Innovation is work (Part 2: From ideas to implementation)
Yesterday I described the start of our innovation challenge. At the end of a month we'd generated 65 ideas, and knew which ones were popular. But how to move forward?
This is where our judges came in. I recruited about 15 people to help with the process. They included many senior managers here (the COO, the CMO, our new chief business technology officer, and the head of human resources) as well as new product and strategy experts, an operational expert, some very senior analysts, and the managers of several of our research and sales groups. This diverse set of judges proved crucial in moving forward.
Recruit senior experts to help judge the ideas.
I split the judges into two groups: a set of more operationally focused people for the Quick ideas (easy to implement now), and a more product-focused group for the Detailed ideas (requiring further budget or study).
We had the judges score the ideas they would be evaluating (either the Quick set or the Detailed set) on potential (revenue, cost, or productivity improvements) as well as effort, cost, and strategic fit. Many, but not all, of these scores mirrored the ones that got the most votes. The judges did this scoring on their own schedule but on a deadline; they were done in couple of weeks. We narrowed the ideas down to the eight best in each set, 16 in all.
It's crucial to have an open, relatively objective system to choose ideas for further study.
Now the fun began. We set up two 3-hour evaluation meetings, one for the Quick ideas, one for the Detailed. These were hellishly difficult to set up, since they involved videoconference and WebEx with senior people and presenters in San Francisco, Singapore, Amsterdam, Dallas, and New York, but I felt it was crucial to complete each evaluation meeting in a single 3-hour window. We told each innovator to create an eight minute presentation, no more. Each presentation to the group was followed by six minutes of questions. So each evaluation meeting heard eight snappy presentations over two hours. Then we discussed and voted. At the end of the process, we had picked seven of the 16 ideas to move forward with, and none of the judges had to spend more than a single three-hour meeting.
I was worried about the shortness of the presentations, but they worked great. The snappy format really focused the presenters as well as the judges. And the best ideas definitely stood out. We selected a wide variety of different ideas -- new product ideas, new process innovations, ways to make our reports better and to make our employees happier and more productive. (I'd like to tell you more but it's too soon . . . you'll see!)
The presenters were diverse. Among the innovators we picked (you can see their pictures above) were people in sales, client services, marketing, and research. Some had a long tenure, others had only been working for us for a couple of years. (I was one of those submitting ideas and one of my own ideas was picked, but I think all the judges and the presenters would tell you we ran the process very objectively.)
I was very pleased when, after his 3-hour meeting, the COO Charles Rutstein told me "That was a good use of time."
Short presentations for vetting work well. Get senior executives involved in the process, but don't waste their time.
At the conclusion of this process I realized we were not at the end of something, but at the beginning. We had endorsed the ideas, now the innovators need to make something of them.
As a result, we have started work on incubating these ideas. I will be working with all the innovation leaders to help them gather the allies and resources they need. Each will start with a community on our HERO platform that they can use to coordinate their activities.
We will learn from this and will conduct more iterations in 2012. Culturally, it's our hope that this process helps Forrester be not-just idea-focused -- which we are -- but more effective at turning ideas into positive change for the company. That's a good message for employees to embrace.
Innovation is work. Ideas are easy to come up with. But the right process floats the best ideas to the top and gives the innovators tools to turn ideas into projects, products, and processes that can make an impact, and can transform your culture.