Insights and sneak peeks into innovation and IdeaScale.

A Collaborative Product Development Stage Gate

Product Development Stage GateYou might be surprised to learn that silica sand is used in a wide variety of industries: everything from the oil & gas vertical to products in sports & recreation. It’s amazing that sand can be used for arts and crafts or even water filtration. So a company that provides silica and sand based products actually has a wide range of innovation opportunities as they build out their product portfolio.

For that reason, Covia instituted a company-wide innovation program so that employees from anywhere in the business could share ideas for new products, provide incremental improvement suggestions, create process improvement opportunities and transparently articulate and evaluate that value to everyone in the community simultaneously.

In order to manage a 500% increase in the volume of ideas, the Sustainable Development Business Innovation (SDBI) group instituted a unique workflow for each campaign (there are four major campaigns in the ideation community) and each workflow included several levels of review. Here’s an example workflow from the Product Innovation campaign:

  • Team Review: Sub teams comprising cross-functional Subject Matter Experts (SME-T) are established.
  • Idea Score Screen (ISS): SMEs utilize the ISS for idea reviewing, scoring and relative ranking.
  • Stage Gate® Product Development: The top ranked ideas next move to Gate One of the Stage Gate® process for additional screening by the Stage Gate committee before they are approved to move to Stage One, which is the R&D Feasibility Study phase.

Periodically the SDBI presents promising ideas to leadership who help to remove roadblocks. And the results so far are very encouraging: an estimated $5 million in new revenues from product ideas and an estimated $2 million in cost savings in the process efficiency category. And all of this, because existing ideas are being shared and implemented beyond the bounds of their silos.

To read the full story behind Covia, download the complete case study.

A Successful Customer Experience Innovation Workflow

Customer Experience InnovationLast week, IdeaScale introduced a proven product improvement workflow that is being used by our highest performing communities. This week, we continue that trend by showcasing a workflow that has been used to demonstrably improve customer experience and customer satisfaction. Organizations like this gather ideas from employees about how to make customers lives better and they track their progress by measuring their customer NPS Score. Here’s what that funnel looks like:

Suggest and Vote (using Ideate): In this stage any employee can suggest ideas and moderators reply to each and ideas are moved to another stage every two weeks.

First Review (using Review): Popular or promising ideas are rated by the customer team for their potential impact and viability on a scale of 1-5. The top ideas progress into the next stages. Those that aren’t appropriate or aren’t possible right now are moved into the declined or archived stages.

More Information (using Refine): In this stage the idea submitter answers additional questions about how the idea will work in practice. Only ideas that have answered every question can progress to the “make a case” stage.

Make a Case (using Refine): In this stage, the idea owner adds more in-depth information about the idea, arguing for both its relevance and proposing an initial plan. Ideas that have answered every question and are moderated to the next stage by the customer experience team have been approved for development.

Prototype (using Refine): Although testing the new product or process to improve the customer experience takes place in the world, the idea owners and teams report on progress here (including when they plan to develop the first prototype of their solution).

Testing (using Refine): Again, the results of test are recorded transparently by the idea teams. Now anyone can see where an idea is winning or losing.

Declined, Archived, or Live! (using Completed Stage): Finally, every idea has a place to go. An idea can end up archived or declined at any time, but only those that have been implemented will end up in the launched stage.

Are you using IdeaScale for customer experience innovation? Let’s launch this new workflow in your IdeaScale community today!



What the U.S. Coast Guard Can Teach Us About Innovation

The Coast Guard has changed the game with innovation.

When we look for inspiration with innovation strategy, we rarely consider organizations outside the corporate world. But it’s not just start-ups and big companies innovating. Organizations of all sorts are developing their employee’s ideas to achieve their mission, and one of the best examples is the United States Coast Guard.

A Tough Job

The Coast Guard is rarely discussed, but it’s got one of the toughest jobs in the military. The Coast Guard has eleven general orders that range from search and rescue to assisting shipping operations. They’re out on the water, every day, working in industrial, criminal justice, and safety applications, and that, as you might guess, means they need all the help they can get.

The Coast Guard’s innovation strategy was to use it to strike a balance between the short-term needs of getting the job done, and the long-term goals of the organization. In the past, the Coast Guard relied on specific leadership to get the innovation job done, but their new strategy turns to their sailors, not just their commanders.

It’s simple, really: The Coast Guard has created a platform where it lays out a challenge, but remains what they call “solution-agnostic.” In other words, they don’t have a specific solution to make it fit. Instead, they ask for solutions and run those solutions by the stakeholders. It’s one thing if a commander likes an idea, but it’s much more powerful if the technicians keeping the boats afloat or the mates who use those boats to do their jobs like an idea.

From there, it drives the Coast Guard’s investment. Nor is it a one-off or a program built around meetings. It’s a rolling collection of challenges that’s going every day of the year, available anytime for anybody in the Coast Guard to weigh in.

The Coast Guard has 11 crucial jobs, and it’s innovating around every single one.

And Someone’s Proud To Do It

What’s attention-getting is how effective this strategy was at leapfrogging what seemed insurmountable boundaries. For example, one of the problems with past innovation was rank. Since the Coast Guard is a military organization, there’s protocol surrounding how, and whether, you speak to someone who outranks you. A boatswain’s mate can’t tell a commander his idea is the dumbest thing he’s ever heard of, no matter how politely he says it.

Secondly, it drew on a specific, shared point of concern across the entire Guard, namely disaster response. Ranking officers and ship crew alike felt that lessons learned from recent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill and Hurricane Sandy hadn’t been propagated through the entire Guard, and they were worried about losing civilian lives. So the Guard made sure the veterans of those disasters had a platform to discuss the challenges, explain how they solved them, and not only opened the door to innovating in their organization but teaching. The lessons learned from Sandy have helped with hurricane season this year and will keep lives safe going forward.

The mission of a start-up or a company looking to shake up its industry may not be as urgent as the Coast Guard’s. But there’s a lot you can learn by looking at their innovation strategy. To learn more, join our newsletter.

5 Valuable Innovation Lessons Companies can Learn from Google

Google didn’t put the world at a fingertip without innovation.

Is there a company that more perfectly defines modern life than Google? What was once a tiny search engine company is now one of the vastest corporations on the planet, offering information about everything from how to get to a new city to the best places to eat when you get there to its history in one handy package. So how did it achieve such innovative heights?

It Isn’t Afraid To Fail

It’s easy to focus on Google’s successes, but let’s be real here: Google has failed a lot, painfully and publicly. Google Glass, Google+, Google Buzz, and now Google’s clunky earbuds are just a handful of examples that saw the company either venture into a new industry and fail or not consider the effects of their choices. But Google has learned from these failures: Google Glass doesn’t make a great consumer product, for example, but for industrial applications it’s perfect.

It Doesn’t Look For Perfection

Even Google’s flagship product isn’t perfect. It’s pretty easy to throw off Google’s search engine if you try hard enough, and Googlers have spent years fixing all the flaws and mistakes that have turned up. However, the key point is that Google has fixed these problems as they’ve come up, and they never make the mistake of saying that their latest product is “done.” Everything Google does is a work in progress, and that approach means it can get better and better.

It Has A Mission

Every Google product, successful or not successful, starts with a specific mission in mind. Google’s search engine is designed to be the most accurate and precise tool for finding web pages and other internet content. Google’s Pixel phones are designed to show off the features and abilities of its Android operating system. YouTube is designed to make video universally accessible, although maybe Google’s mission should be to clean out those comment sections. Whatever Google is doing, there’s a clearly defined objective that the company’s team works towards.

What can we learn from Google?

It Looks Outside Google

As anybody who studies innovation can tell you, the best innovation happens with both internal and external teams. Google has taken this lesson to heart, and looks outside every project, both internally and externally, to expand on its ideas. For example, Google, when studying “smart” textiles, teamed up with Levi’s to create a “wired” version of the commuter jacket. Levi’s was able to share institutional knowledge about making rough-wearing, durable clothing as Google explored integrating it into fashion. You might never wear a “digital” jacket, but you will see the shared knowledge turn up elsewhere.

It Encourages Side Projects

People like to pursue their passions, and sometimes, those passions fall a bit outside their work life. They’re related, but they’ve got too many projects and too many other demands on their time. Google has attempted to tap this by encouraging employees to spend 20% of their time on passion projects. This can range from exploring how technology can encourage social good to just neat new ideas for products that interest people. Either way, they’re letting their employees stretch their intellectual muscles just that much more.

Google is an innovative company, in other words, because it embraces innovation across the board. If you want to be more like Google, get the Innovation Starter Kit.

A Successful Product Improvement Workflow

Successful Product Improvement WorkflowFor the next three weeks, IdeaScale will introduce a proven IdeaScale workflow that is being used by our highest performing communities. Our hope is that these workflows become templates that you can use in your own communities. The first workflow that we’re going to examine is an innovation funnel that has successfully been used for product improvement ideas for product development collaboration:

Ideation (Uses the Ideate Stage): In this stage, idea authors offer product improvement ideas. Specific custom field questions are used for additional context (anticipated necessary resources, desired outcomes) and then community members vote on their favorite ideas.

Initial Review (Uses the Assessment Stage): A team charged with evaluating the most promising ideas reviews the idea for its merit and potential idea owners or advocates. In addition to evaluating ideas for potential impact and applicability, they also work to ensure that this solution isn’t already adopted elsewhere.

Team Build (Uses the Team Build Stage): In this stage, idea authors look for team members to help them plan and implement ideas. The entire community can volunteer to support ideas they care about. More ideas require at least three other team members to get started. Once the team is full, they progress to the next stage.

Proposal Building (Uses the Refine Stage): The team researches and responds to the Business Model Canvas questions. Once the proposal is complete, it moves on to subject matter experts for more information.

SME Review (Uses the Assessment Stage): Product leaders analyze and rate the idea on a five star scale to assign it an innovation score (analyzing it against desirability, feasibility, and viability).

Leadership Review (Uses the Reviewscale Stage): Finally, product leaders evaluate all of the information to date against organizational objectives. The ideas that score highest in this review are prioritized for implementation.

Complete (Uses the Archive Stage): Ideas that have been prototyped, tested and delivered are showcased here to socialize the community’s success.

Are you using IdeaScale for continuous improvement activities? Let’s launch this new workflow in your IdeaScale community today!

How Innovation Helps Address Sustainability Challenges

Innovation builds more than just better products.

One of the greatest challenges facing business at the moment is sustainability. Getting the most out of the resources you have access to, reducing the amount of resources you use, and finding more renewable resources are good both for society and your bottom line. But creating something sustainable starts with the core resource of any business: The people you work with. Environmental Resource Management, or ERM, recently showcased this with a brilliant innovation strategy.

Getting It Done

ERM’s corporate mission is deceptively simple on paper: Build better ecological security, reduce waste and cost, and help businesses become more environmentally friendly. They’ve worked with businesses across the world to do everything from finding renewable resources for industries to analyzing supply chains to identify inefficiencies and ecological risks companies hadn’t considered.

Don’t be fooled, though: Sustainability isn’t a matter of recommending you install solar panels and recycle more. What works for one company on the ecological front isn’t effective for another, even within the same industry. As a result, client services and uniting expertise is a challenge for ERM. They decided to draw on their employees.

ERM held its first global innovation tournament in 2015, with the goal of using existing technology to build on their offerings to their clients. The tournament, promoted to employees, had three rounds and built on employee feedback using an innovation platform. Employees could like and comment on ideas, and not just offer their perspective but also use the platform as a library of the company’s expertise.

The results speak for themselves: 69% of ERM’s 5,000 employees weighed in on various ideas, watching the tournament and participating. It both built teamwork, and it sparked ideas across the board. And it underscores an important point.

Innovation yields great rewards.

Tapping The Human Resource

ERM knew that there’s nobody who knows your company like your employees, and they used it to their advantage. Employees are bursting with ideas and new approaches to challenges in the field, but it’s difficult to create a platform that lets them share that expertise across the board. How often has the solution to a seemingly thorny problem been solved with a simple email to somebody who’s dealt with it before? Institutional knowledge is incredibly useful, but it doesn’t spread quickly unless you find a way to let it spread.

That was the key advantage of ERM’s innovation strategy. They based it on the concrete, asking for new approaches to technology and processes the company already used. Instead of having to ask around and find somebody to email, employees could share their expertise to a much broader context. In a way, the tournament was almost beside the point, although it certainly offered a great incentive to jump in and comment.

Especially with sustainability, it’s important to draw on institutional knowledge. The key to sustainability is often not building new technology, but better understanding and refining the technology and services you have. ERM used this technique to tap into and spread their institutional knowledge. How will you use innovation strategy to bolster your employees? For tips on how, contact us.

Every Step of the Innovation Journey

Innovation JourneyInnovation is a cyclical initiative. It’s like the laundry or the dishes. The innovation journey is never done, you just get better at doing it. And maybe you become more efficient as time goes on.

We’ve seen lots of passionate innovation champions encounter barriers as they launched their innovation initiatives. These programs fail to launch for a number of reasons: because people can’t align around a process, because people aren’t sure which ideas they should move forward with, because they didn’t engage the right stakeholders in order to guarantee idea implementation.

So last year, IdeaScale created a six-video series that addresses all the major points in the innovation journey’s cycle to help innovators foresee and overcome some of the most common barriers throughout the innovation lifecycle. Those topics include:

It’s amazing how many people stall out on that first step: selecting a problem. Obviously, no organization lacks for problems to solve or new opportunities for efficiency, but when it comes to getting to the root cause of an issue, putting a person at the center of that experience, and amassing all of the information aligned around that issue, teams sometimes lose focus or churn over what sorts of solutions would provide the most value. That’s why we recommend starting your innovation journey with the “How to Pick the Right Problems to Solve” webinar and moving on from there. It’s an easy four-step strategy to get you to identify business needs that can be solved with impactful solutions. Not only will you find your first campaign that way, but you’ll set yourself for solutions that you can actually implement!

View the full library of IdeaScale webinars on a variety of subjects (from idea pitching to customer stories).

This webinar series is now packaged for customers in the form of the IdeaScale Strategy Academy. Ask your account manager about how to gain access to the full course. Completion of the entire course comes with an Official IdeaScale Innovation Management Certificate. This is a great way for you to brush up on your innovation management skills. Share this course with your colleagues to build a fully skilled Innovation Team. 

Top Themes from Open Nation DC

IdeaScale Gov hosted its first-ever Open Nation DC April 12 at the WeWork White House location. For us at IdeaScale, Open Nation is always our favorite week of the year. We’ve been hosting a company-wide Open Nation event in Berkeley for three years now. Open Nation DC was the first spinoff, a gov-focused version situated in the heart of IdeaScale gov work: Washington, D.C.

Much like its inspiration, Open Nation DC brought together an energetic, eclectic group of IdeaScale customers and prospects to knowledge-share, network and collaborate. The day was split into customer presentations in the morning, and IdeaScale-led workshops in the afternoon.

Customer presentations in particular are one of the coolest parts of any Open Nation. For those of us in the weeds every day, they represent a refreshing opportunity to take a step back and reflect on how the work of our customers is making people’s lives better, every day.

First up was Michael Contreras, president and CEO of Ensemble Consultancy. Contreras was formerly an IdeaScale customer in his role as an AAAS Fellow at the Department of Energy. More specifically, Contreras was an integral part of the success of DOE’s SunShot Catalyst program. Contreras dived into the importance of goal-setting and quantifiable metrics to any innovation program. However, he cautioned against avoiding “vanity metrics,” a term coined by “The Lean Startup” author Eric Ries. Instead, focus on “actionable metrics,” which are “leading indicators of achieving the aligned objectives of your innovation program.”

A key takeaway was aligning the objectives of not only the direct stakeholders but also those with “indirect influence” over the program: “Make program decisions based on metrics that are correlated with the aligned objectives of those having both direct authority and indirect influence over the continuation of the program.”

Next up were Kim Taylor and Mark Ascione of the Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Taylor and Ascione have long been champions of crowdsourcing, as they’ve built their program from the ground up, despite that not being part of their job description. They’re two shining examples of the intrapreneurial nature of open innovation champions.

Their presentation focused on the ecosystem they’ve built from scratch internally to host sponsored challenges. Despite not having a full-time FTE on crowdsourcing, they’ve developed a system to scale into hosting nearly 100 challenges over the past four-plus years.

Their system, which includes a robust communications plan and a challenge checklist, also results in some of the best participation rates we’ve ever seen. One challenge in particular resulted in 95 percent of their target audience participating.

Batting third were the Dream Team of Concepts Communications and the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Hope Adler and Katia Albanese of Concepts Communications have long been hosting dialogues within IdeaScale that engage citizens and stakeholders to help inform disability employment policy. They’ve recently been joined by rising star Lindsey Teel from the Department of Labor. Together, they encompass the ePolicyWorks crowdsourcing team.

While their presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of running online dialogues — the importance of moderation, a robust outreach program, and idea evaluation — they also discussed the cool potential outcomes of engaging the public around this conversation. While idea “implementation” in their context can often take a while because it’s typically a policy change, Teel, who’s visually impaired herself, stressed the personal impact these changes can have: “We’re changing lives. We’re making it so people can work.”

Up fourth was a slight detour from government in Edwin Goutier, senior director of Innovation at United Way Worldwide. United Way Worldwide employs IdeaScale to source ideas both externally from the public and internally from their employees worldwide. They then rapidly prototype promising ideas, iterate upon them, and either formalize or sunset them.

Two of the key takeaways from Goutier’s presentation and UWW’s program were 1) pay close attention to participation data and pivot engagement efforts accordingly, but also 2) don’t forget to put a human face on what you’re doing. Data are informative and absolutely necessary, but you also need to “become a storyteller” when reporting up to leadership and out to the target audience.

Closing out the morning sessions was Commander Andy Howell from the U.S. Coast Guard. Commander Howell’s leadership has been integral in growing the innovation program at the U.S. Coast Guard. A turning point for the program, known as [email protected], came when they launched a Hurricanes Lessons Learned campaign to try and institutionalize knowledge gathered in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria in 2017.

A few key lessons identified by the Coast Guard in these campaigns include the efficacy of leveraging social media and cloud-based solutions in asset tracking and rescue efforts. These findings were game changers for the Coast Guard, and they’re currently being evaluated as potential fast-tracked policy changes internally.

To watch the full presentations, you can view them in our Open Nation DC resources library

The afternoon sessions were comprised of two hands-on workshops conducted by Innovation Strategist Sonja Sulcer and myself. Sulcer’s workshop focused on developing and tracking innovation metrics, and mine focused on developing and reporting outcomes. Both workshops were heavily participant-driven and were geared toward proving the value of an open innovation program in a quantifiable and lasting way. For more information on how to run a similar workshop with your innovation team, talk with your IdeaScale contact. Planning for Open Nation DC 2019 is already in the works! To learn more, get in touch with your friendly local Innovation Strategist or Sales Representative.

If you can’t wait until then, please consider joining us in Berkeley for our industry-wide Open Nation on October 25, 2018.

Will Blockchain Change How Financial Businesses Innovate?

Blockchain will change finance, even if you never buy a bitcoin.

The world’s financial system was never built to do the things that it does. If twenty years ago, you’d told your average investor that stock markets would see billions of trades made by amateur investors over their lunch hour, that little bits of computer code would be valued for more than a new car, that trillions of dollars would travel around the world digitally, automatically converted from one currency to another; they’d laugh at you. But yet, the system works. It’s far from perfect, and that’s where innovation from blockchain can change everything.

Fighting Fraud

Modern finance faces a growing problem in the form of crime and fraud. A teenager in one country can steal a credit card from an adult in another, use it to buy a pallet load of televisions, sell those TVs off at a profit, and leave the financial institution and the merchant to sort out the mess, and this happens a dozen times a day. And that’s just the least complicated scam that the financial industry deals with. There’s high-end theft, money laundering, wire fraud, and a host of other issues.

Blockchain is an intriguing solution to these problems. It’s built from the ground up to deal with fraud, after all. In bitcoin and altcoins, the blockchain is a sprawling, public ledger shared with everyone in the altcoin’s network. From the moment an altcoin enters circulation, its provenance and history are carefully tracked. Everyone on the network can always tell you exactly where a specific coin is and where it’s been. It’s a radical form of transparency that even financial institutions unsure of altcoins are ready to embrace, because it’s much harder to hide your money when you have to tell millions how you move every penny. But this is a massive shift many banks are uncomfortable with, where ledgers are visible not just to clients, but law enforcement, reporters, and the curious.

Blockchain can help stop fraud. But that’s just the start.

Better With Blockchain

To be sure, the decentralized nature of blockchains might leave some institutions wondering where they fit in. After all, if two private individuals can engage in a transaction with absolute confidence in its quality and security, where does a bank fit in? But that’s where innovation is important. Part of the problem is banks refuse to see themselves as anything other than filing cabinets for money.

Applying blockchain to traditional financial institutions is still in its infancy. But increasingly the role of a bank is to provide the technology and the support, to be the pillar finance leans on. Most millennials, for example, simply never go inside their bank, and increasingly don’t even pull cash out of an ATM; they transfer money using apps, use auto-debit to pay their bills, and use apps like Venmo to split checks and cover expenses. Banks are the backstop of all these technologies, but they don’t serve the same role as they did even ten years ago. The banks that innovate will survive, and the others—well, they’ll become part of the banks that innovate.

The same is true of blockchain. The public ledger that serves to verify transactions will change finance in a host of ways. It’ll make account details more public. It’ll create more opportunities for customers to automate their finances and investing, making a personal quant for every person closer to reality. The only way for innovators to be at the center of it is to embrace the technology and figure out where they fit. To get a better sense of where your bank fits, join our newsletter for the latest on innovation strategy.

Is Your Innovation Program Changing Employee Sentiment?

Employee SentimentMany people launch an innovation community as a way of improving their employee engagement scores. But how do you know if you’re moving in the right direction? Many IdeaScale customers are interested in gathering sentiment analysis. This is actually possible directly within IdeaScale using the survey tool, which can pose questions to every member of the community, but before you do that, you might want to think about what it is that you want to measure in order to find out how people truly feel about your innovation program. Here are a few things to consider:

Set a Baseline. This means that you’ll have to wait to find out how you really did on the test. You need at least two data points in order to chart progress. Even if you’ve already launched a community, measure their responses now and again in three to six months. So get started now and set up a regular reminder for the future.

Figure Out How You Want to Measure. Is it NPS? A 5-star satisfaction scale? Pass/Fail? Determine your metric to know how you’re doing and use the same measure each time you reach out to measure innovation sentiment.

Know Your Audience. It’s all very important to know who you’re talking to. If you’re reaching out for feedback using the IdeaScale built-in survey tool, you can even target particular groups within your community, but it’s good to know who they are (old employees vs. new employees, men or women, how are they using the software in the first place).

Get Beyond Your Own Sense of Value. Yes, of course you get value by accessing and combining people’s ideas, but what value are you providing to your community? Is it the intrinsic joy of connecting or is it that they’ve seen a lot of organizational change since they joined the community? What is it that your community comes to your innovation program for?

Learn more about measuring innovation sentiment, by downloading our complimentary infographic on the subject.