While idea management is nothing new to the innovation discipline, it seems there are new idea management software systems continuing to surface with great frequency. I am not sure what the latest count is, but search the term ‘idea management software’ and you get over 59 million results. This article takes a look at what steps you can take to choose an idea management system that is right for you and your organization.

One of the more comprehensive lists I have seen can be found on Idea Management Systems’ site, which includes 44 idea management systems.

But what do you do with 44, or 50, or whatever the number of idea management systems there are? How do you assess the pros and cons? How do you make a solid recommendation to senior management? After all, at least in my experience, in most organizations you cannot simply randomly select a software system.

With that context in mind, here are 7 steps you can take to lead you to choosing an idea management system that is right for you and your organization.

Step 1: Get organized

Choosing an idea management system is not something you want to do alone, even if you already have a good feel for which ones you might evaluate. There are many reasons for this, including but not limited to, multi-stakeholder perspectives, corporate politics, buy-in and engagement later on, what happens when you move on to something else in your career, and so on. Therefore, the first step is creating a team or task force that will participate in selecting the system. Personally, I also highly recommend drafting an executive sponsor to join the team to ensure executive buy-in and alignment from the start.

Step 2: Define goals

It is very useful, in my opinion, to take your time in defining goals (and success metrics if required) as these will become your boundaries and guide rails

This one may seem obvious but in my experience it is often overlooked or given short shrift during the selection process. It is very useful, in my opinion, to take your time in defining goals (and success metrics if required) as these will become your boundaries and guide rails throughout the selection process. Another key point here is that, importantly, different systems are designed for different purposes and for different budgets. If, for example, cost-effective budget is a critical goal, this will immediately limit the number of system choices you have.

Step 3: Determine desired features and functionality

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen in my experience is that the selection committee rushes into picking a handful of potential system providers before defining what features and functionality are really desired or needed to meet defined goals. While it might feel like swift action, the opposite tends to occur. That is, you may wind up with a short list of potential system providers that, while they may be popular and/or have strong reputations, they may have far too many bells and whistles than you need, or worse yet, they may be missing a critical feature such as integration with a CRM or other system your organization already has.

Step 4: Agree on selection criteria and process

There is no standard way of doing this in my experience. For example, you may want to create a scorecard if your culture is analytically oriented. Or, you may simply want to use a straight forward voting process. Or, you may want to determine a list of important criteria and ask your system providers to reply to the list. Regardless of how you choose to do this step, the important thing is to make you have a good alignment on the criteria and the approach. Here is where multi-stakeholder perspective and executive sponsorship can come in quite handy.

Step 5: Divide and conquer

It can become quite time consuming to adequately evaluate even a handful of potential system providers. Personally, to get around this challenge, I like to split up the initial evaluation among several (or sometimes all) of the team members. Not only does this make the burden less onerous, it also creates more involvement along the way.

Step 6: Narrow the playing field

Generally, I like to stick to a policy of at least three potential system providers being included in the final recommendation, in rank order of course. In fact, some organizations require this so it’s a good practice either way. But even if your organization does not have a hard requirement for at least three possibilities, I have found it useful because often during the final selection process something unexpected happens such as disagreement on scope, budget, terms, etc. So it’s handy to have some backup plans already in the palm of your hand.

Step 7: Do a pilot

After step 6 you might think you are ready to dive in. I highly recommend doing a pilot first. This is primarily about mitigating potential risk but also about ensuring proper organizational commitment, support, and engagement. You probably already know that without people and process to support technology, adoption of any software system can wind up in the tank. The pilot gives you and your team that has worked so hard to select the best possible idea management system the opportunity to not only test the system and the provider but also your organization. Assuming a successful pilot, you are now ready to fully engage and roll out the system to your targeted audience.

By Harun Asad

About The Author

Harun Asad is currently employed with ConEdison Solutions, a leading energy services company based in New York, where he steers a new products/markets team and serves on the board of the company’s corporate innovation team.
Previously, he was an Adjunct Professor at NYU-Poly, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Lodestar, a b2b consulting firm, and held a number of other corporate positions in strategy, marketing, and innovation. He holds an MBA, a BS in Marketing and has completed graduate studies towards an MS in Information Management.