The idea management foot soldiers

Idea management software – functioning as an ‘idea market’ – has proven to be highly effective at unleashing your people’s hidden innovation potential. Geared to reaching goals, this gets each person to engage and participate more over time, whether you’re seeking to improve performance, find new products and methods or develop a widespread, collaborative culture of innovation.

Technology may well serve its purpose, but it won’t stand on its own. I won’t lecture you on the importance of having the capital and people to effectively manage and run an idea management programme. A lack of human resources and funding is among the main causes for the demise of such initiatives. This is already clear, and I’m sure you’re taking care of it.

What sometimes is less obvious is the need for a constituency inside your company to provide needed support throughout different phases of the innovation process. For instance, you’ll need internal backing for communication: to reach out to stakeholders in far-flung parts of the organisation, to give a little boost when necessary to a particular idea or venture and so on.

Forget about employing a huge army of innovation musketeers. That’s not going to happen. Since you’ve not been given an army of trained consultants to fight the innovation war, you need to find creative ways to build a constituency.

Ongoing training programmes that ‘produce’ innovation practitioners is one way to go. Over time, you’ll build up a constituency ready to support you in your efforts, especially if you have this contribution codified into each individual’s performance evaluation targets. But how can you actually take your innovation programme to this next level of proficiency?

At Exago, we asked that question of ourselves when a client commissioned us to design a programme to build an internal army of innovation practitioners. The inspiration for our answer came from efficiency-focused Six Sigma type programmes.

What colour is your belt?
Developed by Motorola in 1986, Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for improving processes. These programmes train and engage individuals at different levels of innovation to cut waste and improve efficiency, using a sequence of steps and quantified value targets.

By training people in these quality management methods, you get your own ‘yellow belts’, ‘green belts’, ‘black belts’ and ‘champions’ (read more). While engaging employees from very different positions, geographies and backgrounds in expertise, Six Sigma makes everyone – not just one person or department – responsible for specific skills within your company, from efficiency through to process improvement. This is the programmes’ strongest benefit.

The results are noteworthy. In 2005, Motorola attributed over US$17 billion in savings to Six Sigma. Consumer-driven Six Sigma programmes also reportedly saved Ford US$300 million.

Among others, Black & Decker, General Electric and Bombardier fruitfully adopted this method. More recently, innovation practitioners such as Xerox, Verizon and IBM have also combined Six Sigma ideas with lean manufacturing to focus transformation efforts on both growth and efficiency.

But how do we make an ‘Innovation Sigma’ work?

You need masters, as well as practicioners

Beyond tech and elusive genius – the everyday innovation heroes

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder /

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You need masters, as well as idea management practitioners