A systematic approach to innovation is extremely important when you want to get real results out of it.
Just like it is for any business function.
While this is a good starting point for innovation, you shouldn’t stop there. Just look at any large company that’s known for being truly innovative. Do they have a single team or innovation lab doing all of that? Not really. They have teams throughout their organisation to churn out innovations one after the other.
So, if you are aspiring to similar results, you need to eventually decentralise your idea and innovation management processes, while keeping a systematic approach to it. In this article, we’ll explain the why and the how.
Why do you need to manage ideas?
If you want to increase your chances of succeeding with innovation, you should pay closer attention to how you collect, manage, and develop ideas. There’s obviously a lot more to succeeding at innovation than just managing ideas, but it’s still at the heart of the process, and it’s a great first step.
So, what is idea management more precisely?
Located at the core of the innovation management process, idea management is a systematic process of collecting and developing new ideas with the purpose of making the most out of them.
Simply put, it’s not enough to have new ideas, someone needs to turn them into reality too. We’ll see next what it takes to manage ideas successfully so they can ultimately turn into tangible innovations.
How to manage ideas successfully
Every new improvement, product, or business starts from an idea. Idea management is thus simply the process through which you collect ideas and systematically seek to create as much value with them as possible.
You want to discern the good ideas from the bad ones so you can, in the end, create as much value as possible. And when we say “good” we mostly refer to how good they are for your specific case. What is their potential and how can they take a company closer to reaching its strategic goals?
Managing ideas takes you through different stages of development, prioritisation, testing, learning and implementation. Of course, it’s good if you have a smooth, fast process but this doesn’t mean you have to rush.
A good idea management process optimises the way your organisation works internally and focuses the attention to improving performance and outcomes. Most companies obviously have some processes for dealing with ideas, but they’re unfortunately sometimes a bit of an afterthought. Unless they’re purposeful and strategic, they rarely bring the desired benefits.
So, if you want to be successful in your ideation efforts, you need a process consistent with your goals and strategy. To be more practical, these processes should assign responsibilities, enable accountability and provide easy to follow and transparent rules.
This is definitely easier said than done. The process you use for idea management depends greatly on how you operate, and the challenges you wish to overcome.
However, what’s important to understand, and where many organisations go wrong, is that medium and large organisations should pursue a vision that is consistent across all processes. Each of these processes plays an important role in pursuing the vision.
As there may be several units or divisions within your organisation, some might need incremental innovations while others may be pursuing breakthrough innovations. Managing ideas for such different innovations with the same process is simply unrealistic and unfeasible. That’s where decentralisation comes into play.
Why decentralise idea management
There’s no doubt that a centralised method can work too, but that mostly applies to small companies where there’s just a lot less happening at any given time.
However, as soon as a company is too large to fit all decision makers at the same table, or the ideas in question are too many and too diverse to be processed by them on a weekly basis, centralisation becomes a challenge. Even more so if decision makers are removed from ideators, and no longer have the time to be on the frontlines to see the real issues the workforce is facing.
Consequently, those who make decisions won’t have all the information they need to make educated decisions. To make up for this they must either spend a lot of time and thus money, to get that information, or even worse, just wing it and hope for the best. As a result, the centralised innovation process can ironically become a major bottleneck for innovation.
Instead, to make the most out of the work of people in different functions, units and divisions, you should look to decentralise your idea management efforts.
By decentralising idea management, you can give decision-making powers to more than one person in the organisation.
In practice, decentralising idea management means that instead of one centralised process, each business unit and function will have their own processes, and in addition, you may also have organisation-wide processes for certain larger initiatives such as sustainability, cost cuts etc.
Each unit would thus have clear goals and targets for their idea management processes, but also be empowered to make decisions and implement them, usually without additional approvals.
Of course, it can take some time to make this happen, but this process brings more benefits and enhances your innovation efforts. And it’s not just about who makes the decision in the centralised and decentralised models. It’s also about how and who drives the execution.
Now that we clarified some important aspects of a decentralised approach to idea management, let’s see some more specific benefits of this method:
- Better decision making
In highly centralised organisations some decisions will be disconnected from reality simply because they are made at too high of a level. A centralised approach also means additional bureaucracy which creates barriers and impedes change. This forces people who want to make a difference to spend their valuable time lobbying for their initiatives instead of actually creating value.
On the other hand, when you decide to decentralise idea management the decision-making responsibility is taken over by what we often refer to as a category manager, the person in charge of a certain function or business area. The category managers in the decentralised model are those in charge of making the decisions on new ideas and play a big role in the development of these ideas.
In these roles, people already have the knowledge that allows them to make educated decisions faster, as long as they know the strategic goals. They can also ask for additional inputs from experts directly and not lose anything in translation.
Also, as they are more independent in their work, they are not competing for power or resources between other parts of the organisation and can instead focus on creating value.
- Reinforce an innovation culture throughout the whole organisation
If people think innovation is solely the job of a centralised team, this is likely to send a signal to the rest of the organization that it’s not something they should be concerned with, which naturally discourages them from innovating.
However, if they are part of a smaller team that has some power over the process, they are usually eager to not just ideate, but also contribute. Employees will feel empowered to be part of the innovation process and in the long term, they will start feeling more confident in using their creativity to the benefit of the organisation.
- Accountability and motivation
As mentioned, an idea management process in a decentralised setting will hold people accountable for the progress of ideas. When teams are included in the process from the beginning to the end, they are also more invested and committed to execution because they know they have power over the decisions and end results.
As we already know, a sense of meaning and purpose as well as being recognised for their work, are key factors in a motivated workforce.
- Speed up innovation
In a decentralised ideation process you have different teams that decide on the progress of the ideas and that also implement the actual innovation. Unlike in the centralised model, the teams don’t have to pass every decision through other parts of the organisation, or try to get the resources to implement the idea, so things are happening way faster.
Speeding up the process naturally allows for faster progress, but it also accelerates learning and reduces risks. When the teams are more agile to test assumptions, they learn faster and cheaper, and can change direction whenever needed to reach those strategic goals. The result is an increased pace of innovation, and as previously covered, that is the only sustainable competitive advantage.
Working with decentralised ideation processes
Whether they are centralized or not, simple idea management processes have the same basic steps:
However, for more complex ideas, such as new businesses, there’s often a lot of iteration and testing involved, and the process won’t be as linear. On the other hand, for some simple no-brainer incremental ideas you might even be able to skip most of these steps altogether.
In the decentralised process there is no single steering group that makes decisions about every idea. When you have several processes going on in the organisation, there are also several process owners and/or executives in charge of monitoring the flow of ideas and the results. The next steps are decided by the category managers, or their respective steering groups. Each business unit and other departments of the organisation needs to take ownership of their innovation work and decide which ideation process to use.
As a result, in large organisations, you should have dozens of ideation processes. With the increased scale, it may become challenging to know which ones are performing well and which ones aren’t.
To overcome this, make sure to again measure and manage the work systematically to drive your desired outcomes. A dedicated platform is very helpful here as it will do a lot of the heavy lifting. If you choose the right idea management software, it won’t just automate some of your work and speed up the process, but you can find many other benefits for the entire organisation.
There are of course many ways to boost your innovation efforts and a decentralised idea management process is just one of them. The good news about decentralising your ideation is that you can start gradually in a small area and slowly scale it to the rest of the organisation.
This gives you the advantage of testing and adjusting your process along the way and leaves time to build the capabilities required to be successful. If you are measuring results (which you should), you can see how things turn out for one unit and with those results convince others to do the same.
If you’re interested in building your own idea management process, we’ve teamed up with the Future Shapers to give you an exclusive limited time offer that will help you do just that. You can have free access to our online innovation coaching program, a complimentary workshop to get you started, and a lifetime discount on Viima’s paid plans which will help you scale your initiatives at a great price. Claim the offer today by signing up for the Free Viima Basic plan.