Getting from Good to Great Ideas

At every level, government agencies have scores of hurdles separating their employees from mission success.

The list is long – budget constraints, compliance challenges, unengaged workforces and competing priorities can all make an agency’s mission increasingly difficult.

Unfortunately, the distance between good and great ideas is already large before these other concerns enter the equation. So how do federal, state and local governments pick the best possible solution to their problems?

According to an expert in product development, partnership management, customer engagement and getting products to market, the answer is eliminating the good ideas to find the great ones.

“Sometimes we have too many good ideas,” Frank Qiu said Friday at GovLoop’s 2019 NextGen Government Training Summit. “We want to prioritize. We want to get to the great ideas. Prioritization is always the key.”

Qiu is a managing partner at Product Culture, a company that helps cross-functional teams solve customer problems in a profitable and scalable way. He’s also a mentor at the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA), which is a volunteer-led professional association serving greater Boston’s product management and product marketing communities.

According to Qiu, prioritizing the best ideas helps agencies maximize their energy and achieve the most powerful results.

“Who doesn’t want to have minimal effort and create the most impactful organization?” he asked. “We all do, and we want to do it well. We need to cherry pick. Picking the best initiative will help us minimize our efforts.”

Qiu said that there are several poor methods for ranking ideas, such as focusing on one’s gut or analyst opinions. The former strategy may feature someone who’s out of touch with their audience, he said, while the latter one centers on opinions that are largely looking backwards.

“Popularity doesn’t always tell us what we need to do,” he said, citing another weak metric. “The current customer base can’t provide enough relevant information for us.”

Sales requests, Qiu continued, are inadequate as they change too rapidly, while service requests are additionally bad as they are mostly incremental.

“When we want to start major initiatives, these kinds of feedback will not be enough,” he said of product development.

Qiu argued that the best formula for reaching great ideas involves having clear objectives, simple math, good discussion and aligned priorities.

“We start an organization to something,” he said, adding agencies are no exception. “We all live by objectives. Many times, we confuse the means and ends.”

Qiu noted that because many organizations have complex missions, they must determine the value each of their objectives has.

“Don’t have too many objectives, or you can’t manage them,” he said, suggesting that the optimal amount is two to four objectives.

Qiu concluded that value is an idea’s expected contribution to customer needs and business objectives, while effort is the time and resources needed to execute an idea initiative. Confidence, he added, is the certainty that the value and effort scores you’ve assigned are accurate.

Priority, then, can be boiled down to an equation that Qiu describes as (value + effort) X confidence = priority.

“We’re trying to compare idea to idea,” he said. “We’re not there to do project management. Don’t overcomplicate the issue.”