Monday, February 14, 2011

We need an idea management system but I’m afraid it will confuse my users with too many options

We need an idea management system but I’m afraid it will confuse my users with too many options

I hear a sentence something like the title to this entry every other visit with someone who sees our idea management software. They are usually stunned by the wonderful user interface that provides a creative environment for smart people to collaborate. But they worry that members of their team won’t use it because there’s too much on the screen.

The worries include:

1. Our user community will get overwhelmed by so many things on screen and won’t know what to click first.

OK, that’s a short list. But a legitimate concern.

The Dilemma

The fuzzy front end of innovation requires a collaborative tool. These Facebook-like environments provide a place for users to shop for interesting things to click on; to comment on them; to vote on the winning suggestions from their peers. Collaborative tools like idea management systems allow users to post interesting information in order to share. The systems encourage folks to post their ideas and for others to work together to enhance these concepts.

This collaborative tool provides a chaotic, disruptive environment for the production of serendipitous idea creation.

And a number of software vendors in this space, quite proudly, offer a feature-rich product, arrived at as a result of working on it for as much as a decade. When you have a client community that likes your offering and pushes it to its limits, they give feedback about the short falls. These suggestions get rolled into product development pipelines and the software ends up with everything anyone would ever want in an idea management software system. New clients benefit.

Part of the software enhancement process is the constant awareness that the user interface must be useful. Development teams pay as much attention to getting users to click things as the quality of the things users can click.

This means most idea management systems can be stripped down to just a few choices or can have every bell & whistle strategically placed on a screen. The best software systems in the idea management space allow for the administration of the system so that categories of users can get similar screens. Perhaps this means that everyone in the organization who is an engineer has a similar screen or that everyone who is a manager has a similar screen. There can be a “new user” interface and an “experienced operator” screen (and a bunch in between).

The user interface deployed in Phase II or III of the system roll out may have more features present than the user interface used during the pilot or proof of concept testing.

In fact, the screens presented to outside stakeholders who participate in the ideation process…those people like partners, customers or even the public…needs to have a very simple screen presented to them. These users’ ideas are welcome but they’re not likely going to get any training so the user interface is usually limited to just ideas, votes and comments. And the graphics are typically extremely engaging to catch people’s interest in a fun way. Having an idea contest is just a method to get this type of user involved…creative use of Persuasive Design and Fun capture the imagination and guide both eyes and clicking fingers.

Best Practices Are The Path To Success

More important than the user interface is how to deploy the system properly. The other great advantage of working with an idea management software vendor that has a history helping large organizations deploy idea management systems (besides a constant stream of enhancements) is the wealth of experience gleaned from deployments. The professional services teams develop best practices.

This knowledge base includes:

1. How to pick the best first user group of “early adopters” and “innovators”.

2. How to pick a common area of interest for users from different time zones and different disciplines and different company divisions to be interested in a collaboration process on their subject.

3. How to create organic growth.

4. A thorough integration of email with links to ongoing discussions so users can be drawn into conversations. E mails can be the right vehicle for marketing “the new idea management system” to the user community. And email integration can involve users who are on the road into the ideation process.

In fact a decision might be made to put a landing page as the first screen, one that accomplishes a task required for a great roll out. Perhaps a choice between signing on to submit an unsolicited idea or participate in radical innovation. Maybe the whole idea management system is a corner of the landscape provided to employees as part of an intranet.

The point is, don't worry about the user interface too much, because a good team will tailor the system to the requirements they encounter during the first discovery workshops. As a baseline, you should expect your company logo and company colors to be part of the system.

Best practices for deployments of idea management systems are just as important as the quality of the idea management system itself. Professional services expertise combines with a flexible idea management system to give organizations the confidence to know they’re approaching ground previously trod. Your idea management software team should have a bunch of installations under their belt. They've already encountered many situations somehow similar to yours. Success lies in your future not because of wishes and hopes but because best practice approaches guide the route to exciting, idea-producing deployments.

Your concern will shortly go from “will they use it” to the clamor of those on your team who want “in” on the new idea management system because they’ve learned that’s where the action is.

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here

Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here) . He has written extensively on Idea Management (Read Here) .

CogniStreamer® is an idea management software tool. It is an open innovation and collaboration platform where internal colleagues and external partner companies or knowledge centers join forces to create, develop and assess innovative ideas within strategically selected areas. The CogniStreamer® portal is an ideal collaborative platform that invites users to actively build a strong innovation portfolio. In addition it provides a powerful resource for internal and external knowledge sharing. The CogniStreamer® framework is used by industry leaders such as Atlas Copco, Bekaert, Case New Holland, Cytec, Imec, Picanol and ThyssenKrupp. CogniStreamer® represents the best use of adaptive collaborative technology such to harness human skill, ingenuity and intelligence.

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