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Innovation: managing ideas at scale

This article appears in the issue July/August 2017, [Volume 26, Issue 7]
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The response rates in the innovation events differed by department, depending on the focus of the contest. “For business innovation, the response was tremendous from sales and marketing,” adds Van Langendonck, “but people from retail stores also contributed ideas.” When the initiative dealt with technology, R&D had the biggest response, and for continuous improvement, the response from manufacturing was the most robust.

Innovation capability maturity test

Planbox serves as the system of record for Bridgestone’s innovation activities. As a result of the Planbox innovation campaigns, several ideas are now in incubation, and overall awareness is up significantly. The company expects to put some of those ideas into production by year’s end.

“Configurable workflows and business rules help navigate an idea from the initial concept to a project,” says Rudolf Melik, director of R&D and product strategy at Planbox. “In addition, it can manage experiments that are designed around the concept using an embedded agile work management tool.” The workflow determines who reviews the initial idea based on rules that classify the ideas.

Planbox supports communities to which ideas can be shared and evaluated. Innovation management software has some similarities with collaboration solutions, but has a more structured flow of communication. Planbox has also developed an innovation capability maturity test that can help an organization assess its innovation effectiveness to determine what focus areas to invest in and improve.

Because one goal is to maximize participation, the initial barrier is low. “The first user interaction with the system is very simple,” Melik continues, “requesting just a brief explanation of the idea.” As the idea advances, the bar is set higher, and participants need to provide a business plan or financial analysis, which requires a more sophisticated interface. “To get to the next stage, users may be asked to provide notes on strategic alignment, some forecasting, cost breakdowns and risk assessment,” he adds.

Gamification is part of many idea management campaigns. “Companies set up different ways of rewarding contributors,” explains Melik. “They may win soft rewards like a written recommendation from executives, a badge and public recognition for their contributions or stuff rewards such as a T-shirt or extra time off from work. The system provides the capability to design a game (point, level and badge system) and to capture and track this information.”

Organizations can set up different ways of screening or evaluating ideas. “The idea can be evaluated by a review team or voted on by all the participants,” says Melik. “This depends on the scenario. A challenge can be designed to be internal or external, with a group that is large or small.” Planbox also supports “shark tank” business competition scenarios in which each team builds a business case for its idea, presents it and then a decision is made about which team wins the competition and moves forward with its idea.

Focusing on connections

Spigit helps companies gather the collective intelligence of its employees and evaluate the ideas for relevance. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to determine the connections among ideas and people and to surface the ideas that have the most potential value to the organization. “At the end of a challenge, the organization will have not just a list of potentially relevant ideas,” says Melissa Matlins, VP of marketing at Spigit, “but also an understanding of how the ideas would fit within the company.”

Polaris Industries produces sports power vehicles such as snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Its innovation program has been operational for more than a decade, but scalability was limited because it was managed manually. Four years ago, Polaris implemented Spigit and was able to increase the speed of moving from concept to execution by 80 percent. Four innovative vehicles have emerged from the Ideate Innovation program powered by Spigit, along with 175 new ideas and a substantial increase in revenue. The new vehicles include the Polaris Slingshot and a low-inertia Axys, a high-performance snowmobile designed for mountain environments.

Spigit can be used in two primary modes: time-bound questions and always-on communities. The time-bound mode is typically related to a specific business issue or problem, while the communities-based approach is a search for ideas that could be applied to a variety of issues in one business area. “Successful companies are practicing ideation in many forms, including ‘always-on’ communities and time-bound challenges, as well as more specific practices like hackathons, Matlins says.

“Identifying connections among people with common interests is very important in building a culture of innovation,” Matlins continues. “When people have to work in isolation and can’t see or understand the outcomes of their ideas, it can become a culture of frustration instead.” Many mechanisms inside the Spigit platform drive engagement. “If you want engagement, you need to connect people who have similar ideas,” Matlins says. As a by-product, that engagement can also help reduce silos in large companies.

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