How we built our own idea management tool



January 17, 2017

Last Thursday we posted the first part of this article. In that part, we went through why we built our own idea management tool. In this post we’ll go through what we built.

While trying to set up our internal idea management process, we found that we needed something more than shared documents and a couple of folders in the cloud. So we set out to find a tool that could help us with effectively and efficiently managing our innovation process. We assumed that in a world where you can find a Darth Vader pen holder, it’s very likely that there will also be an easy-to-use and high quality idea management tool. So we started googling and asking around for recommendations. Eventually, we ended up testing some disappointing demos of a few existing solutions.

What we found was that existing idea management tools weren’t adaptable to our 5-step process. We needed an idea management tool that could be adapted to our needs, and not the other way around, as our 5-step-process mirrors the foundation of what we do here at WATTx.

Additionally, many tools didn’t meet most of our requirements, were aiming at different areas (for example external crowd-sourcing), or were just too cumbersome and complex to use.

In July 2016, we faced a choice. Should we use an existing tool and try to make the best of the situation, or should we build a solution tailored to our needs ourselves?

We came to the conclusion that none of the existing tools came even close to what we needed. Basically, if we went with an existing tool we would replace our own cumbersome tool with an external cumbersome one. Thus, we decided to build our own tool. And the task of developing the solution was assigned to me.

Pen, Paper, and a Head Full of Ideas

July 2016 did not only constitute the birth of our own idea management tool. It was also my first month as a software developer. Having previously worked mostly at the more technical side of digital marketing, I’d just made the decision to become a developer. And this was my first project.

Armed with pen, paper, and a head full of ideas I sat down and started drawing up our new idea management tool. Then, I started developing.

After 8 weeks, I had completed a first MVP-prototype. Now, it was time to bring in testers and see if my first project would sink or float.

Luckily, it floated. I got a lot of helpful feedback on everything from usability to design, but overall the responses from testers were very positive. So positive, that after a couple of weeks of polishing the tool we introduced it to the team. And we’ve never looked back since.

Today, our solution is the only one we use for internal idea management. Goodbye, whiteboard review-sessions. Sayonara, team-wide emails. We hardly knew ye. Now we know who’s working on what, and we can get all the information we need on a particular project from one place.

Since we launched in early September, we’ve also added some extra features. For example, these days, we have a slackbot that tells us about new ideas in a dedicated slack channel. And finally, we decided to give our tool a name. Kimbie.

If you read the first article you’ll know that we had a lot of problems with our old way of managing our ideation process and thus, we had a clear list of requirements that we were looking for in an idea management tool. Let’s review how Kimbie lives up to those.

Evaluation and Rating of New Ideas

In Kimbie, everything starts with an idea being submitted. The submission process itself is baked into the tool. You log in, answer 7 questions, and attach files if needed. After the idea is submitted, a rating team is selected by the administrators. The chosen members then receive an email telling them that they’ll have to review a new idea.

To review an idea it is required to rate it in three distinct categories:

  • Proximity to what we do at WATTx
  • Feasibility of implementing the idea
  • Potential of the idea in economic terms

It is also possible to add a comment to the review, a feature which has turned out to be very useful as it allows the members of each project team to share their perspective on an idea.

Here you can see part of the ratings-page with overall and category results. You can also see who’s submitted their rating in the top-right corner, and a comment below the ratings.

Meet the Next Stage

We’ve talked about our 5 ideation process stages before, and one of our requirements was that an idea management tool should be adaptable to those. The beauty of building your own tool is that you can adapt it to your needs. With Kimbie we have combined each stage with it’s own set of questions. That individuality is crucial for our work as every step is different from the one before. In the first stages we might share research notes, in later stages we might want to suggest potential partnerships.

Here you see an example idea view for an administrator. You’ll see the seven questions that needs to be answered in the ideation stage, and below it some example comments. In the menu to the right you can add and remove team members to the project, add files, and change the status of the idea.

…get an Overview!

Once users log in to Kimbie, they directly see an overview of all submitted ideas as well as the stage these are in within the ideation funnel. In addition to the idea screen view that was shown before, there is also a user list with user management included. This list helps the user to see who is currently busy working on which idea(s) and who might be free to start working on a new project.

Our full 5-step ideation funnel at a glance.

Track the Effort

All team members that are currently working on a particular idea have to submit their working hours per day for each project they are working on. Admins are then able to download the logged data and filter it by idea, stage or team member.

Learning From the Past

If the decision to kill an idea was made, the idea owner writes a ‘post mortem’ note to explain for what reasons this idea will no longer be pursued. This note is very helpful for us as we can learn from previous experiences - and it prevents us from putting unnecessary effort into similar ideas in the future.

Finally - a Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

Kimbie solves the problems we encountered with managing our ideas and allows us to follow a structured and transparent idea process. We believe it’s great and assume that what works for us might be interesting for other innovation labs and departments with similar issues. That’s why we’ve decided to offer demos of our tool to other companies.

So, if you’re interested in testing what we have created, feel free to go to our new website and request a demo.