context: not all of the items have the same importance, while different prioritization is expected, depending on the industry, the structure, and the size of the company.