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8 features to look for in an idea management system

Last month we posted a checklist to help guide you as you evaluate idea management systems. We developed it based on what our customers in the B2B high-tech space have told us is important to them in supporting ideation and managing product enhancements.

The result is a brief overview of what product managers and developers should look for in an idea management system. But we thought it would be valuable to expand upon each of the points to give you more detailed guidance.

So here, as part of our B2B Innovation blog series, are eight features to look for in an idea management system to help you collect, manage, discuss, and leverage the creative ideas of your customers and employees to drive innovation.

1. Sophisticated moderating and triaging capabilities. Moderation lets you control the publication of ideas into the system. However, look for systems that have additional functionality around this to support quality control, including the ability to edit and clarify submissions while preserving the original idea. Enhancing an idea -- or just fixing misspellings or other errors that detract from it -- ensures that ideas in the system are valuable and can be understood by other users. Tagging and categorization features help keep ideas organized and easy to find, because you can tag and publish ideas in multiple categories and create new custom categories if needed.

2. Advanced voting. Voting and commenting lets you gauge how other users receive ideas shared in the system, so it's important to understand how the system ranks the popularity of an idea. Some idea management systems assign users a reputation rating based on how popular their ideas are among their peers, the number of comments they’ve left, and other metrics. Typically, higher popularity and participation leads to better reputation. This kind of reputation ranking can, however, be misleading and without clear communication, an idea’s value can be misrepresented. It's crucial that user voting is transparent and balanced. Look for a system that lets you weight internal votes based on key business criteria, such as support level, customer or potential revenue, geography, etc. This lets you distinguish between ideas with strategic potential and those that are simply popular. Also look for a system that lets you limit voting to one vote per user per idea to prevent stacking the deck. The system should let users retract votes as they might change their minds.

3. Flexible commenting. Commenting is important for maximizing the insight extracted through the system. Look for a system that enables users to supplement their votes with comments on any idea. It should provide a tightly integrated discussion forum to promote product-specific interaction among users. Often, ideas will germinate in discussion forums before being solidified and entered as formal ideas in the system.

4. Advanced search capabilities. Because ideas will be submitted by potentially dozens, hundreds, even thousands of users, it can become difficult to search, filter, and sort ideas. Look for a system with a search engine that lets you sort search results across many dimensions, such as specific fields, popularity, or internal factors. Pick systems that let you set up watch lists, alerts, or feeds from personal searches to help you stay up-to-date on the ideas that matter to you.

5. Ability to keep the system clean. Many systems suffer from clutter -- problem reports, duplicate ideas, etc. -- which often frustrates users and can drive them away. Look for a system that lets you manage duplicate and related ideas. It should allow users to easily determine whether a new idea is similar or related to other ideas in the system. So rather than duplicate an idea in the system, users can vote or comment on the original submission of that idea. Grouping related ideas provides opportunity for discussion around the larger concept and can facilitate tracking. Also look for the ability to separate new ideas from non-idea posts, such as problem reports or suggestions for functionality that already exist, to keep the system clean.

6. Granular permissioning capabilities. Highly flexible and granular permissioning can provide security to protect confidential information and flexibility to maximize the usability of the system. For example, enabling users to submit, view, and vote/comment on ideas only for the products they own streamlines their experience and ensures you only see feedback from those who actually use the product. Look for a system that gives you field-level control over what information is displayed. This enables you to segment visibility of information. For example, you might want to make certain information available only to your premium support customers or to customer advisory board members. Similarly, you want to ensure that voting can be segmented so that, in some cases, only certain users are allowed to vote on an idea.

7. Robust reporting capabilities. Reporting helps you select the right ideas to commercialize and communicate product improvement strategy to executive leadership. Look for reporting capabilities that let you analyze data in a variety of ways to understand trends and map data to business strategies. They should also let you segment customer input into categories that are meaningful to your organization, such as vertical or geographic markets.

8. Integrate with other systems. For your idea management system to play a central role in your product management processes, it should integrate with all the systems that support your innovation and product development processes. Look for a system that offers easy integration with or API access to CRMs, portals, and other systems used by the product management team.

Idea management systems are a fundamental component of the innovation process. By adopting the right platform, you can help build lasting competitive advantage by consistently generating high-quality ideas and turning them into features and products your customer want and need.

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