Why Idea Databases Don’t Work

Many companies feel that they don’t have a grip on all the ideas that are “floating around” in the company and that might bring added value to the product(s). In order to get an overview of these ideas, they install a centrally-accessible idea database that makes it easier to search for ideas and to submit new ones. These databases come in different forms and shapes, ranging from Excel files over issue tracking systems to dedicated idea management tools. Some companies even open these up to their customers.

Once installed, such a database tends to fill up quickly. People are often motivated to share their product ideas and stimulation from management might give them an extra push. This large number of ideas however quickly poses challenges. The database will inevitably contain ideas in different states of maturity and detail. The style and level of detail in which the ideas are formulated will also be different, making the comparison between ideas difficult. How do you compare a bright idea for restructuring the code so that you can target many more customers more easily, to an innovative product feature that allows increasing market share significantly?

Managing this amalgam of ideas, ensuring the correct level of detail in order to be able to compare ideas quickly becomes a burden that can hinder the further success of the idea database as it can demotivate contributors; especially if they see that it takes a long time before their ideas are actually being processed.

An idea database is in essence a feed of ideas that have no explicit value associated to them. In other words, the idea database itself does not help in making a decision. On the contrary, the success of an idea database can make the challenge worse, simply because many more ideas will have to be considered.

In the end, it is all about managing two arts: the art of focusing and the art of valuating. You can read more about these two in our book The Art of Software Innovation: Eight Practice Areas to Inspire your Business.