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Innovation – Idea evaluation and selection

Over the last few articles, the discussion was around generation of ideas and the option of managing the innovation process with appropriate software. Remember that to get good ideas you need many ideas and idea generation is a collaborative process, meaning ideas lead to other better ideas through discussion and investigation. Let us work from the hypothesis that the organisation has generated many ideas for a particular challenge and these ideas now have to be screened to identify the best ideas for solving the challenge. So how do you recognise the best ideas?
Evaluation and selection of ideas
Where the idea generation stage is about “open” thinking – people are free to be imaginative and creative, the evaluation stage is about “critical” thinking – the idea is analysed critically and tested against proven principles and reason. The objective of this process is to identify and accelerate promising ideas and to eliminate bad ideas early. The available information during evaluation and selection is usually limited and combines judgemental and numerical data. Once an idea is selected for development, more rigorous and exact market research and analysis will be required to confirm the user or customer need, or the market demand for a product or service.
An early-stage evaluation tool is needed for teams or individuals to do a quick analysis of ideas against six to ten major objectives. Remember, this is an early stage evaluation, so it is a best judgement rather than an in-depth study.
Most evaluation frameworks set some selection criteria against which the idea is measured. The criteria should be reasonably broad but not vague. We are looking for good ideas,’ is too fuzzy – all sorts of things can get through. ‘We want ideas we can implement immediately with no extra resource,’ is almost certainly too tight and will result in good ideas being rejected. Say you were analysing ideas for new products. The criteria you agree might be: Will customers like it? Is it technically feasible? Will it make money? Each idea is then assessed against these measures. Paul Sloan recommends a general set of criteria for all sorts of ideas, the FAN method. Are you a FAN of the idea? Example: Is it Feasible? Is it Attractive? Is it Novel? The third criterion here is important to ensure that fresh ideas are valued highly.
The British retail giant, Tesco, uses the following criteria for selecting ideas: Is it better? (For customers); Is it simpler? (For staff); Is it cheaper? (For Tesco). Any idea that is better, easier and cheaper is likely to be a good idea and will probably be selected for further in-depth investigation. Putting the criteria into context – e.g. simpler for staff – makes it easier to understand and apply. Choose the criteria you want and then apply them rigorously to the ideas on your list.
Evaluation of ideas follows a stage-gate process, so if the idea passes round one (and the rule of thumb is that usually 10 to 15 per cent make the cut), in the next stage the idea will be pulled apart even more, gathering more information on unknowns and testing the idea against expert knowledge.  Lastly, I must mention that the evaluation and selection processes do not overrule good judgment, intuition and the organisation’s confidence in an idea.
Next Time
I have covered the front-end of the innovation process over the last few weeks. Recall that the front-end refers to the creative part of innovation and involves the processes concerned with seeing (or seeking) opportunity, generating ideas, evaluating ideas and selecting ideas for implementation. The back-end refers to the hard work of turning the idea into reality, and involves implementation activities and disciplines like project management, quality management and prototyping. So next time I will discuss implementation of ideas, by far the component of innovation with which organisations struggle the most. I conclude with a quote by Andre Malraux: “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act”.

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