I often take time during the workweek to think about new ideas and to look for new trends that can affect our company — positively or negatively. Sometimes the new ideas are connected to these trends. Other times the idea just comes from looking critically at what we are doing and searching for a better way.
Many times I look for big ideas that would revolutionize our business. But when I look back at our business, and many other businesses, I see that major changes frequently happen over time, incrementally. On occasion an idea comes along that dramatically changes your business. More often, however, it’s a collection of small ideas implemented well that create sustainable and profitable growth.
Since I enjoy looking at the business and searching for ways to grow and improve, I come up with ideas constantly. Therefore, I decided to write this article to address how I evaluate the ideas and how we implement those that are good for our business.
To be sure, the key to success is not coming up with ideas. Only when we integrate those ideas in our business do we see the benefits, financial or otherwise.
Where ideas come from is not critical for this article. However, here is a list of my common idea sources.
- Ideas from thinking time. See “‘Thinking time’ improves an ecommerce business,” my recent article.
- Business related books describing a certain system or idea. In many cases, I can adopt some of these in my business.
- Non-business books that feed my imagination and overall knowledge.
- Discussions with friends or associates, to brainstorm ideas.
- Ideas that just pop in my head. Oddly, that never happens while I go over emails at the office.
- Applying ideas from other industries into our business.
Once I generate a meaningful idea — big or small — I follow two steps.
- Evaluate the financial feasibility of the idea on paper to make sure it is worth the effort.
- Implement the idea in our business.
I’ll start with step 1, the evaluation of the new idea. I consider the following parameters.
- Why is this important?
- What kind of sales increase or cost savings can be experienced?
- How would we measure success?
- What are three to five benefits that will be resulted from this new idea?
- What is the best case scenario?
- What is the worst case scenario?
Answering these six questions in writing forces me to think critically about the potential success of the idea and whether the result will be worth the effort. It will provide the confidence to proceed.
After I finish answering the six questions in writing, I then read it all to see if I still feel the same way. I’m many cases, as I go through this process, what seemed like a good idea is now not worth the effort or just doesn’t seem to provide much benefit to the company.
If, however, an idea passes the evaluation, I implement it in our company using the following steps.
- Describe the idea on paper, once more, so that it’s clear to me and my team. Team members should know what is this idea all about. The reason to put the idea on paper is that as I write the idea, it becomes clearer. Also others on your team will be able to evaluate the idea on their own time and not only in a meeting where some data may not be available.
- Make sure team members can challenge the idea. Especially if you are the boss, team members may not feel comfortable telling you that something is wrong. They may not feel comfortable challenging your opinion.
- Discuss the idea with our management team and make sure everyone agrees. By now I am convinced the idea is worth pursuing. But our team must be on board or the implementation will not go well.
- Each part of the new idea should be assigned to a manager in the company to implement. The manager will, in turn, assign different tasks to her staff.
- Insist on some immediate action. This is important, as action starts people on the track to completion and sends a message that we are getting this done. The initial action could be very small.
- Establish a timeline and a measurement system. Sometimes there are very simple improvements that can be handled by one person in 30 minutes. Those are typically low risk. On the other hand, larger implementations should come with steps and an implementation timeline.
We use our weekly management meeting to review these kind of implementations. It becomes an item on the agenda and we only address whether we are on track, or not. If we are not on track, we may review further in the meeting.
Every new idea should either increase sales or reduce expenses. We measure this, to determine if the idea is on target or not.
There are no guarantees of success with new ideas, of course. You are likely creating things that have not been tried by your company or, possibly, by anyone else. And while the results are not guaranteed, the process I’ve described here allows more of our ideas to be implemented, and with greater success.
As usual, I welcome your questions and comments. Please share specific challenges you are facing with implementation of ideas. If you have a different implementation system, I would love to read it.