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Idea Portfolio

Published 7/31/2017

In today's episode, we talk about building and managing an idea portfolio in your organization.

Today's episode is sponsored by Flywheel Local.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How many great ideas have you had that have basically just gone nowhere? And how many of them could have gone somewhere? I know I have this experience many times personally where I feel like I see my ideas being implemented by other people successfully and it's really frustrating to see somebody else do something that I thought I should do or I thought the organization that I was working with should do but we just decided not to. We talked about avoiding, I told you so, right? This is something that we definitely want to avoid because it throws people off. You can go listen to that episode but in today's episode we're going to be talking about idea portfolio. It's managing your idea portfolio and if that's not a term that you've heard then you're probably not alone. Listening to this podcast is something that as far as I know I created this term, I'm sure if you Google it, somebody else has said those two words together before but we're going to discuss how you can manage multiple ideas from multiple people in an organization setting in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help you become a better developer. There's so many ways that you can become a better developer and this show is only one slice of that big pie. So many puzzle pieces that have to come together for you to have a good career as a software developer and my hope is to point you towards some of those things and in today's episode we're going to be talking about an idea that kind of goes beyond just developers as many ideas on the show do. It really talks about organizational management and managing the various assets that you have that are intangible in an organization. When I say an intangible asset, there's tons of intangible assets especially software companies are dealing with but this concept that we're talking about today is perhaps the most intangible asset that you can have at your company. So we're talking about idea portfolios. We've discussed skill portfolios in the past. You probably want to dig back through and find some of that discussion in past episodes. We talked about stacking skills for example. We talked about treating your skills like a wise investor would treat stocks and that's where we get that word portfolio from a stock portfolio and having a skill portfolio and in today's episode an idea portfolio. Avoiding the temptation to learn just a little bit of everything that was something that we talked about with skill portfolios, the idea that you want to put just enough effort in that you have not even a literacy of these various languages. This usually happens when developers are not really sure what they want to learn so they try a little bit of everything and they end up not being able to use any one of those things that they spent so much time learning and ultimately they're just as stuck as when they started out. We have discussed skill portfolios. Some of that stuff is going to be relevant in today's episode. There's a lot of the same kind of concepts that are kind of inside of this bigger concept of idea portfolios. So again, it may be valuable for you to go back and listen to some of those skill. What should I learn? Those are the kinds of questions where we talk about skill portfolios. But ideas are important, right? This is a very contentious subject, especially in today's world of software development where an idea seems to be a dime a dozen. But ideas are important. Here's the caveat. They're not valuable on their own. I know somebody is listening to this and you're rejecting this idea already, but they are not valuable on their own. This is kind of a fundamental truth that I want you to grab a hold of for the remainder of the episode. Before we move too much further, I want to give a quick definition of what an idea is for the sake of today's episode. An idea is an opinion about what could be done for some positive benefit or gain. An idea is some opinion about what could be done for some positive benefit or gain. There's many types of positive benefits, many types of gains. We aren't just talking about ideas that generate money, right? Of course, this is a primary concern for businesses, but that's not the only types of ideas that we have to manage in an organization. This might be a product, but it might also be a procedure. It might be a tradition. It could be a strategic decision or some kind of investment, some kind of buying decision like adopting a new learning initiative or changing a policy. It could be hiring a new employee. It could even be a new perspective on how to define the values or the purpose of a given group of people. Maybe you have an idea of how your organization can change holistically, right? There are many different types of ideas, scale of ideas, and they come in very different shape sizes, different times, different ways that people have ideas, different ways that people express them. It is a very wide concept, but I want to give you those guide rails, this opinion about what could be done for some positive benefit or gain. This is very hopefully a functional definition for the sake of the episode. Again, I don't mean strictly in a monetary sense. Ideas are not valuable, even to the person who has them, unless they can then do something with the idea. I'm being very liberal when I say do something. Sometimes doing something means simply talking about that idea and that idea may then realize its full potential, its full value. What do you do with an idea is absolutely how the idea becomes a realized and valuable asset. Ideas are not always something that you have to build to find value in though, right? This is a common misconception because we hear this concept very often. Ideas are not really valuable unless you do something with them, right? That is true, but doing something with them very often, people misconstruer misunderstand what that means. Sometimes an idea is simply valuable enough to get you to the next idea. I don't want you to discount the value, for example, of very far out ideas, very imaginative and seemingly impossible ideas. These are things that are important. They're valuable as long as they are acted on. Again, acted on quite simply means you do something with it. You could be talking about it or you could actually go through with that idea and implement something, do a much more functional acting on that idea. I want to use a metaphor and hopefully this is useful for understanding how ideas can work for you. When you use a physics metaphor, you can think of ideas as having potential energy, right? In physics, the idea of potential energy is simple. If you have an object, let's say, on a shelf, that object could fall from that shelf. The height is representative of that potential energy. Idea is like that object on a shelf. A lot of potential energy can be bound up inside of an idea, but until it is converted from potential into kinetic energy, it is somewhat useless. I love this metaphor because the most common signal of kinetic energy is motion. Motion is a good metaphor for action, isn't it? Let's start thinking of ideas as having that potential energy, but we need to unlock that potential energy through some kind of action. Ideas are unfortunately often mishandled within organizations. There's a variety of reasons for this. Probably the most common reason though is that a person may feel very personally connected to the idea. This is kind of element number one and the reason why ideas are mishandled is that people feel very connected to their ideas. Secondly, the organization has not invested time or energy into creating a structure to handle those ideas. These two elements, when you mix them, are really corrosive. They're really bad. The reason for that is because I can have perhaps a really good idea or even a really bad idea and I get very emotionally connected to this idea. I present it to my friends, my coworkers, my boss and I expect that they will capture that same appreciation, that same emotion and that we're suddenly going to adopt this idea wholesale and we're going to change the entire direction of the company. The reality is very often quite different from this because everyone has ideas and if we took everybody's ideas and implemented every single one of them, then our organizations would be kind of floundering, they'd be running in circles because one idea may be in complete opposition to the next idea. What often happens is the good ideas often go unnoticed. They often go forgotten. Sometimes the position that a person is in, let's say a person has a lot of authority in organization, sometimes they're lesser ideas, quite realistically, bad ideas that leadership has. Sometimes those ideas make it through that funnel, through the decision process a little bit easier than perhaps a good idea from someone who doesn't have as much authority. This isn't calling on everyone to start saying that your boss's ideas are terrible and that your ideas are better and that they should just listen to you and do what you say. That's absolutely inappropriate. Your boss has just as much capacity as you do to create, to have good ideas, to have novel and interesting ideas that are productive and both of you have a hyperpensity for ideas that are absolutely terrible. This is actually a reality that we need to grab a hold of as well. Perhaps the second fact that I want you to walk away with is that a lot of ideas are really quite bad. We're going to talk a little bit more about that in just a minute. We're going to talk about how to develop an idea portfolio strategy right after we talk about today's fantastic sponsor, Flywheel Local. Local is a completely free local WordPress development application. I've been building whiteboards new site using local on my computer. It's an incredibly fast application with isolated sites that are powered by Docker. This simple fact makes them very flexible. You can have different versions of Apache or EngineX or PHP or MySQL based on whatever site it is that you're working on. Each of those sites can have their own versions of those things without having to screw up your native local environment. Flywheel is using these virtual machines through Docker. It's a really powerful workflow. Of course, if you haven't seen local, it's an absolutely beautiful application. Flywheel has spent some time making local look good. This is something that I can appreciate and hopefully you can too. Local is not ugly like some other alternative options that you may have seen in the past. It is actually an attractive application to keep open on your computer. If you're going to have to look at something all day long, it might as well look good. Local has some attractive interface elements that you can use on a daily basis. The live links feature allows you to create shareable URLs to show off your local sites to clients. Such a simple feature, but such a powerful feature as well. The Blueprints feature allows you to save site templates to use again in the future and this speeds up your workflow. Perhaps you have your own specific set of tools and you want to save that set of tools as a blueprint. You can do that with local. And Flywheel is working on local pro, which is a premium version with even more great features. You can go and download it and get started totally for free, by the way, at local.getflywheel.com. Go and check out local.getflywheel.com. Thank you so much to Flywheel and to local for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we're talking about building an idea portfolio strategy for building an idea portfolio. This is kind of an ethereal concept until you make it really tangible, right? And that really is the whole point of this, to create a tangible way of dealing with these highly intangible assets. And the reality is the greatest asset that any organization has is the minds of the individuals working for that organization. We say that again, because this is often confused, the greatest asset any organization has is the minds of the individuals working for that organization. Any other asset that the organization has is subject to those people. It is subject to those minds. Those are the direct product of the individual experiences each person has. Therefore ideas are kind of a derivative of the greatest asset, the minds of the individuals that any organization has. Right? Let me say that one more time. Ideas are generated for organizations and they're incredibly valuable, perhaps the most valuable asset that an organization can have as long as, once again, going back to our physics metaphor, as long as we act on those ideas. So I want you to create an idea portfolio in your organizations. And there's a few tips that I want you to take as you do this. Number one, understand that for every idea that fits, there's probably a thousand ideas that won't. Now you'll notice that I said every idea that fits, not every good idea. Right? There's far more good ideas than there are ideas that will actually fit your organization. There's a lot of good ideas. There's tons of bad ideas and there's a very small, small number of ideas that are both good and they fit your organization. Right? And so that's kind of point number two, not every good idea is good for your organization. You have to understand that good may be a relative concept. Right? That just because, let's say for example, you want to get into an area of technology that is growing rapidly. Well, just because that area of technology is growing rapidly doesn't mean necessarily that your organization needs to adopt or jump on to that growth train. Right? There may be other options for your organization to be able to grow that are not including that particular technology. So I understand that for every idea that fits, there are a thousand ideas that won't. And not every good idea is good for your organization. And if you create a funnel that lets more ideas through than not, that's a bad sign. That's probably not a strict enough funnel. Now the next thing I want you to do, once you've recognized this reality that not every good idea is going to fit your organization, I want you to also create an official delineation of what an idea is. Right? This is very different from the common definition that you or I use. But create an official delineation between what is simply a thought and what is considered an idea. This is a very important concept here. People have thoughts every single day. And we can't allow ourselves to think that a simple thought, a fleeting thought is actually an idea just on its face. That it's good enough to be considered an idea on its own. This will be very different for every organization. But an idea might contain, for example, how the idea might fit into the organization's personnel structure. Or maybe it will contain some kind of financial projection, some kind of description of the cost versus the gains that may be incurred. It depends on your organization's preferences for how you would consider an idea to be worth talking about or not. And that's really what we're saying here is that if you have a bunch of ideas, if you have a day loose of simply just thoughts, a fleeting thought that isn't really fleshed out, then you're not going to have a lot of quality in those ideas even at the very top level. There needs to be some kind of minimum viable thought. That's the definition that we're talking about here. A minimum viable thought or collection of thoughts, a little bit of work, a little bit of investment rather than a fleeting thought. So you may want to encourage someone to do a little bit of brainstorming on their thought before they kind of add it to the official pile. And that's the next piece that we're going to talk about here is you need to determine a capturing mechanism and format that matches your organization for ideas. So maybe this is as simple as a folder on a shared Dropbox account or a Google Drive account or something that your organization uses, a way of capturing ideas in a singular place. This is a place that everyone knows about. Everyone has access to and everyone can add things to you as an organization have to decide if you want to take steps, for example, to anonymize these ideas. This may help you reduce the bias, right? It may help you reduce the bias of having ideas come from someone who is in leadership versus having ideas come from a new hire, right? So we can reduce the bias by anonymizing some of these ideas and only judging those ideas based on their merit. Now, it's not enough to just capture these ideas though, right? That's not enough. You need to be able to determine an idea, filtering and funneling process. And during this process, you're going to weigh the ideas against your values as an organization, against your strategic positioning. You need to do things like consider stacking, right? We talked about skill stacking previously, consider idea stacking. How does this idea fit in with the rest of our ideas? What ideas could this new idea augment or what ideas could this new idea cannibalize? Do we already have something that essentially fills the role that this idea would fill? Or is this a big opportunity based on the current things that we're doing, the current ideas that we're already acting on? Decide how much energy your organization can allocate towards action on an idea, right? So once the idea has effectively made it through that filtering process, you have to decide how much energy your organization can allocate towards action on that idea. Otherwise that idea stays as potential energy, right? You can't just say that we're going to act on something without taking steps towards acting on it. So decide how much energy is available to act on it. Set a timeline for that action and an expected outcome, right? And this is again something that should be public. Set a timeline for that action and an expected outcome. And the important thing here with this expected outcome is to be very specific. How do you expect to benefit from this idea and how will you measure? How will you determine if the action on the idea was successful? Did you benefit the way that you thought you would? Now, I do have one final tip about this funneling process, about this filtering process that I think is really important. We have to understand that a lot of ideas that are brought to the table are not immediately financially viable to act on. And in fact, the person who has the idea may not have the explicit or specific steps that they think they need to take to make it financially viable. That doesn't mean the idea itself needs to be thrown out immediately. There may not be a very clear path in front of that idea towards financial viability. That doesn't necessarily mean that they shouldn't make it through the funnel though, but rather that the financial implications and the risks involved versus the potential reward or the potential upside, those things need to be considered holistically. While the sustainability of an organization is kind of the bottom line, quite literally, you're unable to sustain an organization if you're not making those financially viable decisions. The things that are going to move your organization forward in the long run may not necessarily be perfectly clear today. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope this has been inspiring. I hope it's been a challenge. And that's really kind of the way that I feel about this concept, this idea, portfolio management. That's a huge challenge. It's something that I think is really important organizations start doing as soon as they can. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to Local by Flywheel for sponsoring today's episode. This is my favorite way of doing WordPress development locally now. Go and check it out local.getflywheel.com. It's totally free. Thank you again for listening. If you are enjoying today's episode and you don't want to miss out on future episodes like this one, go and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you are listening to this in right now. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.