As a small company or startup, ideas flow naturally. If you have a good idea, it’s easy to talk to the right people. But as organizations become larger and more complex, this becomes much harder. Size, geographical, departmental or functional silos make knowing who the best person is to evaluate or implement an idea difficult. Idea management software can scale a company’s ability to keep a steady flow of good ideas from all employees.
Idea Management Software
It might be worth spending a little bit of time dissecting what we mean by idea management software. Idea management software helps an organization solicit a large number of ideas from employees, share those ideas for discussion, evaluate the ideas and provide transparency on how ideas are progressing.
How is this different from innovation management software? In our post “What Innovation Actually Means“, we discuss how broad the term innovation has become and how there are many different types of innovation. In our opinion, innovation management software would attempt to centralize much of the different and approaches to innovation. There might be a much stronger focus on knowledge management (for intellectual property), project management, and business case development as examples of features you would expect to see with innovation management software.
Employee suggestion systems is another term that often gets used. We actually think there is a lot of overlap with idea management software and suggestion systems. The only difference we might call out is that suggestions take on a much broader context and could encompass many forms of feedback. An idea management platform would be more specific and targetted, but the mechanism and processes are very similar.
List of Idea Management Software Providers
Capterra (owned by Gartner) keeps a relatively comprehensive list of idea management software providers that includes an overview, some customer feedback, links to the various vendor sites, etc. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this is as much a service for vendors as it is for customers in the market for idea management software. Vendors are allowed to edit their profiles and bid for their position within the ranking, so do not take ranking and information as unbiased. However, it is a great place to come up with a long list of vendors to consider.
Key Components of Idea Management Software
The paper “Motivating creativity through a computer-mediated employee suggestion management system” is the only unbiased, academic review of what should be included in idea management software that we’ve been able to find to date. Below is a quick abstract and the main components the paper recommends. However, if you are in the market for idea management software, we definitely recommend taking the time to read the full article.
The paper describes the requirements for an automated employee suggestion management system (ESMS) based on expectancy theory and computer-mediated communications. Although research has found that suggestion systems can be a useful way to obtain and utilize employees’ creative ideas, effective suggestion management systems must also motivate employees to think creatively and to participate in the suggestion process. According to expectancy theory, employees are most strongly motivated to participate when they believe that they can do so successfully and when they know that their participation will result in an outcome that they value. The system proposed here addresses the requirements of expectancy theory, and the weaknesses of existing suggestion systems, by establishing a communications infrastructure and protocol similar to those used in group decision support systems. The system motivates employees to submit suggestions by providing an interactive networked forum within which employees and interested stakeholders can openly debate their merits.
The paper goes on to highlight the following components as important capabilities for the software:
- An accessible interface for submitting suggestions
- A dynamic routing capability, which would (a) direct a suggestion to the person(s) best qualified to comment on it, and (b) direct comments to the other stakeholders, including the initiator of the suggestion and the ESS administrator
- A central knowledge repository wherein suggestions and feedback could be deposited and discussed in an open, interactive forum
- Information about stakeholders and originator knowledge and preferences
- A mechanism for monitoring the progress of suggestions through the system
- Support for an ESMS administrator
Much of what’s written in the paper are things we have experienced to be correct with our own customers. There is one additional consideration that we think is important. Often our customers are looking at one of two general approaches to collecting employee ideas.
The first is an open-ended approach to collecting ideas. It’s an always-on interface for employees to submit ideas as they come to mind. There is minimal framing to the types of ideas that can be submitted. This is basically a modernized employee suggestion box with some direction provided on what type of ideas employees should submit.
The second is a request for ideas on a particular challenge within a specific timeframe. This is basically brainstorming. Idea management software vendors often refer to this as an idea challenge.
So in addition to considering the requirements above for idea management software, it’s also work looking more broadly at what are the key success factors for open-ended and idea challenge approaches to gathering employee ideas.
Employee Suggestion System Best Practices
There is a lot more research that’s available on employee suggestion systems than there is specifically on software. We reviewed over 20 academic articles to create our research review of Employee Suggestion System Best Practices. As a quick overview, below are 10 factors we highlighted as being critical to a successful employee suggestion system. Therefore, also consider how the idea management software will help in each of these areas.
Brainstorming Best Practices
Similarly, there’s a fair bit of research on brainstorming (or idea challenge) best practices. We reviewed and summarized these best practices in our Brainstorming Best Practices Guide. The most important takeaway from the guide is that there are definite risks to brainstorming if it’s not managed properly. Brainstorming can actually lead to fewer, less creative ideas if it’s not done properly. For brainstorming to work well, people need time on their own to come up with ideas before engaging in discussion.
SoapBox Innovations creates software that helps organizations give employees a voice. Whether your focus is on collecting feedback or soliciting ideas, we make it easier to act on employee input that drives real business value.