The discussion with my guest is about selecting ideas to be developed into products. Many organizations encourage employees, partners, customers, and other stakeholders to provide ideas for products, but only a few companies successfully manage organizing the ideas, selecting the best one, and executing well to turn ideas into valuable products.
Peter Duggan, a SVP and Head of Product Management & Development for Computershare Investor Services, has created a simple and effective 5 step process for selecting the best ideas for new products. He shared some of these concepts in a workshop at the Product Innovation Management annual conference and I am delighted to have him share the 5 steps with us.
After listening, you’ll know how to help your organization become idea-selecting ninjas through 5 simple steps.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- Before we can select product ideas, we have to first have ideas – how are ideas generated in your organization? How we don’t generate ideas is important to describe first– we don’t run campaigns with catchy names, that imply that idea generation is a temporary activity. Instead, we solicit ideas on a regular basis from employees that are close to the front lines. We tell employees that no idea is a bad idea – the objective is to generate lots of ideas and then to select those ideas with the most value for the organization. When ideas are selected, we also ask for the employee to identify the purpose of the idea, such as generating additional revenue, saving expense, improving client satisfaction, etc.
- The first element is cataloging- what is involved? Every idea is placed into an Excel spreadsheet – we like keeping the system easy and avoid using complicated software. A template is used to collect specific information about the idea, such as its purpose, potential worth to the company, etc. The list of ideas in the spreadsheet is essentially a pipeline, like a sales pipeline. As ideas move through the pipeline, actions are taken, including seeing the idea developed.
- The second element – sizing – how is that accomplished? This involves noting all the assumptions made, including specifics related to the purpose of the idea. For example, if it’s a revenue-generating idea, how large is the target market, what is the potential price of the product, how large of an effort is creating the product, what are the timing considerations for getting the product to market, how complex is the project, and what other stakeholders need to be involved.
- Prioritizing is the third element. What is your experience with prioritizing? A key question is what is the capability of the organization to manage change – the capacity to accomplish projects. The number of projects need to be maximized and aligned with the capabilities of the organization and the availability of required stakeholders. Consequently, the highest priority ideas need to be identified and balanced against the needs of the organization, considering the short term and the longer term objectives, and the availability of resources.
- Next is selecting – the fourth element. How is selecting accomplished? The highest priority ideas are evaluated by a team. Those selected enter a flexible stage-gate development process. Ideas that enter development are managed as a portfolio, aligned to the organization’s strategy. Each idea is assigned to a product manager. The portfolio is organized by the original purpose of the idea, either (1) revenue-generating, (2) expense saving, or (3) client-satisfaction improving. Ideas that are not selected stay in the idea pipeline but are moved to a “hold” state for revaluation in the future.
- Tell us about the final element, managing the project. There is some art and science to determining which and how many projects are assigned to product managers. A product team is created for each project. Availability of resources is often an issue and looking beyond the normal resources is helpful. For example there are always people willing to dedicate some time to projects they find interesting. Also, when managing projects, while documentation should not become a project itself, consistency of templates used and documentation eases project management issues and makes sharing lessons-learned more effective. Another aspect is managing the portfolio of projects, which requires having useful metrics. These include total value of the idea pipeline (all ideas in the spreadsheet), number of projects actively in development and their value, how many projects are completed and what value did they create. After a project is completed and product launched, evaluate it at 6 and 12 months to examine how its performance compares with the original expectations made when the idea was selected.
“When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for people telling you that you are nuts.” –Larry Ellison
Listen Now to the Interview
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.