What’s Your Idea – building a grass roots innovation pipeline

Ideas come from many places. Employees and customers are an obvious source. But how can we create a process to ensure that great ideas are constantly bubbling up and moving our business forward?

One approach favored by many large corporations is to create a grass roots innovation pipeline (GIR) and an idea management system (IMS) that encourages the generation of ideas on defined business problems from grass route sources.

The goal is to generate ideas that create competitive differentiation by treating customers and employees as problem solvers and judges of each other's suggestions. A final shortlist of innovations can then be evaluated by the business with feedback to the community on those that had been selected for implementation.

The GIR pipeline is generally executed in four phases;  

  • Pose a challenging business problem to the community,  
  • Foster community idea generation,
  • Filter and refine the best ideas, and
  • Launch or integrate the ideas into a product or product-centric pathway.

This approach is motivated by the growing recognition that the collective wisdom of the grassroots community is the best resource for innovation .This type of pipeline has been executed in Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Whirlpool, and UBS, among others.

There are many different types of IMS. Dell's Idea Storm is one example. On their website, Dell opens up a "storm session" around a specific topic and invites feedback (http://ideastorm.com ). Customers post ideas or vote and comment on any topic while the Session is active. Dell then closes the session and reviews the ideas. Finally, Dell publishes the results of that review and the actions they plan to take.

Another great IMS is My Starbucks Idea (http://mystarbucksideas.com).  Customers share ideas online and vote on each other's. Starbucks Idea Partners are available online to answer questions or provide details about what's happening behind the scenes at Starbucks.  

The website provides a summary of the status of ideas from review to final launch.

Microsoft employs a grass roots pipeline and ideas management system as part of its innovation process. For more details see Brian Bailey and Eric Horvitz's excellent paper. 

"What's Your Idea? A Case Study of a Grassroots Innovation Pipeline within a Large Software Company" by Brian P. Bailey and Eric Horvitz


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