“It’s easy.” Or, “You can do most of it yourself.” How often have I heard this from a salesperson and then been dissatisfied with the end result? The temptation to believe what I want to hear has often led me to select a low-cost, low-service solution. Occasionally it works out well but too often there are unexpected costs and/or unsatisfactory results.
This insight definitely applies when trying to obtain the best crowd-solving outcome. Crowd-solving is a complicated professional effort where expertise is critical to soliciting the highest-value solutions. At the most abstract level, the main crowd-solving process steps are simple. They are:
Ideation and problem selection
Winner verification and awarding
Implementation of winning problem solution(s)
The objective of successful crowd-solving is to execute these steps so that one obtains one or more new and implementable solutions to the stated problem. A sub-optimal crowd-solving process delivers solutions that don’t quite meet the true requirements so they end up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. In this case, the whole crowd-solving process turns out to be a wasted effort.
I have served as a Project Advisor on eight crowd-solving challenges for Habitat for Humanity and World Vision over the past year, working with the InnoCentive platform and crowd. This experience has shown me that there are three critical roles that are vital for optimal crowd-solving. These professionals help a Seeker obtain the most submissions of directly relevant solutions that have the greatest likelihood of solving the initial problem. These key roles are: Challenge Designer, Project Manager, and Project Advisor. The Challenge Designer and Project Manager work for the open innovation company and the Project Advisor works directly for the Seeker.
The Key Roles
1. Challenge Designer. Selection of a suitable problem for crowd-solving is the first responsibility of the Challenge Designer. Crowd-solving is an excellent tool for many types of problem but it is not able to solve all problem types. The Challenge Designer helps the Seeker review different potential problems and coaches the Seeker toward impactful problems that are likely to generate winning solutions.
Another key responsibility of the Challenge Designer is to write the challenge statement. This involves multiple meetings with the Seeker to help the Seeker define their problem in a clear and concise way so that the global crowd can understand the issue and contribute productively toward a solution. Boiling a problem down to its core issue is a difficult task that requires iterative question-asking and listening. It is a task where long and varied experience can be extremely valuable.
The Challenge Designer is also involved in legal strategy to make sure that the intellectual property of the winning submission(s) is usable by the Seeker in a suitable manner to allow implementation.
If the challenge is defined poorly, all of the later steps will be doomed to sub-optimal outcomes. The InnoCentive challenge-definition process was extremely valuable in helping all of our challenges clearly define the problem and to specify the required components of a successful solution. I believe the InnoCentive Challenge Designers were able to create effective challenge definitions every time they engaged with the Seeker.
2. Project Manager. The goal of the Project Manager is to complete the crowd-solving project as quickly as possible and with the highest likelihood of finding an implementable solution. They are responsible for ensuring that every best-practice step is executed and that the tasks are done correctly and completely.
There are many details to manage. These include all of the technical issues related to the posting of the challenge and the submission of proposed solutions. They also include all the platform’s marketing and promotion of the challenge. Another category of work is support for judging to help the Seeker efficiently select the best submissions. Last, they are responsible for all the scheduling of meetings and phone calls to coordinate definition, promotion and judging operations.
InnoCentive has a repeatable process to help a Seeker move their challenges forward. Over the year of working our eight challenges, we have had three different Project Managers. All of them have been very helpful in efficiently moving each challenge toward a valuable conclusion.
3. Project Advisor. Unlike the prior two roles, the Project Advisor works directly for the Seeker. A Project Advisor is particularly useful for an organization that has never run an open-innovation challenge before and wants help in managing their challenge vendor to get the best possible outcomes. The Project Advisor serves as a full team member of the Seeker’s project team and helps the Seeker’s Executive Sponsor make sure that each challenge is moving ahead as quickly as possible with the best possible chance of success. Asking lots of questions, monitoring progress against a best-practice plan, recommending supplemental actions to rectify deviations from best practices and helping to hold the challenge vendor accountable are all tasks that the Project Advisor is likely to do. I served at Project Advisor to both Habitat for Humanity and World Vision on their recent challenges. My most important tasks included a weekly coordination meeting with the InnoCentive Project Manager to track progress and management of third-party publicity of challenges to expand the number of potential solvers. I also contributed extensively in challenge definition and multi-stage judging.
As of this writing, one of my initial eight challenges recently announced its winners with a plan to field test the winning solutions. Five more are involved in multi-stage judging with the announcement of winners expected in the coming weeks. The last two challenges are still open and soliciting Solvers. A summary of the challenges is available HERE.
The true measure of success on each of these challenges is whether they find new solutions to hard problems. I hope that future blogs will report success on this lofty objective. But, in any case, the design of the crowd-solving team is critical to improving one’s odds of success. Use my experiences to help you leverage the power of crowd-solving!