How to Build an Effective Idea Management Process
December 8, 2020

How to Build an Effective Idea Management Process

by Brian de Haaff

Ideas can drown you. Suggestions come from teammates and sometimes directly from customers. And you have your own running list of what to do next. Taken in aggregate, you might think this bounty represents real opportunity to innovate. There is plenty to choose from — even if it is scattered in spreadsheets and emails. But the number of ideas can be overwhelming and innovation requires more than just capturing feedback.

Transforming feedback and requests into meaningful solutions requires concerted effort — you need an idea management process.

Now you might be skeptical — especially if your company has tried something similar in the past. Maybe there was a push to generate ideas but no framework in place for people to take action and implement the suggestions. Or maybe the organization did move forward with new ideas, but there was not clarity about what was most important. So no one saw significant improvements or growth.

Innovation does not happen without intention. It happens when leaders across your organization really listen to what your customers, employees, and partners have to say and are intentional about acting on the ideas that align with company strategy. Collecting, evaluating, and implementing new ideas needs to be a defined process that is prioritized and respected across the entire organization.

A formal process empowers you to not only gather more ideas, but also quickly move forward with the ones that will provide the most value for your organization.

Getting idea management right often changes how teams work. Our team at Aha! uses our own idea management software to collect, review, and prioritize customer feedback that comes in through our ideas portal. But this type of thinking is not just for our product team. Our approach to idea management informs decisions we make across the entire company. All teams — from marketing to Customer Success — follow the same process for evaluating opportunities and promoting the best ones to their roadmap.

If you are leading a dedicated innovation initiative or are a product leader looking to find new opportunities for growth, idea management needs to be integrated into your team's daily work. But before you can do that, you need to put the guardrails in place that will help everyone adopt the process. It will look differently for every company, but typically I suggest people start with these five areas:

Get aligned

Your entire organization must be aligned around why you are doing this. You might have a big, forward-thinking innovation mandate that requires contributions from every functional group within the organization. Maybe you are looking to gain an edge over a competitor, uncover new sources of revenue, or find a more efficient way to work. No matter what your objectives are, everyone must understand their role in achieving the goal and agree on the importance of an idea management process.

Find the right tool

You want to make it as frictionless as possible for people to submit, review, and manage ideas. But you also want to make it easy for teams to incorporate those insights into their everyday work. Find a tool that not only crowdsources ideas, but also allows teams to score against strategy and quickly prioritize against existing plans. The best idea management tools have integrations with the platforms your organization already uses too.

Reshape workflows

You have existing strategy and planning processes. So you will need to work with team leaders to ensure they add steps to their current workflows for vetting ideas against that strategy and incorporating ideas into roadmap planning. Teams need to understand the full lifecycle — from submission to keeping folks updated along the way. These workflows should be consistent from team to team to ensure that all ideas are evaluated in the same manner.

Define roles and responsibilities

Clear role definitions keep everyone accountable. Who will take the first pass at evaluating a new idea? Who is responsible for engaging with your customers or employees to be sure you understand their requests? Work with leaders in product, marketing, or other teams that are close to your key communities to map out these roles and help everyone understand their responsibilities. 

Showcase the value

All of this only works if you have the right company mindset. It is the only way to really benefit from the processes and tools you have in place. Leading by example is an important first step — respond to ideas quickly and show transparency into why you move forward with some and not others. And share results across the organization. Communicate the outcomes of the process regularly and showcase the teams that contribute the most to broader innovation efforts.

Ideas are often the catalyst for innovation — but only if you have a great process for turning them into new and different solutions.

Idea management is about so much more than just collecting ideas. It is about transforming the mindset of your entire organization. Your process cannot be an afterthought — it needs to be a core part of the values that define who you are as a company.

How do you evaluate ideas?

Crowdsource ideas with Aha! — sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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