Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Thirteen

The call, when it came, was both what I expected and what I feared. It came, not from Thompson but from Phillips. Phillips called not to suggest we move forward on an innovation project, but wanting to know more about idea management software.

"Marlow" I answered as Jane patched the call into my office.

"Mr. Marlow, Fred Phillips. We met in the discussion we had on innovation here in Accipiter's offices."

"Yes, Fred. How are you today?"

"I'm fine. I hope you are the same."

Not really. Not when you are expecting a call from the big dog and the guy at the end of the call you eventually receive seems the least interested in what you have to offer. I thought that Matt had probably been right, that Accipiter wasn't in enough trouble yet to recognize they needed us.

"I'm doing well" I said, choking down the last dregs of my day old coffee and shoving the still smoldering butt of a cigarette into the ashtray. Those actions seemed to make my statement somewhat true, if only momentarily.

"I've called you today to talk with you about a particular interest of mine in regards to innovation" Phillips said. "I'd like to know what you know about idea management software."

My stomach, which was already complaining about day old, cold coffee, lurched and I shifted quickly in my seat. So this was the call I had feared, the distraction that could take weeks to recover from.

"Fred" I said "in our business we've worked with a lot of innovative firms, and many of them have used idea management software effectively. However, I think it best to set the expectation with you that most of the firms that have been successful with idea management software have a fairly robust innovation process, and a committed team. I'm not sure that's yet the case at Accipiter, and you may be putting the cart before the horse, so to speak."

In fact if Accipiter started down the software path in the state they were in currently, I'd predict a significant project ending in a perfectly functional idea management software application that no one understood how to use or why to use. The team would generate a few ideas and then watch them carefully, waiting for the idea management software to work its magic. After a few months of little or no activity, the software would be abandoned, not because the software failed, but because there was no sustaining process around the software, no trained teams, no coordination. After a few months the management team would declare that innovation had been a failure, and the firm would double down on Seven Schema to recover from the distraction.

Fred harrumphed at me. "We're simply interested" he said. "All the news about Tyndale points to their use of an idea management solution. If they've been successful using software, then we need to investigate it as well."

"Fred, as I said earlier, we advocate the use of idea management software, but only once a few conditions are met. First, that you have a methodology or process to manage the ideas. Second, that you have clear innovation initiatives and goals established. Third, that you have people who have clear responsibilities for innovation and for the software. Fourth, that you either have a lot of people involved, or a lot of ideas to manage. If these factors are in place, idea management software can be very valuable. If you put the software in place before these other conditions are met, well, we've seen that play before and it doesn't end well."

"Are there a few firms you'd recommend we look at?" he said, not willing to let it go.

"Absolutely" I said and gave him the name of a few firms we thought were both credible and understood the alignment between innovation process and governance and idea management software. However, I feared the worst. Many of these applications are relatively easy to implement and use, and the vendors have great demos. If Accipiter did purchase and try to use idea management software given the lack of corporate commitment, there would be little chance of success. It was akin to watching a person self-immolate, knowing that neither your words nor your actions would matter.

"Fred" I said "If you decide to review these applications, please consider the need for a process to manage the idea generation and idea evaluation, and the people who will be necessary to support both the innovation process and software. Susan Johansen won't be able to do that alone."

Fred seemed oddly pleased with himself as he responded.

"I'm not sure Johansen will be involved in this part of the innovation effort" he said. "Thanks for your time, Mr. Marlow."

"Don't mention it" I said as I hung up the phone. No longer lurching, my stomach had subsided into a dull ache. I walked over to the board where we track our opportunities and marked Accipiter as now 10% probable, with a decision timeframe two to three months out. If Phillips pursued this, on his own or with the blessing of Thompson, Accipiter would be distracted from the real work of innovation for at least two or three months, and at worst would consider innovation a failure within six months.

Matt watched me with that I-told-you-so look in his eyes. "Off the bandwagon and on to idea management software as the solution are they?" he said.

"No good deeds go unpunished" I said.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:21 AM


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