I spent the early part of my career working with engineers. Back then, none of the companies I worked for had formal innovation programs.
We tended to consider all of Silicon Valley at that time as one extremely large innovation factory, so there wasn’t a lot of need to formalize idea generation. If your current company wasn’t interested, somebody you knew, knew somebody who knew either an angel investor or someone who worked at a VC firm.
Those heady days are long gone and innovation, if it’s not lost in the shuffle, needs a little more help to remain visible. Some companies have chosen to invest resources in ideation programs, formal brainstorming meetings, and even crowd-sourcing ideas, but the payback from these programs is often less than many companies had originally hoped.
A better approach is to allow employees to propose adding adjacent products, product enhancements, strategic solutions, or even new productivity improvements into a single system where each idea can be automatically triaged into various categories. Using a tool like the new Tempus Resource Intake Workflow enables users to simplify and keep all the data in one system.
An invitation for ideation
Innovation to Ideation is generally a standalone process, separate from the work the company is normally planning to do. Additionally, innovation proposals are usually reviewed by a select group of people rather than by leaders and their staff in the business units themselves.
With Tempus Resource’s project/proposal intake workflow capability, anyone can propose an idea without needing a user license. As a former portfolio manager, I’ve always said that I’d take a project proposal from anyone with a good idea. My assumption has always been that if I designed the input form correctly, I’d instantly know by the information (or lack thereof) included on the form whether the idea was ready for serious consideration. This fact would give me the ability to either return it as incomplete or, if something about it hits my Spidey senses, talk to the requester myself.
Making time for ideas
A portfolio manager at a Gartner summit once shared with me his story of looking at a practically indecipherable proposal that he somehow instantly recognized as being important. He met with the submitter, and after four grueling hours of trying to find the right questions to ask, he finally coaxed out an easy-to-implement idea and immediately saved the company millions of dollars. If his company hadn’t had an open proposal process, this idea would never have seen the light of day, and his company would be poorer.
Is it worth going through hundreds of proposals to find the 5% to 10% of the forms that contain good ideas? My answer is a resounding yes, for a whole host of reasons:
- Every proposal selected and implemented tangibly aids in building a culture of problem-solving and innovation.
- Using a tool like Tempus as the system of record for open innovation allows the company to highlight people whose proposals have been chosen. It also supports creating a peer mentor network through the search capability of Tempus’ skill and knowledge feature.
- The more tacit knowledge employees share about how to write the best proposal, the better the proposals will get (and all without adding any additional process controls).
- We’ve learned a lot about knowledge management since the failures of the 90s. People love to share their knowledge and their experience. All they ask is to be recognized for gaining the knowledge and being willing to share it.
Software that supports growth and innovation
The secret to making a feature like the project/proposal intake workflow capability is to keep it simple. Could employees waste time thinking of something to propose? Not really, if you want to build a culture of creativity. Could an employee propose something outlandish? Possibly, but what’s outlandish today is accepted tomorrow.
Years ago, IT systems were sold with the implied guarantee that all a company’s problems would instantly disappear if it bought from XYZ software. The assumption was that the software developers had already thought of everything.
Today, we know that isn’t true. Today, software systems are increasingly designed to support an organization through its evolutionary process, from starting as a beginner to becoming a proficient expert. Every company is unique, and every company (based on ten years of experience with the Gartner PPM maturity model) has things it does uncommonly well and things it’s poor at.
The Tempus Resource open initiation proposal capability can be used in the service of any project initiation workflow. In this article, I chose to highlight how it can be used for initiation, but it works just as well for demand management and portfolio management.
This flexibility means that a company at a Level 1 resource management maturity (based on how well they do capacity planning) doesn’t have to wait until they get to Level 3 or Level 4 to start an innovation process. All the features of the product are available at any time, so companies never have to wait to start building a culture of problem-solving and creativity.