What is idea management?

Every product or offering first began as an idea. Continuous innovation can lead to market leadership — which requires a continuous stream of ideas. But you need to do more than just generate a lot of ideas. You need a way to gather and assess suggestions against your strategic direction. Idea management is the process of capturing, evaluating, and prioritizing requests and feedback.

The "idea" part is about generation. Ideation can come from many sources, so you want to make it very easy for people to submit and share. The "management" part requires sorting and prioritizing the most relevant ideas against your strategy — so you can enhance an existing product or create a new one.

Successful idea management ensures that your product roadmap is informed by real customer needs. When you have a formal process in place for doing so, you can continually improve what you deliver and delight customers.

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Why is idea management important?

Everyone always thinks they have the next great idea. But those ideas are useless when they are scattered in emails, spreadsheets, and notes. Idea management makes it possible for you to stay close to what customers want, keep that input organized, and focus your efforts accordingly.

There is nothing more important for a product team than identifying those innovation opportunities. So you want sharing feedback to be easy and inclusive. Empower internal teams (sales, support) to share their own ideas or to share ideas on behalf of customers. Identify common themes that support your product strategy and the overall business goal. Evaluate and then promote the best ideas to your marketing roadmap. These are just some of the benefits of idea management.

Who is responsible for idea management?

Product managers are responsible for managing the influx and review of ideas. As a product manager, people pass those ideas on to you and expect you to implement each one as soon as possible. You are the one who audits and stewards those ideas — from concept to implementation.

It is your job as a product manager to review every idea so you can identify the next great opportunity. But not all ideas make sense to invest in. You may determine that it does not align with your vision or current product plans. Other times, the idea is a reflection of frustration with something that is not working the way the customer thinks it should. So it is important to ask yourself, "What is this person really asking for?"

Idea management can also be a collaborative effort because ideas can be captured across the company. It is important to engage cross-functional teams for idea generation and evaluation because they can provide functional expertise and valuable insight. This type of discussion encourages organizational participation in product management.

Establishing a process for idea management is essential. With the right approach and the right software, you can establish a framework for idea management that enables you to identify the best ideas quickly and effectively.

How do product managers develop an idea management process?

A formal idea management process will help you make sense of feedback received. It should include critical steps such as frictionless collection, an objective rubric for evaluation, and a seamless transition from idea to your features backlog. You also want to be sure that there is an internal protocol for review frequency and communication. Here are the essential elements of an effective idea management process:

Centralize idea collection
Collect all ideas in a single place. Many customers share requests with sales, support, and engineering teams. This often means that ideas are scattered across multiple spreadsheets, documents, and other tools. Providing a unified system is essential — customers can either submit directly or those internal teams can submit on behalf of users. To avoid duplication, most idea management software includes a voting functionality as well.

Organize into themes
Grouping ideas by theme helps you quickly find areas for improvement related to specific areas of your product. It also helps identify repetition across similar points of feedback. If you are using idea management software, you can easily grab this information at the point of submission by asking users to share what aspect of your product the idea relates to. This makes it easy to create a list of related ideas to evaluate at once. Give each product manager a specific area of the product to focus on identifying the best opportunities.

Evaluate against strategy
The ideas you prioritize should clearly align with your overall strategy and help you achieve your goals. Creating a scorecard is a useful way to rank ideas against a set of prioritization metrics. This lets you decisively say yes or no to each idea submission so you can move on quickly. You do not need to make this score visible to the submitter, but it can be useful when you explain the reasoning behind your decision.

Communicate directly
Even after you have organized and evaluated the incoming suggestions, you may need to ask additional clarifying questions to ensure you understand the request. Then once you determine the priority and whether or not you will add the idea to your roadmap, it is important to inform the person who submitted it along with a simple explanation. This creates transparency and encourages people to keep submitting other ideas in the future.

Putting idea management into practice

Idea management should be a priority for all product managers. It is a core job function and the velocity of idea review can even be set as a metric the team is evaluated against. This underscores the importance of idea management and keeps it top of mind for everyone.

Ideas are endless — your team's time is not. So you want to weigh opportunities against a realistic expectation of what the team can deliver. Use your strategic goals and initiatives as a framework to decide which ideas will have the most impact. This allows you to see how an idea will clearly enhance your product line and business. Refer back to your product strategy and team capacity when deciding which ideas to build.

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