What Is Idea Management and How Does It Support Innovation?

Shiny green clouds on a mint green background.

You know what they say about opinions: Everyone has one. What they don’t say enough is, for opinions to be useful, you must collect and analyze them in an organized and transparent manner. 

Consulting firm McKinsey reports 84% of CEOs believe innovation is critical to growth. Meanwhile, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says 95% of business innovations fail. A conclusion you can draw from these two statistics is that innovation is an area worth investing in, but one should do so with scrutiny. 

This is where idea management comes in. When used effectively, idea management turns opinions about what your company could or should be doing into an actionable path to innovation. 

What is idea management?

Idea management is a structured process by which companies generate, store, evaluate, test, and implement new ideas. Decision-makers are likely familiar with the quantity of opinions held throughout the company about how it is run—some valuable, others less so. 

A proper idea management system gathers input about a company from employees, customers, and even social chatter. Idea management offers guidelines for evaluating and implementing ideas, as well as reporting on their relative success. Everybody rests a little easier knowing solutions are not only being recorded but considered, and occasionally enshrined, as policy or a product feature. 

Idea management vs. innovation management

The term “idea management” is often used in conjunction with innovation management, but they’re distinct concepts. Innovation management is an umbrella term encompassing the way all innovations come to life throughout the organization; it is guided by an innovation strategy that closely aligns with the overarching business strategy. 

Idea management is a specific practice within the field of innovation management, guiding the processes and tools by which new ideas are harvested, stored, evaluated, and implemented. 

Why is idea management important?

  1. Focused problem solving
  2. Resilience in the face of change
  3. Greater customer satisfaction
  4. Employee retention
  5. More innovative culture
  6. Strategic alignment

Idea management is more than an exercise in organization. A proper idea management process can lead to: 

Focused problem solving 

Effective idea management processes enable focused ideation around an individual problem, allowing teams to work quickly to address new problems. 

Resilience in the face of change

When ideas are consistently evaluated and implemented throughout the company, the company is better positioned to adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace. 

Greater customer satisfaction

Ideas can, and should, be harvested from customers, whether through support tickets, sales calls, or one-on-one interactions with key clients. Idea management processes help tag and track recurring concerns, fast-tracking them for resolution (or at least assessment). 

Employee retention

Idea management is a transparent process that works best with wide-scale buy-in, assuring employees their ideas are valid. Listening to employees’ ideas can lead to greater emotional investment in the company and to job satisfaction.

More innovative culture

Idea management fosters a work environment in which people know innovation can come from anywhere, inspiring creative approaches to all sorts of problems. 

Strategic alignment

Any organization’s idea management should be aligned with its broader business strategy. Ongoing idea generation and evaluation help reiterate that business strategy to all employees. 

What is the idea management process?

  1. Ideation
  2. Idea capture
  3. Evaluation
  4. Implementation
  5. Reporting

Depending on the size of your organization, the idea management process could take many shapes. Even small companies can benefit from following the idea management process. No matter how big or small your company, the process is essentially the same: 

1. Ideation

Ideas can be generated continuously or via a limited-time campaign. The classic brainstorming session, in which a group of people gets together in a room and spontaneously comes up with solutions to a problem, is an example of a limited-time campaign toward a very focused problem. But it’s far from the only example of ideation. Individuals or small groups can tackle idea challenges and then join back up to pitch their best and most developed concepts to the broader team, developing them further. 

Alternatively, a suggestion box in the break room can be an ongoing source of ideas. In a digital world, you might implement that classic ideation process via an anonymous digital suggestion box or an employee engagement platform.

You can implement creativity at a large scale as well. 3M famously apportions 15% of all employee time toward projects that interest them. While the projects must ultimately align with business objectives, this time provides a framework for ongoing innovation. 

2. Idea capture

Idea capture is where the idea management system becomes a useful process. All ideas need to be stored in a centralized location and in a similar format. On a smaller scale, this could be a spreadsheet with a few columns, including the topic, the idea, and the person who suggested it. 

Larger-scale idea management tools may require more fields to tee up proper evaluation. Either way, the goal of idea capture is comprehensiveness (all ideas are captured across the organization) and endurance (ideas will remain stored as part of a bank of knowledge heading into the future). 

3. Evaluation 

Decide on a regular cadence to evaluate the ideas you’ve been generating and storing. First, filter out irrelevant ones without deleting them entirely. These might be ideas for an expensive office remodel you don’t yet have the budget for or an idea you’ve already tried. Move these ideas to a separate folder and tag any that fall under recurring themes, such as “already tried” or “possible at a later date.” 

Next, evaluate what’s left using a sturdy, replicable metric. Score each idea with fields like feasibility, cost, impact, and novelty. After a brainstorm, for example, you can organize the suggestions in a matrix, where the X axis is feasibility and the Y axis is impact. The highly feasible and highly impactful initiatives could then be fast-tracked for testing. 

This evaluation step doesn’t need to be the final, objective determinant by which ideas move onto the roadmap for implementation. But an evaluative framework can help give shape to that conversation. Ultimately, the most important ideas are the ones that will meaningfully align and advance the broader organization’s strategic priorities. 

4. Implementation 

Once you’ve evaluated the most innovative ideas, develop plans for implementation. This could mean a lot of different things given the business and department at hand. Perhaps a marketing department wants to try funnier subject lines for their emails. They could run an A/B test on subject lines, using more traditional ones as the control group against some funnier ones. On the other hand, a major product innovation, like redesigning a handle for a carrying case based on customer complaints, might require scoping, timelines, and resource analysis. 

It’s generally wise to consult someone from the idea management process throughout the implementation process. This helps ensure that it fulfills the design and project scope that led to its green-light in the first place. Of course, ideas can evolve through the design and implementation process, but these evolutions should be tracked to facilitate better reporting. 

5. Reporting

Once the idea has been implemented, the idea management process continues. Monitor how the implemented idea impacts any relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) by asking questions like: Did the new subject lines increase open rates? Did the newly designed handle decrease customer-service tickets? 

You can use any feedback you gather to iterate on not just the idea at hand but also the entire idea management process. Perhaps a surplus of valuable ideas came from one department or workflow. Lean into these wins as the idea management process continues. 

It’s crucial that the transparency continues throughout the reporting process. Employees who generated the most promising ideas should be recognized and rewarded as appropriate for company culture. This has the knock-on effect of illustrating to the broader company that employee contributions are taken seriously and can lead to real changes within the organization. 

Tools for idea management

Idea management software can help streamline the process for companies looking to foster a spirit of innovation. They often include portals to submit ideas, brainstorm collaboratively, and track ideas. 

Consider these tools to help you manage ideas: 

  • IdeaScale is an idea management platform that facilitates crowdsourced innovation by allowing organizations to collect, evaluate, and implement ideas from employees, customers, and stakeholders.
  • Ideanote enables users to submit, categorize, and develop ideas easily. You can try it for free without submitting credit card information.
  • Brightidea is an innovation management platform that helps organize idea generation, selection, and execution. Request a demo to understand how the tools can help evaluate, track, and implement innovative ideas.
  • Qmarkets provides features like idea submission, evaluation, and collaboration areas to drive innovation and improve decision-making. They have additional tools to help you spot trends and scout new technologies.
  • Idea Drop focuses on quickly capturing and sharing ideas by allowing teams to easily submit, comment on, and vote for ideas.

Idea management FAQ

What is the purpose of idea management?

The purpose of idea management is to systematically gather, evaluate, and implement ideas to drive innovation, solve problems, and improve processes within an organization or community.

What’s the difference between idea management and innovation management?

Idea management focuses on generating and evaluating ideas, while innovation management encompasses the broader process of taking those ideas through development, commercialization, and market implementation.

Can idea management be applied in any industry?

Yes, idea management can be applied in any industry, as it is a versatile approach to harnessing creativity and problem-solving across various sectors, including technology, health care, manufacturing, and services.