Idea management 101: How to build an idea management process

Why do we always have our best ideas in the shower?

It’s because the shower is one of the most distraction-free places people find themselves all day. When you remove your mind from its normal environment, it’s free to wander to interesting places.

Idea management is a bit like being in the shower, except you can write down your ideas without getting the paper wet.

It’s the science of structuring how your team or organization generates ideas, removing this process from normal workflows, so you create conditions for more creative solutions.

This article is all about why you can’t ignore idea management — and what it can help you accomplish.

What is idea management?

Idea management, also called innovation management, means building a process for people at your business to conceive, develop, and share ideas. Idea management aims to foster a culture of innovation at your company, essentially crowdsourcing creativity.

The human mind is naturally built for creativity. We’re constantly making connections, revisiting old ideas from new angles, and adapting to new situations.

But the demands of working at a business — let alone running startups — are rife with obstacles that halt the creative process. Urgent deadlines, busy work, meetings, changing customer requirements, market forces, the need to juggle multiple communication channels…they all conspire to put the most innovative ideas on the back burner.

Through idea management, you can change that by creating a space where ideas can happen. You’re building a pipeline that can collect ideas on its own, reaching every member of your team.

idea management builds a separate creative flow
Idea management allows you to create a creative flow for brainstorming

It’s all based on a simple proposition: when you have an idea, there should be a process in place that tells you what to do with it. The structured procedure creates space for the idea itself to flourish, like a vine growing around a trellis.

Without an idea management system, you may fail to recognize a great concept when it comes to you. There are also employee engagement benefits. Let’s say one of your top employees buries an excellent idea at the bottom of an email that touches on several other important points.

If you had proper channels for listing ideas, you’d be able to see them all in a place where you aren’t going to gloss over them on your way to read ten other important things.

Innovation management also helps you find and retrieve ideas when it’s time to act on them. If the idea is buried in your emails, hard drive, voice notes, or even the physical papers on your desk, you could poke around for hours wondering where you left it.

Another perk: an idea management system can be made public. Ideas can come from anywhere, including outside the company. Once you’ve established an idea management process, you can open it up to your clients and customers. They will provide their own unique insights that will further refine the idea into perfection.

The idea management process usually falls to the managers of existing products who are in the best position to use these ideas. However, idea management is still a relatively new science, so start innovating to find out what works best for your teams.

How to build an idea management process

When you’re ready to add idea management to your company, follow these five easy steps to put it in place.

Use these five steps to build an idea management process
The five steps to take if you want to build a quality idea management process.

An effective idea management strategy can be difficult without the right process, especially if you’re working with a remote or hybrid team.

Our visual workspace can make idea management easier through a friendly visual interface. As we go through the following steps, we’ll point out places where idea management tools might be able to help you.

1. Build a central location for submitting ideas

The first step is to create a channel where employees, leaders, and customers can submit ideas.

This channel should have a few key features. First, it has to be at least as easy to use as email, instant messaging, and other common communication tools. Like any major policy initiative, idea management doesn’t work unless a critical mass of people buy in, and they aren’t going to buy into a system that isn’t user-friendly.

Miro mind map template
Visually organize your ideas with Mind Maps.

In the digital world, that would mean something like one of Miro’s brainstorming tools. You want innovation management system that everybody can use to post their ideas in visually appealing ways.

2. Structure the ideation process

Idea management isn’t as simple as everybody submitting ideas to one person who judges and implements them.

To start, people have different comfort levels when it comes to airing ideas publicly. Some of your best ideas might come from naturally introverted team members. You don’t want to count those people out.

It’s a good idea to create an option for submitting ideas anonymously, so everyone can submit without fear of judgment. You may need to make these names accessible to the idea manager in case they have any clarifying questions, but it shouldn’t be identifiable to everyone else.

It’s also vital that everybody understands what will happen to their ideas once they send them in. Will it remain in public view so everybody can comment on it? How long will the comment period be? Who has the final say on whether it will be implemented? What’s the process for making changes?

If an idea makes it to the implementation phase, who is responsible for putting it into practice? How much responsibility falls to the originator of the idea? Everyone should know the answers to these questions before they submit.

3. Plan how to sort and classify ideas

Next, it’s time to figure out how the innovation management process will look from the other end. First of all, decide where the buck will stop: whose job is it to keep an eye on idea submissions and comments?

Then, build a board where those people can assign the ideas to groups based on their content. There are two reasons to do this.

One: it’s easier to evaluate a small number of ideas in several groups than it is to dig through a massive pile of undifferentiated sticky notes.

And two: if you know you need an idea for making something specific work, you can go directly to an idea you know is targeted at that area.

You can use a Stickies pack to keep your ideas organized throughout this process.

When you’re ready to put those ideas into action, you can build a Kanban board with our Kanban framework template. A Kanban board allows you to create categories that correspond to the steps on your product development path to help you visualize the development process.

Miro kanban template
Kanban boards can be a great tool for idea management

You can even automate the innovation process. Use Typeform to create your submission process, then integrate it with Miro to automatically sort the cards onto your Kanban board. And just like that, you’ve already built the heart of your idea management workflow.

Check out some other integrations here.

4. Evaluate ideas with help from your team

The new products and functionality that come through your idea management process will impact everybody, so the best practice is to ask your team for input.

Explain to the entire team how to comment on ideas. If you’re using Miro, this would mean adding all stakeholders to visual workspace where they can leave comments. Make it clear that they are not required to leave comments, but if they don’t do so, they’ll have no say over how the idea works in practice.

The goal of the later stages of idea generation is to decide whether the given idea will be a net positive for the product, the team, or whoever else is affected. That decision should be made by the product manager (or whoever you choose as an idea manager), but they should take advice from every stakeholder into account.

5. Communicate about any actions you take

You may have gathered by now that openness and communication are absolutely essential to idea management. That’s also true of the implementation step. There needs to be a readily available roadmap.

Ideas are publicly visible for comment, so they should also be visible in the implementation stage.

It’s possible that an idea will differ between submission and execution. Don’t expect people to look at the original notecard and infer from there what it will mean for their working lives.

Ultimately, if you’re sensitive to the needs of stakeholders, excited about exploring new perspectives, and truly open to overcoming novel business challenges, your idea management process will be a success.

Holding an idea management workshop

Even with your idea management process chugging along, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned brainstorming session.

Dedicated workshops and an always-on idea management process are two sides of the same coin. They both change the scenery and remove distractions to encourage lateral thinking.

holding an idea management workshop
Idea management workshops can be a great way to start sharing ideas and building upon concepts.

An idea management workshop can help your process, especially if you use it to announce the launch of idea management at your company.

Just keep a few tips in mind:

  • Prepare a set of expectations, and communicate them to everyone attending. Getting everyone on the same page means you can immediately start brainstorming and use your time to the fullest.
  • Structure the workshop similarly to your full idea management process, with submission, sorting, and evaluation stages.
  • Create a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels free to speak.
  • If you have a remote team, use Miro templates like our Idea Funnel Backlog to keep everyone on the same page.

An idea management workshop is similar to running a strategic planning meeting, and much of the advice there can also apply here.

Starting with an idea management workshop makes everyone feel more comfortable with the idea management process as a whole. Use it to get your team members into the habit of thinking creatively and pondering bold changes.

Idea management tool

Several unified software platforms exist to run idea management processes. Miro is one of them.

With Miro boards, you can create an idea generation experience, unify an idea pipeline across the company, automate comments and communication, plus much more.

If you’re wondering what idea management software looks like in practice, our Mind Map template is a great place to start.

Getting started with idea management

You have to act on idea management. If you leave an idea on the table, some other company may snatch it up, capitalizing on the competitive edge that could have been yours.

The good news is that with the right tool, setting up idea management doesn’t have to be a lengthy project. In fact, by linking Miro templates and integrations together, one person could build a whole workflow in under a day.

Try Miro today and establish an idea management process without investing too much of your team’s precious time.

Establish an idea management process without investing too much time