How to Successfully Implement Collaborative Idea Management

Are you effectively using the creative potential of your employees, customers and partners to address your innovation challenges? Collaborative idea management is a method to learn from the “wisdom of the crowd” in order to drive innovation. This in-depth article gives you an introduction including best practice from how Ericsson, the global telecom company worked with introducing and designing a successful collaborative idea management system.

Many organizations are facing an urgent need to exploit new ideas and opportunities to meet increasing competitive pressure and changing customer demands. The recent economic recession has further accelerated the urgency of innovation across industries and globally. But from where do you get those much needed breakthrough ideas to drive growth, productivity and value creation? When innovation is more important than ever, collaborative idea management can help organizations to surface new ideas, improve them and make sure they reach the right people. It is also a way to empower and recognize innovative employees, to measure and stimulate creative activity and to promote a more open and collaborative innovation culture in the organization.

What is idea management?

Idea management is a structured process for the collection, handling, selection and distribution of ideas. It may include support for gathering, storing, improving, evaluating and prioritizing ideas by providing methods and tools, such as templates and guidelines. Idea management is an integrated part of the innovation process. Idea management is relevant for all types of ideas, from incremental improvements to new and disruptive business opportunities. The scope can range from being limited to one internal unit, to cover the entire organization, to include also external stakeholders, such as customers and partners. Some companies that have implemented idea management systems are IBM, Accenture and Whirlpool. Ericsson started collaborative idea management in 2008 by developing a generic solution aligned with the existing collaboration platform and strategy.

Addressing challenges

The handling of ideas in organizations involves several challenges. First, the more people you engage the more difficult it gets to evaluate and give feedback on all the ideas. You need an alternative to channeling all idea through one central point that quickly gets choked. Second, larger organizations typically have numerous and diverse innovation needs throughout the organization. Defining the innovation needs is a critical success factor to focus idea management efforts on the relevant themes and challenges. But how do you channel the right ideas to the right places when the landscape of innovation needs is not easily defined top down? Third, for an idea management system to be sustainable you need to look beyond an IT solution. You need an infrastructure with guidelines and processes that is integrated with the overall innovation and collaboration efforts and aligned with organizational culture. That is easier said than done! A fourth challenge is to engage employees to come up with new ideas and to contribute them. In a recent blog post, Hutch Carpenter argues that employees are intrinsically motivated to come up with new ideas. Every day, employees think of ideas relevant to the organization. It is just happening as a part of their daily work. The challenge for organizations is to harness these motivations and provide an outlet for them. Finally, organizations must ensure that their collaborative idea management initiatives actually deliver on the “wisdom of the crowd” promise. If the perception is that you just get more mediocre ideas, the effort will not be long-lived.

Designing a system

The basic components of collaborative idea management is support for users to submit new ideas, comment and develop already existing ones as well as support for managers to capture, track and further develop promising ideas. Finally you need support to administrate, measure and follow-up. The following design rules, based on the initial experience at Ericsson and insights from other organizations, might help when considering getting serious about idea management.

  1. Invite everyone to engage the entire organization. Several studies show that employees are the number one source of innovative ideas.
  2. Use the principle of self-organization to handle complexity. Let innovation needs be defined bottom-up and use the IT tool to match idea supply and demand.
  3. Embrace collaboration to leverage expertise and a diversity of perspectives. Openness will enable users from different parts of the organization to improve and comment on ideas.
  4. Secure feedback and recognition for a sustainable initiative. Make sure idea owners can see everything what is happening to their ideas. Reward good ideas.
  5. Integrate idea management into your overall collaboration effort. Benefits are a connected workflow, unified user interface and simplified support.

Release the creativity

It makes sense to try to utilize the collective creativity of all employees and even include external stakeholders to generate those much needed breakthrough ideas. Under the right conditions, a collaborative idea management system of tools and practices can help you to do just that. Tapping into the innovation energy of employees, customers and partners might improve your ability to respond to what emerges, find differentiating opportunities, drive a culture of collaboration and innovation, and create a sense that every employee contribution is important for the future of the organization. By Karin Wall, chief editor

Further reading


The article Collaborative Idea Management – using the creativity of crowds to drive innovation is written by Magnus Karlsson, Director New Business Development & Innovation at Ericsson Head­quarters in Stockholm, Sweden. The article discusses an approach to collabora­tive idea management based on the initial experience by Ericsson and insights from other organizations. The article will enable you to:

  • get a basic understanding of both the problems and solutions connected to collaborative idea management
  • achieve more constructive and higher quality management team discussion by providing a common ground and a common language about preparing for collaborative idea management
  • better reflect on the structure of your company and take action to create an environment that supports collab­orative idea management
  • prepare for the challenges, and avoid repeating the mistakes of others
  • identify the vital steps that needs to be considered when designing and implementing a collaborative idea man­agement system.
About the author

Magnus KarlssonMagnus Karlsson is Director New Business Development & Innovation at Ericsson Head­quarters in Stockholm, Sweden. He joined Ericsson in 1998 and has been working in the areas of external research relations, strategic foresight and innovation manage­ment. Recently, he was driving the Group-wide scenario planning project Commu­nicating Worlds 2020.

Between 2003 and 2006 he served as Science & Technology Counselor at the Embas­sy of Sweden in Washington D.C. responsible for policy and technology intelligence. In a previous foreign assignment, he worked at the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Sweden in Tokyo, Japan.

He has two basic academic degrees in Applied Physics and International Relations as well as a Ph.D. degree in Technology and Social Change from Linköping University, Sweden.
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  • http://www.innovatorsmix.com Aaron Eden

    Thanks for taking the time to post this. The process is extremely relevant for so many companies these days. One thing I did note is that you don’t talk much about the tools that are avaialble for managing this process with software.

    I’d like to recommend you check out an interview we did recently with Tad Milbourn of Intuit about their Brainstorm product which does exactly that!

    http://innovatorsmix.com/podcasts/pay-attention-live-life-actively-with-tad-milbourn/

    Keep up the great work,
    Aaron

  • http://www.brightidea.com Janelle

    One of the top tools used for successful idea management focused on driving real innovation results is offered by Brightidea. The end-to-end suite of innovation management products help make collecting, prioritizing, and turning ideas into actionable projects a repeatable, manageable process. Some of the world’s top global companies use the software internally and externally including AMEX, HP, Nielsen, and the recently launched GE Ecomagination Challenge- the largest open innovation challenge ever- is powered by Brightidea software. http://challenge.ecomagination.com/ideas.

  • http://blog.spigit.com/Blog/Aggregated Hutch Carpenter

    Hi Karin -

    Solid overview of the key aspects to consider in an employee innovation program.

    Thanks for the reference to my blog post about employees’ motivations (link: ). People do have ideas, every day. Two obstacles must be overcome to get people to put these ideas “in play”:

    1. The need for a dedicated culture, process, expectation that ideas are welcome across the board

    2. Putting focus to innovation efforts

    I’ve worked for large companies, and I understand the “busyness” and focus on execution. Which is absolutely needed – no execution, no progress. But the pendulum can swing too far that way, and new ideas don’t have a place for a proper airing. Companies excel in the short-term through outstanding execution on existing initiatives, but suffer in the long-term as markets change and they have only a limited innovation response.

    A collaborative idea management initiative addresses this issue head-on. It is, of course, a vehicle for enabling a diversity of perspectives, application of collective intelligence and collaboration. But it also is a signal. A signal that management knows it doesn’t have a stranglehold on the truth, and that many good ideas come from the front lines. It creates the atmosphere that encourages the posting of ideas.

    The other consideration is to put focus on the ideation efforts. We have a wide range of ideas, and issues that need addressing. This is great, but it energy and time to post them all. Which is tough given our “busyness”, almost a version of the paradox of too many choices. Putting focus to an ideation initiative channels that innovation energy into a specific problem, and it becomes much easier to channel efforts on addressing a particular challenge.

    We’re seeing a lot of uptake for collaborative idea management, across the globe; indeed our new clients are increasing rapidly now. I invite your readers to check out how we’re helping leading companies get the most from their innovation programs at:

    http://spigit.com

    Thanks,
    Hutch Carpenter
    VP of Product
    Spigit, Inc.

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  • http://innovation.qmarkets.net Noam Danon

    Hi Karin,
    Very good article.

    I would like to add one important factor that was left out – companies must define a clear and effective process to screen the incoming ideas, and of course – have the idea management tool support that.

    From our experience, this is just as difficult for companies as collecting the ideas.

    An effective process has to be tailored to the company processes and requirements, and contain intelligent screening methods. The screening, which is a lot more than a simple ‘thumbs up’/'thumbs down’ voting, can utilize large communities of experts spread around the company to make this process effective and efficient.

    You are welcome to see more information at Qmarkets idea management software.

    Keep in touch,

    Noam Danon
    Qmarkets CEO & Founder

  • http://www.pinkcat.dk Steen Koldsø

    Hi Karin,
    Great article, and good responses too

    I would like to add some important factors too – besides a clear, effective and agile process
    It’s important to have an easy to use intuitive tool.
    And it must be accessible anytime anywhere.

    I agree with Noam that an effective process has to be tailored to match the company innovation processes and requirements, and contain intelligent screening methods,+ smart development features and fact based evaluation criteria’s.
    Easy ways to activate the right people a different stages in the idea development and screening process. and build in feedback functions is essential.

    It’s also important to be able to involve the network in concrete challenges in different ways.

    You are welcome to Check out more on Orchidea http://www.orchideainnovations.fi

    Steen Koldsø

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  • http://gdfsuez Guy Dreessen

    Hi Magnus,

    Nice to meet you in Madrid.

    I will come back with our experience in IMS

    Guy Dreessen
    Corporate Innovation Manager
    GDF SUEZ

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  • Haour

    Magnus, you touch on a basic issue here. As human organisations, we are very poor at enriching somebody else’s idea: Firms are terrible at that.
    I do not believe in the virtues of systems and procedures in this area. It is true that staff are burining to come up with new things; they are committed to their work, naturally creative and eager to innovate to make life more interesting. From these facts result a few things:
    - remove the barriers to creativity and innovation; easier written than done….Management must truly believe in this…
    - …and this begins at the top. VERY few top managers put innovation as a key priority. They say that they do, but they do not really, as they are more concerned with financial results, shortm term issues and crisis management

    So, first, the executive must convince/educate itself in the crucial role of idea management and innovation.
    Then, create occasions of face to face disussions and well prepared/ organised forums, to stimulate in particular, efefctive bridging between technoworld and the business world.

    More on this later…
    Georges Haour

    Haour@imd.ch
    http://www.sciencetobusiness.ch

  • Mats A Persson

    Hi Magnus,
    A successful collaborative idea management system we got.
    But beyond the tool/mgmt Sys it’s even more important to have a outlet for collected ideas.

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