Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where Do Your Organization's Ideas Come From?

Both in my line of work, and in my chosen hobby, I have run into a lot of "idea people." These are folks that have lots of ideas... grand, world-shatteringly, amazing ideas... they just need someone (else, usually) to implement their idea for them. The problem is that ideas by themselves are worthless; everyone has ideas. The key is having ideas and also having the skills, knowledge and organizational ability to implement them.

Having said that, I think it would be very interesting to understand where the ideas in your organization come from -- the real ideas, the ones that get implemented and have impact (good or bad).

If I could conduct this "idea survey", I would be hoping to learn:

Are ideas pushed down from executives, or are they bubbled up from the rank and file? I am guessing this would vary per company. Some companies have dynamic leaders who push ideas down the chain. Other companies would have more conservative leadership that would act more as a gate for ideas.

Do certain departments or teams generate more actionable ideas than others? I am positive that every company has teams that generate more ideas than other similar teams in the organization. I would endeavor to find out why these teams are so effective at creating and implementing ideas. Do these teams do things differently than others? Do they have less process, or a different process than the norm? Are these teams better staffed, or funded? Are they just better at their jobs, or is there something else going on there?

Are there teams that just NEVER implement any ideas? Is this because they have no ideas, or because they cannot implement them? Are they underfunded, understaffed, or swamped by an oppressive process? Are there groups or departments from which we just don't expect ideas (say a company that views HR as a purely administrative function), and should we change those expectations?

Can your organization recognize bad ideas? This is an interesting question by itself? I would guess that many organizations are terrible at recognizing (or admitting) when an idea fell short. Does anyone take an implemented idea after the fact and compare the outcome to its original expectations? Are retrospectives done on projects and do these focus on just the process of implementing the idea as opposed to the outcome of the idea? Does your company suffer from the "we met our deadlines, so... SUCCESS!" syndrome?

Where do the bad ideas come from? Are there groups that consistently implement bad ideas? How is this group supervised and by whom? What is the process for vetting ideas? If a group has a track record of bad ideas, who would be responsible for reigning them in?

What is the mean time between good ideas? Once one good idea is implemented, how long until the next one is started? A month, a quarter, a year, more? Can you think of any reasons for this number? Is there anything in place in the organization that sparks ideas? Do managers talk to one another? Do different parts of the business talk? How well do folks in software development understand what goes on in your marketing or sales force?

Now, I admit, I have no clue of how such a survey might be conducted (no, the irony of an unimplementable idea about a survey of ideas is not lost on me). I am doing a sort of thought experiment at my work, listing ideas and where they originated and their final result, but I understand that this experiment is limited by my knowledge of the company and my own bias. (I work as a software developer in a non-software company and so, I tend to think of ideas as software projects, features and improvements. I am not quite as up on the stuff that comes out of the sales department.)

Has anyone worked for a company that tried to track its ideas? Any consultants out there that do this? Any comments or suggestions?