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Idea management tools and features that support ALM

Idea management involves the collection of ideas for products, features, bugs and enhancements from employees, users and prospects, shepherding them through internal product management processes, and scheduling them for upcoming releases.

Until recently, idea management

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was not considered part of application lifecycle management (ALM). Many companies now solicit user feedback, ideas for new features and products through their own websites, company Facebook pages and even mobile apps. They are now integrated with application lifecycle management tools so that ideas are considered, evaluated, designed and scheduled for release as a single, seamless process. Idea management has organically become part of ALM in the front end as well as the back end.

Idea management tools today provide many or all of the following capabilities:

  • Idea submissions: Idea management tools gather submissions through Web-based forms on their company website, through company Facebook pages, and mobile apps. Good search features allow a product manager to hone in on the right features for grouping them and include them in upcoming releases. The ability to tailor the submission forms with custom fields make idea management tools flexible and these custom fields are equally useful for different types of products, projects, users, clients or prospects.
  • Interactive discussions and clarifications: Ideas may not have been expressed clearly or in enough detail by those who suggest them. A more detailed discussion, or asking for clarifications and obtaining them, is implemented in a collaborative discussion forum format.
  • Voting on or scoring ideas: A simple, transparent, weighted voting or scoring scheme is needed so that users are clear about what they are voting for or scoring. The voting may need to be weighted based on whether the idea came from an existing client, known prospect, or internally from an employee. This is also usually customizable in the idea management tool.
  • Promotion of ideas to stories: Once ideas are clarified, prioritized by voting, they can be promoted to stories. Support for adding additional detail to an idea is needed before it can be converted to a story.
  • Scheduling and release management of ideas: The idea management tool needs to be integrated with scheduling and release management ALM tools so that stories get scheduled and cleared from the development backlog.
  • Reporting: Reporting capabilities are needed to track the lifecycle of an idea from submission, to clarification to voting and scheduling. Reporting that slices and dices this lifecycle by products, user types and feature groups yield insights for product management. They can see which products/features get used more, and attract more active feedback than others.
  • Mobile device support: Ideas can occur to users in the most inopportune places. At the park or in a cab, mobile device support enables ideas to be submitted from anywhere before the user forgets them. Users may not care enough to write them down and submit them later through a tethered device.

Commercial idea management tools

  • Rally  Idea Manager –  The Rally Idea Manager is a hosted solution that supports almost all of the features above that is free up to 10 users and for more users they have a per user per month fee. Users are of two types, customer users and company users (product managers, developers, etc).
  • Spigit – Spigit Idea Management has interfaces for Facebook and SharePoint and has special versions for mobile, idea contests and government. It also has a customizable process flow for the processing of ideas. A company can implement its own internal process flow including approvals.
  • Bright Idea – The BrightIdea Innovation Suite is a comprehensive solution with a variety of integrations, like Facebook, Yammer, Jira, Tibbr, Rally, IBM Rational Focal Point, Pervasive, etc. They also have a website plug-in that can be integrated with a company’s website or product pages for feedback and ideas.
  • Kindling – The Kindling Social Innovation suite takes a more social media and mobile device approach to idea management. Integration with SharePoint and Yammer take the idea management forward from submission, to discussions, filtering and evaluation.
  • QMarkets Ideation 2.0 – The QMarkets Idea Management solution is offered as a hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) offering or a product for hosting on premises.
  • ID8 Enterprise – Apart from the standard set of idea management features, the ID8 idea management system has a combination of expert rating, vote trading and dynamic voting for evaluation of ideas. 
  • IdeaLink from BrainBank – IdeaLink from BrainBank is a popular and comprehensive solution. It has all the usual features expected of an idea management system and also has some unique features like sunset review (features that are being retired) and idea pipeline reports that show how many ideas were generated and how many finally made their way into products.
  • CogniStreamer – The CogniStreamer Innovation Portal product is one of the early idea management commercial products with integration with some other unique products that deals with patent filings or those that qualify for venture/angle capital funding.

Open source idea management tools

Here are some of the open source idea management tools that are available:

  • IdeaTorrent – IdeaTorrent is an open source idea management system implemented as a Drupal extension. It has most of the main idea management features, but lacks social media integration and mobile apps.
  • IdeaL – IdeaL is another open source idea management tool implemented as a Drupal extension.
  • BBYIDX – The Best Buy Idea Platform is an open source, crowd-sourced idea management platform initiated by Best Buy, the retailer. It is no longer used by Best Buy but is available for others as open source.

Conclusion

Idea management tools have automated the collection and implementation of ideas for new features and enhancements to products from users. They have added these additional capabilities to application lifecycle management in the front end. In the back end, they have added features for scheduling and release of these features. Many commercial and open source versions of idea management tools are available.

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This was first published in May 2012

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