Good Idea! Now What?

[article]
Summary:
A good idea is a valuable asset, and a lot of good ideas can be like a treasure trove. But what do you do with those ideas? Here, Esther Derby describes an idea maker who isn't very good at following through and then suggests four important things to remember to keep your own ideas from withering on the vine.

Ron was full of ideas. Good ones, too—or at least he thought so. He had ideas about how team members should organize their work, how to report status, how to speed up the build, and a way to save money on white board markers, to name a few.

But, Ron's teammates hadn't picked up on his wonderful ideas. In fact, to Ron's eyes, they had rejected them out of hand. So, he persisted, arguing why his ideas were a better way.

Eventually, another developer agreed to try Ron's idea for speeding up the build and asked Ron to work on it with him. Ron refused. "I don't want to get saddled with the extra work," he huffed. "That's like punishing me for having good ideas." The other developer quickly lost interest.

Many ideas wither, not because they are bad ideas, but because of clumsy presentation. Few people are as inept as Ron; but most nascent ideas stand a better chance if you remember these four things:

1. It's not about you.

Most of the time, people pursue a new idea because they can see how it will help them. Don't just tell them why you think your idea is a good one. See the world from their point of view, and frame the idea in terms of what matters to them. If your manager cares only about cost, then talking about quality, speed, reuse, or elegance won't convince him to try your idea. Connect your idea with what's important to the people you are hoping to influence.

2. It is about who you know.

Bringing your ideas to fruition is a social process. You will need the aid and interest of others to make your idea reality.

Take stock of your network. Who can help you move the idea forward? Who has influence with people who might champion the idea? What do the people who hold formal and informal power care about? Can your idea help them advance their goals?

3. Action creates attraction.

Rather than pushing your ideas on people, try pulling them in—work by attraction. If you think a team task board would help everyone do better, show them; don't just tell them. Demonstrate the benefits by creating your own task board and making your progress visible. The time to tell is when someone shows curiosity, not before.

There's another benefit of showing: You might learn something useful about the how the organization will respond to your idea. Suppose you make your own kanban board and start limiting your own work in process. If your manager increases his scrutiny of your work or berates you for not working hard enough, you've obtained valuable information—information that will help you move your idea forward (or choose not to move it forward and look for a new manager, instead).

4. Timing is everything.

Your idea might be good but not viable in this organization at this particular time. An experiment—such as the personal kanban board—can reveal what else needs to change for your idea to succeed.

Sometimes people and groups aren't ready for an idea. They may not have the prerequisite knowledge to appreciate it, or they may be working from a different mental model in which there's no place for your idea to fit. In this case, you need to prepare the ground with conversations (sometimes many) before planting the seed of your idea.

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular StickyMinds.com and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at www.estherderby.com and on her weblog at www.estherderby.com/weblog/blogger.html. Her email is derby@estherderby.com.

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