How to evaluate ideas

I recently met with a C-level executive responsible for innovation at his multi-billion Dollar company and asked him for his thoughts on Idea Management. One of the things we discussed was how ideas are evaluated and to him it was important that an idea resonated with the rest of the staff in the company and that good ideas would get the most attention. I felt this was true but then I started to think about the idea evaluation process. Is there best practice that could be used to make sure that the best ideas are selected and converted into projects?

I have done some research on this and here are some key points to consider. I will also include an Idea Management process used at a large South African company. As always links to further reading will be at provided at the bottom of this blog.

Make your challenge specific

Be as specific as possible when you set up an idea challenge against which your staff will submit ideas. Apart from the reason for the challenge and time frame; also be transparent with your idea criteria so that hopefully most of the ideas will make it through the pass/fail filter.

Pass/fail evaluation

This will be your first evaluation gate for an idea and the criteria will normally be budget, time-frame, culture fit and practical viability related. As stated these need to be communicated at the beginning of the idea challenge and can be used as a reason for an idea not getting passed.

Be careful to evaluate ideas carefully because creative ideas could be modified to pass the initial pass/fail evaluation.

Other considerations when initially evaluating an idea would be:

· Does the innovation community support this idea?

· Did it receive a lot of interest through active conversation, voting, or volunteering?

· Is this idea in line with our strategic goals for this year? · Do we have the necessary tools or team to implement it?

Expert Evaluation

This will be a phase where experts will evaluate the ideas against a set of criteria. Jeffrey Baumgartner, in his article “How to evaluate ideas” (link at the end of the blog) suggests that five criteria allow for a rounded review without bogging the evaluators down in unnecessary detail.

Baumgartner suggests that evaluators rank each criterion, possibly on a 0-5 scale, and that they also give comments on how the idea might be improved or weaknesses overcome.

Using the scoring system, it is then easy to see the ideas that fared best in the evaluation.

The evaluation team also needs to be varied so that certain ideas are not prejudiced if evaluated by a single type of evaluator.

Executive evaluation

Once a short list of ideas has been successfully evaluated then they would be presented to an executive evaluation committee.

This could be in a “Dragon’s Den” type format where the short-listed nominees are asked to pitch their ideas and a Q&A session done.

South African example

As mentioned in the introduction I have been interviewing innovation executives in South Africa on how they, and their companies, do idea management.

I met with the innovation director at a large financial services company. She shared with me that their idea management was divided into five phases of which three were evaluation phases:

1) Imagine phase: Collection of as many ideas as possible – 3 weeks.

2) Collaboration phase: People comment on the ideas submitted – 2 weeks.

3) Luminary review phase: Asking the experts to assess the ideas that have come through. The experts are directly aligned to the area of the challenge. – 2 weeks. 4) Pair-wise phase: Asking the crowd to rank the ideas selected through the luminary phase and identify which ideas will go through for judging. – 1 week.

5) Executive evaluation: Choose which ideas to go through for judging. Normally between 10 and 15 ideas at this stage.

I hope this has given you some thoughts on how an idea can be evaluated and as always, I would welcome your comments on the subject.

Further reading

· How to Evaluate Ideas – Jeffrey Baumgartner

· Best Practices for Idea Evaluation – Kindling by Spigit

· How to Evaluate Ideas (video) – Ideascale

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