To gain the most benefit from their innovation efforts, companies need to manage their innovation process. The early phases of the innovation process – namely, idea gathering, idea development, and idea review – are particularly important to manage because they are typically the “fuzziest” and least defined.
To help manage these early stages, companies have created the role of “idea manager.” The idea manager is responsible for gathering new ideas and ensuring that they pass through the idea management process correctly. This role may be fulfilled at the corporate and/or the business unit level. Idea managers shepherd idea projects through assessment procedures and assign experts as team members to evaluate a proposed concept’s commercial potential.
The idea manager therefore plays a key role in:
- stimulating the ideation community;
- shaping the idea development process;
- setting up campaigns;
- organizing review activities; and
- defining evaluation criteria.
Initially, idea managers act as idea owners (team leaders) for new-idea projects. This responsibility encompasses filtering out ideas that should not be advanced due to such considerations as lack of strategic fit, lack of resources, and similarity to existing products or services. Idea managers can also request that idea originators resubmit their ideas, such as by including additional details or clarifications if needed.
Companies across all industries employ idea managers to facilitate and channel the innovation process. For example, The Coca-Cola Company expects its innovation idea manager to be capable of quickly ideating, incubating and advancing ideas with the highest potential for exponential growth.
At ExxonMobil Chemical Company in Houston, the idea manager role was formally created to help coordinate and assist an idea through its initial formative stages. In ExxonMobil’s case, the idea review activities are based on peer audits, and the idea manager ensures that any ideas not immediately used are returned to the idea bank. The idea manager is responsible for managing the ideas in the idea bank.
Similarly, at Finnish-based software engineering company Movial, idea managers are responsible for maintaining the company’s global idea bank, which has ideas from far-flung teams in Palo Alto (US), Iasi (Romania) Taipei (Taiwan) and its Helsinki headquarters.
In summary, idea managers help drive the innovation process by facilitating idea submissions, creating idea “challenges” or other such campaigns to solicit ideas on a particular theme, assisting with the idea review process, and maintaining the bank of ideas for the company’s future use.