Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Turn Great Ideas Into Great Products

Sometimes companies don’t have enough ideas. Other times they simply generate a lot of bad ideas. And by “bad”, I mean low-value ideas or ideas that don’t contribute to the organization’s strategic goals.

Research findings by the Product Development Institute show that 79% of companies admit to having too few high-value projects in their portfolio. This is confirmed by what our customers tell us all the time: “we have no problem generating lots of ideas…what we need is better ideas.”

Our own research and experience tells us that while it is important to increase the number of ideas at the front-end, what is even more important is that those new ideas are of high-value. High-value ideas at the front end of the process means higher-value products that move through the pipeline and out into the market.

This does not mean that you should always ignore small ideas but rather that you should have a process in place that facilitates the development of all raw ideas – big or small – that match or support the strategic needs of your company.

To get more specific, we see five common issues that prevent companies from generating more high-value ideas.

1. Too often, functional and geographical silos isolate people from one another and become barriers to interaction and collaboration. But some of the best ideas come when people find ways to break these artificially imposed boundaries.

2. Most companies don’t have consistent processes that facilitate their idea generation efforts; as a result, the front-end is disorganized and chaotic.

3. A third issue is an inability to link and connect related ideas. Today this is likely only accomplished “at the water cooler” but is therefore limited to those that hang around the cooler. Inefficient at best.

4. Another challenge we hear of often is the collection of ideas that have little to no relationship to the real strategic needs of the company. Companies launch idea generation programs but it is up to the employees to figure out what kind of ideas are actually needed.

5. Lastly, many companies report great success in generating volumes of ideas but once they collect them, the ideas have nowhere to go….so they die, no action is taken and, what’s worse, when employees realize this, they lose motivation and stop contributing. As one speaker at the FEI conference recently said, these systems are like a roach motel: “Ideas go in but they don’t come out!”

So the question then, is how do we move past these challenges?

We would argue that you need to employ the following principles for effective idea development:

1. Create a strong connection between corporate strategy and ideation. Ideas cannot stand alone. They must be driven by strategy. By linking the two processes, you ensure that the business remains focused on the right kinds of ideas. If this connection doesn’t exist, there’s no way to guard against an idea portfolio that is full of low-value, non-strategic ideas.

2. Create connections to facilitate discovery. Idea development is a type of activity that emphasizes divergent thinking, open discussion, creativity and brainstorming. In other words, successful ideation doesn’t just happen in a vacuum; it requires cross-functional collaboration and ongoing communication.

3. Create a culture of ideation. The creation of communities can help your organization to identify and support the development of the most commercially promising ideas. There are tools available that will automatically increase the visibility of ideas with high interest to those communities.

4. Design idea flows for consistency and efficiency. Good ideas do not emerge from rigid processes, but rather through discussions among peers, teams, and other participants in communities of interest. However, there must also be consistent, flexible workflows that focus on building and improving ideas to move them beyond their initial “raw” form.

5. Ensure seamless transition to your innovation execution process. It is critical to ensure a strong connection between ideation and execution processes. You need a seamless approach to idea development that moves ideas beyond initial concepting and into the active product development process. Important contextual and historical information from the ideas must move with the ideas as they “make the trip.” And lastly, feedback must be provided to the original idea submitter so he/she can track the progress of the idea as it moves through advanced stages of the process.


If you’re interested in learning more on this topic, you can download a copy of our new paper on the subject entitled “Overcoming Barriers to Sustainable Market Differentiation: Turning Great Ideas into Great Products,” which is available here.

Sopheon can offer practical assistance for the development and execution of your ideation process, including establishing a baseline for your company compared to best-in-class innovators. We can help your organization turn your best ideas into revenue- and profit-generating new products.

About the Author

Bryan Seyfarth, Ph.D., is Director of Product Strategy for Sopheon Corporation. He is the product leader for the Accolade® solution suite, which includes Process Manager™ for process and product portfolio management; Vision Strategist™ for strategic roadmapping and product planning; and Idea Lab™ for early-stage idea development. Bryan can be reached at bryan.seyfarth@sopheon.com, or you can follow him on Twitter - @BryanSeyfarth.

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