From The Idea To The Project: A Fast-Breaking Scenario

A project is the draft of the future. Sometimes the future needs hundreds of drafts. Jules Renard

Are there any ideas that stand out? Are your employees playing the game and getting involved? Is your collaborative ideation process running at full speed? That’s great. Now you need to go even further and distinguish the difference between a posture process and a truly productive process. Though generating ideas is a unifying, dynamic action that creates commitment and values collaboration, it is also the easiest part. An idea can be extracted from an ideation platform once it has reached a certain maturity and solidity, but this is a strategic decision that must achieve consensus. Because the rest of the trip is going to be rough.

An idea that spends too much time on the platform risks weakening. Finding the right time to take it out is therefore a task that requires intuition and a small dose of luck. This “harvest” work can happen at regular intervals (for example each month, the project team selects the ideas that generated the most interactions) or according to the context and the desire of the moment so as not to force churning out ideas automatically.

Going from the idea to the project is not easy

Like any adventure, there are difficulties. The good news is that there aren’t too many. The bad news is that no platform or tool will be able to solve them, because they depend solely on the corporate culture, the organization of services, and the involvement of management. In fact, the two most frequently encountered difficulties relate to the company’s rigidity in mobilizing resources, and the fact that the departments and people responsible for financing and organizing them do not always chose them.

Until then, collaborative innovation can operate with a lack of support, accommodate refractory managers, and live with limited resources. But when an idea materializes into a project, we are then directly confronted with the organization and the corporate culture which can either accelerate the movement or, on the contrary, slow it down or even stop it.

When an idea has passed all the obstacles and has convinced the project team, it must be approved by a decision-making committee specific to each company. In fact, it is often a multidisciplinary jury. A sort of operating or management committee that assesses the relevance of ideas, the potential, and the impact on the company. When the decision is made, the project can go back down to the business departments, and that’s where the difficulties begin (again). In general, the question always asked is “why should a business administration work on a project that it has not been involved in or consulted on?”. It is often a request that is experienced as a coercive injunction and a constraint. In short, the big boss or a panel of little bosses said “you must do it” and you have to comply. However, some have no intention of doing so.

Why is it so complicated?

An idea leaving the collaborative platform doesn’t mean that it will necessarily turn into a project. Each step requires sorting, processing, and priorities, only keeping the best potential in terms of implementation or added value. And for the jury or the selection committee, making this choice is never an easy task.

Choosing ideas

An idea that seems perfect on paper could fail in the real world. Why? Mainly because the question is related to emotional criteria or because decision-making is too strongly linked to the personality of those who decide and not to the objective elements. Knowing how to decorrelate human opinion from hard facts is not something everyone knows how to do. A choice can be good or bad at any given time. What matters is that it can serve the idea. By being selected, the idea showed its potential. By failing, it has the chance to improve.

Creating the team

Sometimes it’s also a question of casting. Without a well-identified project leader, or with a leader who has no conviction, the idea’s journey can suddenly stop. It is often a question of personality. Not everyone wants to become an entrepreneur – or simply to set up internal projects – because this requires knowing how to seek funds, lobby, and spend time working on administrative or political subjects, points which remain essential to the good execution of a project.

Too much dependence on company strategy

Some ideas – often those that go a little beyond simple cosmetic enhancement – cannot live on their own. An idea that is not self-sufficient is an idea that is linked to a political or strategic decision that can change the ecosystem in which it lives in order to challenge it. This excessively strong dependency weakens the potential of a project. A simple decision taken in high places can then have important repercussions. To avoid the domino effect, it is better to leave it aside for the moment in order to rework it a little later.

Too hypothetical

Sometimes, the idea can be ahead of the market or of consumption and work habits. Sometimes, it’s a lack of vision, as in the case of Kodak, which rejected digital technology without taking the time to project itself. Sometimes, it is also a risk that the company does not wish to take, because it represents a difficult challenge and it isn’t or is poorly documented. Despite an intuition that an idea is the right one, it risks colliding with operational reality (“no time, not now, no means, no priority”). To avoid this situation, the analysis should not to be based only on assumptions, but also supported with concrete facts directly or indirectly related to the potential of the idea. It is the work of a forecaster that, though it carries its weaknesses, is essential in order to boost the value of a project.

Here are 4 solutions to successfully do so!

On paper, everything looks perfect, but human nature remains infinitely more complex than the best of intentions. Fortunately, there are solutions. They must be adapted to the functioning and the requirements of the corporate culture.

Anticipate the impacts of the project

Sometimes, collaborative innovation remains confined to a small internal community. Sometimes, it is even forgotten by some managers. Sometimes, finally, no leader really believes in it, and matters of image and communication take over that of conviction. However, when a brilliant idea, supported by many employees, and capable of transforming the company comes out of the shadows, an uproar begins! Business management, which had never imagined being worried one day, finds itself in “mother bear” mode to defend its territory and its prerogatives against this marked intrusion.

Faced with these difficulties, even before the launch of a collaborative system, it is necessary to identify upstream who will be impacted (the business(es)) and involve them in decision-making (“we do or we do not”). The choice and selection process must be based on a mixed management body, including strategic and operational managers. It is better to involve upstream rather than to observe downstream that a project, however good it may be, comes up against the barriers put in place by internal services in order to limit its development potential.

Support for change

For all companies, change is a complex notion to grasp. The problem is that shorter technology lifecycles require most people to be agile in the face of change. Tools, working methods, and consumption habits are changing rapidly, and continuous training and support are essential to avoid being left behind.

With collaborative innovation, the doors to change are opened wider. But everything must be framed. Support for change requires understanding all the ins and outs of the project before launching the platform, in order to communicate the right message. No one wants a collaborative innovation device to spark internal panic.

Create optimal governance to make the right decisions

Collaborative innovation with a central decision-making committee does not work. The governance that will be called upon to judge, select, and decide on ideas must be decentralized and transparent. The more decisions are taken off-center, without any contact with the departments concerned, the more outcry there will be when the idea moves toward being a project.

This open, local governance with an emphasis on the operational side necessarily generates a loss of power for top managers. Are they ready to accept it? They will not often be able to prevent the development of the idea if the business management is involved (unless they have a veto from the CEO who then goes against the very essence of the spirit of the project) . Conversely, the idea can be blocked – or highly slowed down, which amounts to the same thing – by business management despite the agreement of top management. This is where power does not always reside in the highest spheres of the organizational chart.

The project leader: A central role and a professional with solid shoulders

A project cannot live on its own even when its future looks bright. The couple it forms with the project leader must be balanced, stimulating, and a source of internal synergies. Defining and finding the project leader is critical, because they will be in charge, taking the reins from the community that had pushed the idea outside the nest.

The transition from idea to project is a decisive step in the implementation of an innovation process. It is a question of anticipating the repercussions of the project, supporting the change, involving the top-management, and calling on external experts for the implementation of effective tools. Though the author of the idea should never be the project leader, they should not be ignored, under penalty of generating frustration and disappointment that could disengage them. In short, this step should not be neglected so that the project can be deployed effectively.

Although this step is decisive, it is not the only important one. Once the project is validated, it must be accelerated in order to exist and develop.