I spend half my time speaking with potential users of our idea management software. I spend the other half of my time nurturing relationships with potential partners. These organizations vary in size and area of expertise but they have at least one thing in common: They all offer their knowledge on a consultative basis to large organizations on the topic of Innovation.
Some of these folks are New Product Development people. Some have a focus for Organizational Change. Some conduct “Ideation” sessions or they facilitate Brainstorming meetings. Their clients are organizations that embrace a culture of innovation and they are bringing subject matter expertise to the table.
Companies use outside consultants in Innovation for the same reasons they bring in outside consultants for anything. They want to accomplish a goal and they don’t have every piece of the puzzle solved using in-house people. This is especially true in the economic climate we’ve been in for the last couple of years. It may be more cost effective to periodically bring in a team of Innovation Experts than to fund them as full time employees.
Even if an organization has a Senior Chief Innovation Officer they might not have any infrastructure underneath that person (again for budget or because the topic of Innovation is too new). These Innovation Officers frequently have to borrow man power from other departments to execute an innovation plan. So it makes economic and organizational sense to bring in an Innovation Consulting Expert.
The nature of consultancy is frequently short term. We have a problem or a challenge. We don’t have all the right expertise in house. We’ll get some expertise from consultants in the field; task them with an achievable, measurable goal. And then show them the door after we’ve completed this self-contained business plan.
Aha! Here’s where idea management software comes into play. The ideation process is not short term. Nor is cultivating a culture of innovation. These require the company’s senior management to embrace innovation on an ongoing basis. Quite simply,” I want my people to be thinking of good ideas all the time. I want them to know they can put aside some of their working hours to have good ideas and develop them”.
But a suggestion box will rapidly be flooded because the person responsible for managing the suggestions cannot possibly filter through the ideas manually and productively. He or she will soon be overwhelmed. So when the inventors of good ideas see that no one paid any attention to their submitted idea, the ideators will just keep the next idea to themselves.
And the structured systems for project management or product management are too structured for the initial stages of ideation. The “fuzzy front end of innovation” requires an environment that is electronic and automated, with automated promotion processes based on pre determined criteria for automated promotion. This is because the problem won’t be that there aren’t enough ideas but there are too many ideas.
And the organization needs to be engaged on an ongoing basis. So a loosely structured, chaotic environment is called for so that ideas can surface serendipitously. And people on the team can collaborate on ideas. Then the thrill of watching co-workers contribute and collaborate on ideas will keep inventors coming back. That thrill is reward enough!
So innovation consultants can do their clients a great favor by recommending the use of an idea management system. The idea management system can even be tailored to reflect the outlook and style of the consultant. Stages in the ideation process can mirror the consultant’s methodologies. The Innovation Consultant can have their work augmented (not threatened) by the use of an idea management system.
We have different relationships with different Innovation Consultants. First off we have partners in this space that are small organizations and others that are international organizations with an “innovation practice”. Some prefer to remain idea management software vendor neutral. They want to serve their clients by giving them good advice including their awareness of the idea management software marketplace.
Other consulting organizations have learned they need a tool to promote an ongoing approach to ideation that supports the consulting company’s philosophy, so we tweak our software to have a flavor unique to the partner’s needs. Some consulting partners feel they can only support a finite number of vendors for idea management software because they want in an in-depth understanding of how the software works and offer our product exclusively.
Some of our partners share in the revenue that results from an introduction they make between our company and our now joint client. Most wrap their consulting expertise around the idea management software deployment. They help answer the questions: “How do we pick the first user community? How do we create organic growth of the system and increased adoption? What is the best ‘first challenge’ we put in front of our user community to give them strategic guidance? “
And even more consulting services can be wrapped around the deployment of the new idea management software. Engagements that only can be sold into the client if the client acquires an idea management software license. These engagements might include:
System Start Up
- define project scope
- defining a use case with clear objectives
- defining measurable innovation and collaboration targets
- designing a performing collaborative environment
- train the seed team and prepare for kick-off
- monitor community adoption and activity
- coaching the seed team
- moderation of the tool-evaluation workspace
- monthly steering group meetings
- user adoption & organic growth strategy
- communication strategy
- implementation milestones
A Seeding Workshop can include a number of helpful steps the consultant can bring to the table. They can guide their client as they define innovation focus. They can help the client prepare innovation campaigns (seeds) and map the company’s innovation ecosystem (seed team, key users, and expert groups). Consultants, with their in depth subject matter expertise, can help the client describe role, motivation and barriers as well as help prioritize functional requirements for a secure collaborative platform.
One of the most important things an Innovation Consultant can advise their customer’s new use of an idea management system is to help them set measurable goals for the testing of the new system. What Key Performance Indicators will be used to judge the success (or failure) of the new system. “Will we measure adoption of the new system, the number of new ideas, the quality of ideas, the number of contributions to the new system besides ideas? Will the new idea management system be just for ideas? Or will we guide the use of the system to be part of the company’s Intranet and use it as a Knowledge Management system”. These are questions the Innovation Consultant can ask that perhaps the client never thought of.
The Innovation Consultant, the Idea Management Software People, the Client’s Lead Users, the company’s internal Innovation Managers will all be part of the newly launched system’s Steering Committee meetings that occur weekly, monthly or as needed. That means the Innovation consultant needs to be on site at the client in a billable role and on an ongoing basis.
The Idea Management Software Vendor and the Innovation Consultant
o Need Each Other
o Benefit by Working Together (the joint offering has much more value than merely the sum of the parts).
There is a symbiotic, healthy relationship between Innovation Consultants and Idea Management software vendors. The consultants continue to serve their clients by suggesting what they believe is the best software for idea management for the client. The Idea Management software vendor works closely with the consultant to make certain the consultant’s vision is consistently being recognized and met.
The client benefits by getting a holistic, ongoing culture of innovation. The Innovation Consultant benefits by extending their practice into engagements not previously required. The Idea Management software vendor benefits by putting their software to work at clients they would not have otherwise encountered.
Oh, yeah. I don’t want to forget the most important element in the relationships just described. Trust. Partners in Innovation are just like partners in anything. A basis for trust must be thoroughly woven into the partnership. Just like the song from Guys and Dolls, everyone must remember “Stick with me baby, I’m the guy you came in with”. Then the client, the consultant and the software team all get very lucky.
Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here http://bit.ly/ac3x60
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.