Idea Management

Idea management is a formal approach to creating, refining, and implementing ideas in a way that is aligned with customer needs.

Ideas are some of the most important components of product creation. In fact, just about half of the product development process deals with thinking them up, screening them, and testing them, before the actual development work begins. But simply generating ideas haphazardly won’t get you anywhere. You need a structured idea management process to make sure your ideas are organized and are actually grounded in customer desires.

In this glossary entry, we look at idea management and its place in product development. We also explore how to choose idea management software that can streamline the process.

What is Idea Management?

Idea management is a formal process of creating ideas, improving and refining them, and eventually developing successful ideas into completed products. In contrast to unguided brainstorming, idea management systematically guides the formation and development of new ideas based on feedback and customer needs.

Idea-related tasks such as idea management generally fall under the purview of the product manager. However, it’s the responsibility of the whole team to engage in ideation, testing, evaluation, and other parts of idea management, under the guidance of the product manager.

What is the Importance of Idea Management?

Having a structured idea management process confers numerous benefits to product development. 

You’re Generating Better Ideas Right Off the Bat

An effective idea management process promotes feedback and insight from all stakeholders. This helps break past the bystander effect. This often discourages people from contributing to ideation or feedback because they feel that they don’t really have a say. It also ensures that every generated idea has been refined by stakeholders from multiple diverse perspectives. These factors contribute to the improvement of every idea that comes out of the process.

It Engages Your Team With Your Product

As idea management taps into input from employees and managers, it also engages them with the product development process. Their work becomes more meaningful, as they see the fruits of their labor and combined ideation. It also helps senior decision-makers get a better view of the product from the ground level.

Ideas Are Never Lost in the Shuffle

A great many ideas never actually make it to the desks of key decision-makers and stakeholders. This can be for any number of reasons, whether it’s the sheer volume of communication channels, or simply the lack of time to review them all. 

With idea management in place, however, every idea gets a chance in the spotlight. This ensures that a great idea never goes unnoticed.

How Do You Develop an Idea Management Process?

Given these benefits, any company would stand to gain a lot from implementing an idea management process. While idea management will differ across varying workflows and company goals, some important steps carry over.

1. Establish a Central Repository for Ideas

Ideas need a place to go where they are visible and valuable. This allows every stakeholder to efficiently access these ideas, and for each of these ideas to be easily accessed and reviewed. 

That means a random selection of folders, spreadsheets, and disparate data siloes is not an appropriate storage location. You want a transparent, unified, and organized data idea-collection mechanism that shows the status of each idea, and who contributed it. Consider using a network drive within your company intranet, or a shared cloud folder in your private cloud.

Alternatively, you may use idea management software to expose every idea’s status and provenance and manage them effectively.

2. Regularly Revisit Your Idea Criteria

It’s important to be able to consider unconventional and potentially innovative ideas, even if they don’t necessarily align completely with your immediate short-term goals or customer needs. However, you also need to filter the masses of ideas that come into play to avoid overwhelming your ideation pipeline. 

The best way to ensure you’re not missing anything is to regularly update the criteria upon which you select ideas. This can be based on several factors, such as changes in the market, user feedback, or the success of past ideas that you’ve implemented.

3. Prioritize Ideas Based on Strategic Fit

Similar to feature prioritization, you want to rank every idea based on how relevant they are to your goals. You can use any method, such as a priority list, scorecard, or matrix, as long as it’s easy to determine whether or not you veto an idea that comes your way.

4. Communicate Your Reasoning With Your Team

You should be prepared to explain the reasons why you’ve selected or vetoed an idea if your stakeholders ask. This can be an opportunity to reinforce the high-level product goals in your team to help them create better ideas that are more aligned with your product strategy. It’s also an opportunity for transparency and engagement and promotes further idea submission.

How Do You Select Idea Management Software?

Idea management involves a lot of organization and collaboration among cross-functional teams. While standard workflow management tools might suffice at a small scale, you’ll benefit from implementing dedicated idea management software to make ideation and refinement easier.

Selecting for an idea management tool means looking out for certain key features:

1. Easy to Use

The whole point of idea management is to make life easier for ideation and collaboration. This falls apart if a tool is unwieldy and requires a lot of onboarding across different teams. You want to reduce the barrier of entry as much as possible so that as many stakeholders as possible will be encouraged to submit and review.

2. Facilities Effective Communication

A huge part of idea management is facilitating communication. A tool needs to have a lot of opportunities for teams to interact and engage with each other in conversations about ideas. Features like comment threads, reminders to review, and highlighting neglected ideas can jumpstart the idea management conversation.

3. Remotely Accessible Over Web or Mobile

Not all great ideas are going to bubble up to the surface while someone is in the office. A great many may come to life during lunch hours, relaxation time, weekends, and commutes. Your tool needs to accommodate this variability of idea generation so that anyone can contribute an idea as it comes up. 

The best way to promote this is to choose idea management software that features a mobile app and a web browser version, as well as secure remote access from outside company premises.

4. Transparent

Idea management software should provide transparency as to the origin and the feedback of every idea. This facilitates greater engagement and communication and fosters trust and openness among teams. Simply being able to review comments and see the progress of each idea through the pipeline can be a big help for this.

Of course, there may be times when such transparency isn’t appropriate, especially for confidential ideas. In this case, you also want to look for software that allows for access control, allowing you to limit who gets to view information about each idea.

Broadening Your Idea Horizons

Idea management brings order to the chaos of ideas, enabling and encouraging creativity and collaboration while making sure that every idea gets a chance to shine. Coupled with the right idea management software, it can reshape the conversation about ideas and spark innovation in your business.