The business cost of addressing failures in product development rises exponentially as the product nears the market. It is no surprise therefore that over 60% of technology businesses operate a staged-innovation process of some kind. Early selection of winning ideas and rejection of likely failures is logically the most efficient use of resources. Many companies therefore operate ideas capture and filtering processes, often web-supported for maximum reach, to collect and hopefully select the best ideas for investigation. Unfortunately, following an initial fanfare promotion and a burst of activity the commitment of idea evaluators wanes as other priorities make demands on their time and the ideas pipeline slows through a lack of engagement and progression of submitted ideas.
Business process sustainability problems in organisations are more often due to “soft” i.e. social system failure. It is reported that 50% of commercial Knowledge Management projects fail due to over-reliance on technology and a lack of consideration of people or “soft” issues Web-based portals and sophisticated document management systems can support communication across geographies and the capture of tacit knowledge as explicit knowledge i.e. accessible for dissemination, but the key to sustainability is social and cultural. Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a structured thinking approach to complex problems that is particularly useful at identifies the impact of management actions on organisational culture, for instance the motivational drivers for people working within a business system. A SSM analysis of an ICT-supported ideas handling process within an industrial products company identified that recognition and quality feedback were incentives for market-aware idea creators to engage and enabler roles; Knowledge Managers and Technology Translators, were key to sustaining engagement and the crucial buy-in of resources selected to investigate promising ideas.
The SSM study also identified Idea Enhancement – a workshop activity employing creative and parallel thinking techniques such as De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” – as the key step in a successful ideas handling process. After passing through company-specific primary screening criteria (typically strategic fit and core competency development potential), the objective of the Ideas Enhancement activity is to create knowledge that maximises the potential attractiveness score of an idea prior to a final screening our or a resourced investigation. To this end, Idea Enhancement should where possible include the idea originator – often someone in a customer-facing role – who should be encouraged to identify any potential flaws in the submitted idea. Other participants should include specialist technologists charged with finding solutions to identified flaws, a Technology Translator to identify the broader benefits of solutions identified, potential investigators to obtain buy-in for successful ideas and a Knowledge Manager to facilitate and record the process. Having witnessed first hand that ideas are given the “best chance of success”, originators of ideas screened out after the group enhancement stage are motivated to submit further ideas.
Implementing a sustainable ideas handling process is key to the development of an innovation culture within a company and supports organisational learning. If you would like to learn more about how the application of Soft System Methodology can improve your business processes or you require coaching and support in developing a sustainable ideas handling system you can contact Pennog by calling +44 1484 443001 or by selecting “Idea Creation and Handling” in the easy contacts form and providing some details of your requirements.