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How does one recognize and distinguish the serious innovation? What separates real innovators from those which aren’t so serious about it? The true innovators are actually able to maintain a discipline of innovation. For them it is a habit, the second nature, basically something they naturally keep doing day in and day out.
There is no prescribed formula for success here, but most of the organized innovation efforts go through similar and repeatable journeys, from seemingly chaotic and unorganized set of ideas, toward the clear value.
Ideas can be gathered in variety of ways, some of which could be:
· blue-sky ideation sessions
· hackathons / crowdsourced for solving a known problem
· emulating the features of a competitor product
There are already many decent tools that can be used to facilitate gathering, crowdsourcing and organizing the potential ideas and engaging the employees. These tools mimic modern social-network like interfaces, with features like tagging, 'like' buttons, advanced search and are easy and appealing to use.
However, all of the existing mainstream commercial tools that we have evaluated so far, have had couple of notable deficiencies, beyond this initial (and probably the easiest) step.
Challenge #1 – Unbiased And Transparent Ranking and Prioritization of Ideas
How should innovation teams decide which idea to work on first, next, etc? Basically, how to prioritize all of the submitted ideas, with minimum amount of personal bias, if any? Unfortunately, most of the available fancy looking tools do not do a good job here. Almost all offer only simple social-network-like voting. First and foremost, let’s be clear - innovation is not popularity contest. It is a serious business. Voting, as a ranking method alone, is too simplistic and basically useless, in my opinion. No serious innovator should (nor will) rely on voting only, as their ranking mechanism.
What may be the solution then? Let’s first recognize that every innovation team is different and usually has different focus. Also, there is no standard set of evaluation criteria nor evaluation formula that would fit all needs.
With this in mind, ideally, tool needs to be flexible enough and help innovation teams to:
1. define their own, specific set of ranking categories
2. add / delete / edit evaluation questions within those categories
3. add / delete / edit possible answers to each of the evaluation questions
4. assign weights to each of the question’s possible answers
5. flexibly define the formula for calculating the ‘ranking score’, based on answers and assigned weights, by each of the evaluators
By having multiple qualified and empowered evaluators (ideally between 6 and 10) answering the same set of carefully chosen and configured questions for a particular innovation domain, tool would apply formula to average out and minimize personal biases when evaluating each idea. Adding sponsors of the innovation portfolios as evaluators too, can further improve the whole process, by giving them the opportunity to directly influence and calibrate the pipeline of potential ideas to focus on.
Challenge #2 – Automated Interfaces To Agile Tools Like JIRA and Confluence
Once the top idea from the prioritized pipeline has been chosen to be worked on, it is important to define and configure initial set of epics and user stories. Automated interfacing with APIs of agile support tools like JIRA and Confluence would help make the process very efficient by having an integrated suite of tools that teams and sponsors can use to have full visibility and transparency into the delivery of all innovation ideas.
How Do Available Innovation Tools Measure Up?
Unfortunately, key features like these, as obvious as they may be to a regular innovation practitioner, for some reason do not seem to be available in the commercially available tools that are being pitched to the executives as ‘innovation management tools’.
That’s why we had to take initiative and implement our own tool, which is simple enough and incorporates everything we need to make our innovation journey as effective and productive as possible.
Hopefully commercial tool vendors aspiring to play in this space will take notice and incorporate features like these in their own tools as well. That would minimize need for innovators to build their own solutions and enable them to primarily focus on what matters most to the organizations – value.