I’m not a believer in the old adage “there are no bad ideas.” In fact, I’ve been known to declare that “there are bad ideas, and I don’t want them in my brainstorming session!”Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to my counter-intuitive stance is that I simply detested the tedious process of sifting through thousands of ideas after ideation sessions. You’ve got the painstaking Post-it note transcription efforts, the endless idea ranking exercises, and the lengthy arguments over minutiae. If you’ve been in innovation long enough, you’ve danced this dance dozens of times. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never found the magic bullet that would obliterate hundreds of bad ideas effortlessly. But looking back at my past experiences, I can say that the more organized the idea screening process was, and the more defined the screening criteria were, the better the results.
- To classify ideas into appropriate categories in order to ensure investment in an appropriate mix of innovation opportunities
- To cut through the clutter by eliminating ideas which are not feasible/desirable/aligned/etc.
- To provide the language and consistency necessary to satisfy those who desire objective innovation metrics, and
- To focus scarce resources on the most promising opportunities.
Any great innovation process requires up-front discussion about the screening criteria. That is, you need to create a set of parameters to assess the relative priority of a set of opportunities being evaluated. A good set of screening criteria can persist throughout an innovation process. They’re useful from the problem definition stage, through customer need identification, into ideation & conceptualization, and ultimately to help make decisions about what to test and what to launch. These criteria should be developed, agreed upon, and communicated prior to any innovation effort.
Different Kinds of Screening Criteria
Screening criteria are especially helpful in gauging how well an idea fits the context of a corporate innovation strategy and your company’s overall identity in the marketplace. At that level, there are two categories of screening criteria, which I call Strategic Alignment screens and Brand Fit screens.
Then, there are four additional broad categories of screening criteria that can help you gauge an idea’s potential: Customer Value screens, Financial Viability screens, Feasibility screens, and Idea Quality screens. See the spreadsheet below for a sample set of 28 screens that fit within these six categories that can be used for your innovation efforts. Of course, these screens can (and should) be adapted to fit your company’s specific situation.
Five Steps to Culling Ideas
Perhaps the most rigorous application of screening criteria occurs after ideation sessions, when it is the job of an innovation team to cull hundreds of submissions down to a manageable number of high-potential ideas. This is by no means a standard or trivial process, but the steps can be summarized as follows:
- Screening criteria development — up-front work to set success parameters across multiple dimensions
- Idea log development — collect and standardize a set of ideas from multiple sources into a single list
- Cleansing and application of Yes/No Screens — dozens if not hundreds of ideas can be eliminated simply by combining, de-duplicating, and eliminating (bad) ideas which don’t pass some simple hurdles such as “is the idea in scope?”
- Idea Classification — classify the ideas into categories by which to organize and report on them
- Idea Scoring — the process of assigning a numeric score for each idea across multiple dimensions, then sum totaling or weighting the scores to come up with a final overall score for each (good) idea.
The spreadsheet below can serve as a template for progressing through this scoring process. It is detailed enough to show how to set up idea logs, Yes/No screens, classification, and scoring exercises…yet simple enough to be easily modified to fit your organization’s unique situation.
If you’ve got questions about how to use this, post them in the comments below and I’ll answer them.