by Nicholas D. Evans

No more Post-It’s: The case for software in your digital innovation sessions

Jan 12, 2018
IT Leadership

Great ideation software should be almost “invisible” when in use so the focus becomes almost exclusively on the ideas and their merits.

10 postit
Credit: Thinkstock

With so much interest and activity around innovation workshops, design thinking workshops and other forms of event-based idea generation (ideation) sessions in support of digital transformation initiatives, it’s time to re-visit the age-old Post-It’s versus software debate.

Of course, a well-run ideation session using Post-It’s will trump a less-effectively run session using software every time, so it’s more about the magician (in this case the facilitator) and the overall process, including the participant experience and engagement level, than his or her specific tools.

Some of the key items to consider before you think about technology include setting appropriate goals and objectives, engaging the right participants to support these objectives, giving participants sufficient upfront context setting prior to brainstorming, and keeping them engaged throughout the session.

Beyond mere facilitation of the session, it’s also vital to manage the strategic outcomes of the session so that what happens after the workshop can carry the momentum forwards.

With all things being equal in terms of overall prerequisites and facilitation, here’s eight ways I believe that software-based ideation tools can improve your process over the more traditional use of Post-It’s:

Instant visibility

With software-based ideation, where everyone enters their ideas simultaneously into an electronic flip-chart, you get immediate visibility into incoming ideas so that participants can build on each other’s ideas in real-time. The downside with Post-It’s is that you don’t necessarily see the idea until the Post-It is shared with the group.

Faster process

With software-based ideation, you can go straight to elevator pitches and then to voting without having to type in the ideas from the Post-It’s. Discussion and prioritization of the ideas can therefore be done quite seamlessly from a process perspective, without having to take a pause for writing them on the whiteboard, and often within minutes of idea capture.

Location independence

Compared to Post-It’s, software-based ideation enables you to conduct sessions either completely in-person, completely virtually, or in a hybrid manner. The web-based interface means everyone has a common view of all the ideas being captured and discussed via an electronic whiteboard and has an equal opportunity to weigh in.

More detailed descriptions

With software, you can often capture more far detail around each idea in the form of a couple of sentences outlining the elevator pitch and business rationale for the idea as opposed to just a few words via Post-It’s. This can help to improve overall quality as well as general understanding of the ideas.

Deduplication and merging of ideas

With software-based ideation, it’s easier to spot duplicate ideas or ideas which are related to one another and be able to electronically merge them via cut and paste or other more sophisticated mechanisms. This helps to build more robust ideas and to reduce the total number of ideas which need to be voted upon at a later stage.

Automatic categorization

With software-based ideation, ideas can be automatically classified as part of the idea submission process. For example, by selecting an appropriate “key focus area” from a drop-down as part of the idea entry step in the software.

More sophisticated voting

Compared to use of whiteboards and flip-charts for idea prioritization, online voting can be conducted per person and across multiple voting criteria, so you can arrive at a more sophisticated assessment of your opportunities. Individual voting can show you the level of consensus of the group and multiple voting criteria can enable you to plot cost-benefit matrices, so you can see “quick-wins” and “must-haves”. These can be useful to help select ideas for the near-term and longer-term project roadmap respectively.   

Rapid deliverables

With software-based ideation, it’s possible to have results out to participants the same day in the form of initial voting results. This gives them an electronic record of the session that they can start to explore while your team develops a more in-depth executive summary and set of observations and recommendations.   

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully illustrates some of the benefits over traditional techniques. Arguably, software-based ideation tools can also help you collect a larger number of ideas than Post-It’s and with higher quality. I’ve typically seen anywhere from 50 to 100 ideas captured in software-based sessions lasting anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. This includes time for elevator pitches as well as voting on the ideas and is based on having overseen hundreds of sessions globally. 

When selecting a suitable software package, it’s important to select a tool that’s suited to your specific task – in this case “event-based” ideation as opposed to “ongoing” ideation. For fast-paced ideation sessions of just a few hours to a few days, you’ll need a tool that enables rapid setup of individual sessions by your facilitators and one in which your participants can be effective immediately.

If you’re scaling your workshops and need to train facilitators, you’ll also want a tool that’s easy to use from the facilitator perspective. End users should be able to login using a simple group login and get straight to the appropriate screens for entering ideas, discussing their ideas and then voting on their ideas. This will allow them to focus on expressing their ideas and discussing them with the group as opposed to dealing with intricacies of the software.

For these reasons, you may well need a different package than you may use for your ongoing corporate innovation campaigns, which may be running for weeks or months, and which typically have hundreds of bells and whistles in terms of features and functions. You should look outside the typical innovation software realm as well. With appropriate customizations, even more general group decision support systems (GDSS) can be a great fit for this type of ideation.

Conversely, if you like the creative experience of using Post-It’s and want to replicate that in your software-enabled sessions, some of the larger innovation software vendors offer the Post-It look and feel within their own tools, so you can retain the experience of Post-It’s while still benefiting from the efficiencies of software automation.     

Great ideation software should be almost “invisible” when in use so the focus becomes almost exclusively on the ideas and their merits. This having been said, the software provides the vital functions of capturing and organizing these ideas and presenting them in a way that cannot be duplicated with Post-It’s or spreadsheets alone. For efficiency and effectiveness, my vote is for software every time.