10 Steps to Knowing If an Idea Will Work

Not every idea that comes to the table is viable. Follow this process to know which ones will fly.
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My last two columns provided ways to brainstorm new ideas to keep your company growing and your personnel stimulated. The next question is how you evaluate the ideas to determine which ones to implement. Some companies just select a few and try them.

You need a methodology to evaluate ideas, because no company, not even

Microsoft

, has endless resources and time to flesh out every idea that management likes.

I use the following process to evaluate ideas:

Step one

: Develop a list of departments or sections of the company that need fresh ideas and approaches.

Step two

: Develop a one-sentence description of the new idea -- the shorter, the better. If the idea requires a long description, it is probably convoluted and therefore difficult to implement.

Step three

: If the idea falls under sales or marketing, then ask the idea's sponsor to look at the competition. If the competition is using the idea, determine whether the idea has been successful. I had a client who bought

Google

ad words just because the competition bought them. One of our employees was a former member of the competition's team at a low level. The client never asked the employee if the idea worked -- he just copied it.

Step four

: If the idea falls under the new-products category, we ask the sponsor to run the idea by existing clients and prospects to see their response.

Step five

: The employee who comes up with the new idea has to categorize the idea by what areas it could improve, such as new products, sales, marketing, operations, client retention and employee recruitment. Categorizing ideas can save everyone time and provide focus on the best ways to use a new idea.

Step six

: The person with the idea has to provide a list of reasons the company and/or department will benefit. The reasons must be in bullet form so they are easy to read; this also forces the writer to be concise.

Step seven

: Create a budget for the idea to see whether it is financially feasible. The budget should include how much time and salary it would take to execute the idea. It also should include any materials, equipment, space or other costs.

Step eight

: The idea's sponsor must provide an implementation plan that includes the following:

Time line for rolling out the idea.

List of products and materials needed.

Names of people and/or positions of people responsible for implementation.

Roles and responsibilities of the people conducting the implementation.

Step nine

: The sponsor must develop a brief PowerPoint presentation for the part of the organization that would potentially benefit. This presentation isn't a defense of the idea but rather a chance to answer questions or dispel misconceptions. Review all ideas to keep different departments from disregarding the idea simply because it originated elsewhere. Sometimes the leader has to encourage others to keep an open mind.

Step 10

: If the idea gets through the first nine steps, it is put into play and registered in the employee manual. This way, future employees can read who came up with what idea and appreciate that the organization is open to concepts from outside the leadership.

The objective of the process is not to set up so many hurdles that individuals don't want to present ideas but rather to provide a disciplined way of developing and reviewing ideas.

Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.