Your Idea Counts: Implementation Planning

This blog series publication was originally created in Jive Works and is faithfully replicated here as a convenience to our users.

Brandy Robert, Senior Manager, Proactive Service Delivery, Oracle Corporation and Rob Shapiro, Senior Director, Customer Service Experience, Oracle Corporation, have teamed up to implement ideas in My Oracle Support Community. The Your Idea Counts! series of blogs was co-authored by them and will deep-dive in to topics such as why idea generation is important today; ways to capture ideas; user and business impact; changing company culture to rally around ideas; and, of course, measuring idea ROI’s, KPI’s and other intangibles.

You now have a better foundation for why ideas count and The Thinking Model (or at least you can go back to your actions and our first blog Your Idea Counts: How to successfully implement ideas in a global customer community) in tandem with why an engagement model is so important (or, again, you can go back to your actions and our second blog Your Idea Counts: The Importance of an Engagement Model). So, now it’s time to address governance. Before you ask – no, not rules or bureaucracy. Rather the preparation necessary to begin tactical steps to implementation:

So, how does one get started?  What does the path look like for a company looking to get closer to their user base in an effort to really hear and understand what their customers are saying? It’s time to start defining where focused attention is required.  Businesses need to understand how to best use their resourcing for the highest impact activities.  It’s time to let the customer base help you parse through all the things people would like (in the social context) to the things that affect their buying or their subscription/renewal decisions.

Getting Executive Buy-in

It is imperative to get executive buy-in from your development team or stakeholders for where the focused improvements will center.  Idea generation is all about improvements leading, in some cases, to innovation and better design.  Whether we are making a more universally acceptable product, improving on business flow, aligning to new standards and regulations, or designing the next new product, the development team is ultimately the manager and decision maker of these ideas in their implementation.  Without their buy-in and commitment, then all you are doing is collecting ideas.  What you want to do is let the ideas foster growth and change that will allow the company to compete in a market where winning means staying ahead of the next great idea.

But how do you get this buy-in?  Sell them the idea!

Pull out your Sales 101 material and get to work.  Your stakeholders have to know what’s in it for them.  What is this new way of life going to generate for them in terms of growth and opportunity?  Think about this from a company perspective.  By offering an open forum for the capture and discussion of ideas, your company is better positioned to determine if…

  • This fits into the strategy / road map for the product’s future or maybe this is the start to a new offering
  • This is something that could be offered today – often referred to as a ‘Quick Win’, that really does make the appearance that we care about our customer experience
  • This allows for a more universal application of the product
  • Would a change in this area increase customer success, making customers happy and more apt to purchase additional goods and services
  • This change would allow for more revenue generation
  • This change would give highest impact for lowest cost spent to develop
  • This change, in a support environment, could deflect cases/tickets as well as reduce noise in a bug tracking/enhancement system

Of course, develop an elevator pitch!

Action for you: Test the waters or even get your ankles wet. Seek a quick conversation with an executive’s direct report or an opportunity with the executive him/herself at a lunch, conference, dinner, etc. Put the elevator pitch to work! There is always an opportunity or one that can be manufactured.

Define the Plan 

You will need to come up with a strategy for starting the conversations.  This is important in that you can start off slow with idea generation, focusing only on the new ideas or you can choose to jump-start the conversation by seeding previously presented ideas to the users and getting their insights. Maybe your company has some ideas about things they would like to do with the product, but due to resourcing have to put them on the back burner.  Well, what if through idea discussion, you could discover 1 or 2 ideas that users feel passionately about?  This can give you a focused understanding that would allow you to incorporate these ideas into the next design or code release, thus showing the users the seriousness by which you take their feedback.  This shows commitment to users and in cases where the addition or change is easily incorporated and becomes an easy win for the company.  In talking about strategy, you need to think about your goals and objectives for implementing such a plan.

The business goals for this project should focus around implementing a community solution to capture product or process specific ideas and feedback.  By embracing this type of community setting and openly allowing for the sharing of ideas, you begin the basic process of brainstorming which allows for aspects and ideas to scope the original idea into something worth consideration.  You also allow for the nuances to be brought forth during the discussion.  The open forum also tells a story about what the users consider about the topic.  Is it something that draws on people’s emotions?  Is it collectively of interest?  Or, is this just a fleeting idea that can be parked in the idea bank? When ideas fall into the larger idea bank with little to few votes and no discussion, it does not deem them uninteresting or of no value.  It simply speaks to the here-and-now and what the customer base is looking for or considering as a solution of their own business requirements.  What is the goal?  What is it that you want to ascertain from this new type of engagement?

  • Create and track ideas
  • Allow customers to do the leg work by conversing, among themselves, the merits or demerits of a proposed idea
  • Allow customers to vote on ideas most beneficial to their business
  • Allow customers to collaborate and share each others ideas vetting out the applicability to the larger audience
  • Provide an open and flexible forum where the product or service owner can participate in the conversation
  • Provide a mechanism to solicit feedback
  • Change the paradigm for how we entertain ideas
  • Provide an easy to use tool and process for idea collection

So, essentially what we are proposing, exploring, and defining is an idea exchange in its simplest form.  An idea exchange is nothing more that the presentation, discussion, voting, and planning of new concepts and ideas in order to improve a particular process, flow or technology.  We must evolve the idea exchange into an integrated process flow by investigating and investing in available tooling.  The idea exchange is intended to facilitate this end-to-end flow in order to identify ideas, improvements, and alternatives all while offering transparency to future inclusions and product line roadmap discoveries.  Feedback is, and always will be, important from a company perspective.  It’s a measure of how we are doing with currently positioned products, services and processes.  However, looking beyond the transactional and ensuring the customer conversation is represented proportionately across the customer base, we begin to understand at the deepest levels our products, services and processes.  Often times we view feedback as labor intensive and tend to push a lot of it into the depths of the abyss in order that maybe if we ignore it, maybe, just maybe, it will correct itself.  Is it that we lack transparency to educate the customers on what is being requested?  Are we translating the feedback and ideas today into our own understanding and applying our own defined methods for resolution?  We ask these questions to raise your attention to the need to begin thinking about things differently.

What are the risks to this consideration of adopting an idea exchange?  Probably the biggest risk to implementation is adoption.  Adoption by the customer, who is going to be very keen on seeing quick and immediate acknowledgement and response, is the greatest risk to this plan.  That’s why having a well defined and well communicated plan is important to your project.  The second greatest risk is having the customer’s attention and exchange, but not having the internal organization engaged.  The next sections will speak to these things that are so very important to the idea exchange’s success.  You must identify the stakeholders (those who will be responsible for the interaction in the community), set expectations, ensure adequate and proper engagement, ensure the named parties are committed to the process, and lastly communicate!  By adopting a new plan and incorporating a community solution you can begin to make engagement, collaboration and your process less labor intensive.

Action for you: You guessed right – develop your plan.

Set Expectations (SLAs defined internal and external) 

You need to set some level of expectation with your users.  Users need to understand that vetting ideas (creating, voting and discussing) does not warrant response or inclusion on every idea submitted.  Some people simply won’t be interested in some ideas and they will go ignored, and that is okay.  In fact, it can be a very positive thing as by vetting the ideas with the users, we are hopefully reducing the noise generated by large numbers for very small and tactical items that really don’t change the scope, the process or the reality of using the product. Activity within the idea discussion tells a story to the product owner, but it also tells the users a lot too! It shows the users how the products and services are being utilized by the larger customer base and becomes a great way to educate users about its use and expectations.  It also removes redundancy as the community allows for the larger customer base to search, filter or sort based on categories, topics or keywords.  Another benefit for a company with a large footprint is that often times a user may not be aware of all product offerings and how they tie into their specific footprint, and so many times products are viewed as ‘feature lacking’ while in fact the feature is already there but not documented in such a way that the user can make the leap to understand what is available.  Note that a community setting allows for more solution offerings than just an enhanced product.

Internally, you must set expectations as to what is reasonable in terms of the engagement. We can tell you now that customers interacting in a community setting are looking for one thing…acknowledgement!  Customers know that these ideas need time to mature, to draw in interest, to weigh on the minds of other customers or to even wait for a customer to catch up in the use of that product or service in order to truly understand if they are passionate about it.  Customers are not necessarily looking for immediate turnaround on these ideas. Rather, they are looking for acknowledgement by the product or service owner.  Something as simple as a clarifying question, a note to consider or a comment relating to the topic just tells the customer that we care and are aware of their presence.  This all aligns with the concept of engagement and is so critical to the success of the project.  Note that you may have different teams who work on different schedules for product improvement release.  This is okay.  By letting the customer know what to expect, you aren’t leaving them out there guessing at what may or may not come.  If the customer knows that you only review and accept improvements on a calendar cycle, then they are better equipped and patient with the community discussion.

Action for you: Add this to your plan.

Get Engaged! 

Engagement is critical to the success of idea generation.  The thoughtfulness and discussion is what can turn a good idea into a great idea.  Referencing a comment from our earlier blog, bad ideas can transform into a good or great ideas.   It is important that the product owners become a part of this discussion because as implied before, there is often times much to be discovered about the use and implementation of a product, and let’s be honest here documentation is often times vague and lacking to solutions beyond the basic.  The reality is that business today is having to do more with less.  Less resourcing is dedicated to maintaining and enhancing products and services, so we have to get smart about how we collect information and process it.

Not long ago, Brandy was involved in a discussion around ideas with a developer whose opinion she greatly respects.  The conversation was based on how we could begin to understand more accurately, customers expectations and business challenges.  In that conversation he said something that struck Brandy to the core:  “Customers make terrible software designers.”  Wow…think about it.  We don’t think he could have said it any better.  It is not to underestimate the customer or their use of the product, but simply to make a point: for some, we are in the business of software design, and that it is when a company truly understands the customers business challenges and problems along with their expectations of our product or service that put us in a position to design great products!

Finally, and we have said it often but bears repeating, it is critical that the product and/or service owner(s) participate. This is very key!

Be Committed! 

It’s all about delivery. You must deliver on some items. What you need to discuss in your planning is what that commitment looks like.  Will you deliver on 10%, 20% or more of the ideas generated, or will you take the position to deliver on those ideas that completely change the landscape of your product offerings?  How will you draw in your audience?  What will success look like?  In a future installment of the series, we will talk about success, ROI, and KPI’s that can help to guide you on this journey.  But, for now, let’s make the agreement to be committed. Let’s listen to our users to define the problems within the scope of our product and service offerings. These are potentially holding us back from gaining better market share, producing happier customers and making our brand the one discussed in professional meetings, around dinner tables, with friends, families, and in our schools and universities.

Commitment must be thorough and comprehensive. This means that the product or service owner(s) follows through on all aspects of managing the idea exchange environment including status.

Communicate, Communicate! 

Last, but no least, let’s toot our horn a little bit.  When you actually implement an idea, tell everyone (and don’t forget your user groups!) about it and when it will happen.  Use it to your advantage!  Be more transparent with your customer which in turn gives them reasons to remain loyal.  Give them what other product and service providers may not be giving them.  Let them feel confident that their voice is heard, their ideas are welcomed, and that you are ultimately striving to make a better product or service. There are many rewards that come from this effort.

Speaking of rewards, this is where leveraging a gamification process or system comes in to play to both recognize and reward users for their contribution (creating ideas) and participation (commenting, voting, etc), not to mention their idea being fully or partially implemented. We will talk more about this in our next blog installment.

Action for you: Add this to your plan.

Here is something for you to remember our key takeaways: