Often we think of idea management as a project reserved for big global corporations, but iPaper is a living proof that this mustn’t be the case.
iPaper is an eCommerce solution that helps businesses to inspire digital buyers with shoppable online catalogs and provide a smooth buyer journey.
It’s no secret that iPaper’s diverse team of 30+ people is taking pride in their work culture: “what makes iPaper different from other workplaces is that these values like diversity, inclusivity, and transparency are not reserved for company’s ‘About Us’ page, it is visible every day.”–says Valentin.
In fact, the company culture wouldn’t be what it is today without the iPaper’s deliberate attention to listen to its employees' ideas and dedication to make them a reality.
In our conversation, Valentin shares strategies that have been the most impactful for creating an open idea-sharing culture and some actionable tips for using an online idea management system.
Short on time? Here are six quick takeaways:
Start today. Regardless of the choice of your tools, the most important thing is to start now.
Keep it simple. Capturing idea should be as easy as writing it down on the napkin.
Make it a habit. To make it stick, insist that for new ideas to be considered, they need to appear on an idea platform first.
Stay transparent. Always communicate clearly and openly about what happens to the particular idea.
Look for the underlying problem. Go to the core of the problem that the proposed idea is trying to solve, could there be a better way of solving it?
Execute, execute, execute. Everyone has ideas, it’s the execution that will separate good ideas from their counterparts.
Ideation ProfileiPaperHas been collecting ideas since2016Collects ideasInternallyNumber of employees34Collected ideas in total~650Ideas per month10-20Average idea life-cycle3 weeks for smaller ideas (up to 6m for big-scale ideas)
So happy to have you, Valentin! Tell us more about your role at iPaper.
I started as a UX designer three years ago. Right now, I work with product management and product design.
How does idea management come into your work?
Basically, before I started, we had all our ideas scattered in different spreadsheets, in Trello boards, in hangouts, on napkins–everywhere. Sometimes people had the same ideas. It was chaotic, it was hard to get an overview or see duplicates. So, when our CEO introduced a tool to help manage it, we moved all the ideas into a single platform. At that time, most of it came from my side, so naturally, I took charge of managing the idea flow on the platform.
Currently, my main task is to make sure that capturing ideas is as easy as writing it down on a piece of napkin. For instance, every time a new idea comes in, I search for duplicates. So, before submitting an idea people don’t have to go and search if it was proposed before. Idea sharing should be instantaneous. If you have an idea–just put it there. If you see a problem and don’t know how it should be fixed, just note down the problem and let other people solve it.
This is a brilliant tactic to encourage people to share their ideas. How do you make sure people stay active on the idea platform in general?
This is a tough one. Because obviously, this is not problem-related, it is not idea-related, it is about how do you change the culture. Usually, what we do is that we make sure to keep it fresh in peoples’ memory.
For example, sometimes I include our “Top 10 highlighted ideas this month” in one of my presentations. In our management meeting with the CEO, we talk about what is the “hot idea” at the moment–the ideas that receive the most votes and attention from other employees. Internally, ideas and requests are coming every week, either from customers or employees, so we just make sure to communicate that if the idea is not on the idea platform, we can’t do anything about it. The more you highlight it, the better.
It sounds like you are creating a new habit of how ideas should be captured.
Yes. Of course, we still have people who have their own separate lists of ideas. However, every time a person says“ I have this great idea”, we ask “Is it on the idea platform?”, Have you told anybody about it or is it just your idea?” This way, we try to create a culture where people are meant to share ideas. This is how you go from people having separate lists scattered throughout the organization to one common idea bank.
What are some of the challenges that can stand in a way of creating this culture of sharing?
It seems, that sometimes people are afraid that if they share all their ideas, there’s no need for them anymore. That fear serves nobody. I think the real thing about sharing ideas is that the more you share ideas, the more company sees that you are putting things into the company and that you are a very valuable team player.
So, we have to create a mentality that there is no harm done in actually sharing more. Instead of being information hoarders, we should be information sharers. Ideas are meant to be shared. Your idea platform should be this open space where you could go and find inspiration on what other teams are doing, what is being implemented about this particular feature, or what are some of the upcoming developments.
What ideas get implemented?
Usually, it’s the ‘low-hanging-fruit’ ideas–something that can be easily implemented. Since the volume of ideas is still manageable, we can discuss each of them in person. If it’s a good idea but not something that we should focus on right now–we postpone it. If it’s in line with our core functionality and has a potential to improve the product or user experience, we include it in one of the upcoming meetings and try to get down to the underlying problem that the idea is trying to address. I always say that there is a problem and then there is the underlying problem. In other words, we should always ask is there another way we could solve this issue for the customer? We would never arrive at the underlying problem if people were not using the idea platform. Of course, some of the ideas will get old.
What happens to the postponed ideas?
The good thing about having an internal idea bank is that you can just go to the person who submitted the idea and talk. Usually, we have some very good conversations which in turn spark new good ideas. The same thing happens online. We believe in transparency. So, if the idea gets postponed because it is not in-line with our current goals, there will be a comment under that idea explaining why this is the case. Or there will be a comment explaining why the idea implementation is taking longer than expected. It is important that everyone can see what happens to the idea and why.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about idea management during these years?
I will be quoting our CEO, Mark, on this one “It doesn’t matter if an idea is good or bad, what matters is the execution”. An idea is just an idea. Everybody gets new ideas all the time. That’s why you shouldn’t overthink it before you submit it on the idea platform. Just put them all in one bucket. What matters is which ones get picked up and executed so people can use your idea. But if you don’t collect ideas you will never get to the execution part. So, in the end, the most important thing is to share your ideas. And do so in a way that enables other people to join the ideation process even though they were not a part of the initial conversation.
Some tips for the companies that are just starting to collect ideas?
The main tip is that what matters the most is that you start collecting ideas today. Don’t put it away for another day, just start now. Whatever tool you use–a digital platform or analog-like a suggestion box, just get all those ideas in one place. Make it easy for people. There is really no reason to not be collecting ideas. It shifts your culture from idea hoarders to idea sharers, which is something you really should be doing.
Finally, where is ideation on iPaper’s priority list?
Top-level. The only thing that goes above ideation is the company’s management and bug reports that need immediate attention.
Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Valentin. I am sure a lot of teams will find it very useful.
No problem, thank you.
Hungry for more?
This blog post is a part of our new interview series–Debunking Innovation, where we introduce our readers to the many faces of innovation, ideation and everything in between. Debunking Innovation strives to take innovation management out of the closed board meeting doors, get down to actionable tips and show its human face.
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