Collaboration. Communication is critical among both internal employees and external contractors. Agree on a medium, whether it’s e-mail, IM or fancy collaboration software, and get everyone using it.
Data access. Easy access to research information is the basis for doing collaborative innovation work with outsiders. Make project data available in a format that is standard, simple and easily viewable—think PDF and HTML.
Process standardization and automation. Standard templates and automated workflows that don’t depend on specialized systems are important to getting multiple outside contributors involved in the process. Such tools also allow you to chunk up workflows so that one group can pick up where another left off. The caveat: Don’t let standardization stomp on creativity—it’s a delicate balance.
Cross-functional integration. Researchers and engineers don’t own innovation anymore. Find ways to connect other functions to the innovation process—especially those that deal with customers, like sales, marketing and customer service—and give them a voice.