We want to completely revamp traditional project proposal methods in businesses to allow for greater creativity, innovation, and employee ownership. Our app, NextGen, will draw from the success of crowdsourcing platforms and social networking websites to create a new sense of democracy in the workplace.
The majority of companies today employ executive teams that autonomously drive product innovation and changes. We work for a web development start-up in San Francisco led by an executive team with a clear authority over each of their subordinate team leads, including engineering, operations, marketing, etc. Our executives, using this authority, usually spearhead ideas for new software or changes singlehandedly, and the rest of the company only takes part in the proposal process through an intense approval system. Our working team of engineers, for example, is effectively isolated to determining the feasibility and implementing the executives’ ideas. Other teams, like the product team, play similar roles unrelated to the actual input of new ideas.
Hierarchy within organizations fundamentally caps creative output and forces the entire workforce to support the ideas of the few. By bottlenecking the company’s initial ideas to only those with executive authority, creativity amongst the company’s technical workforce is effectively stunted. We, however, are in no way demeaning the creative potential of executives; we simply feel that companies are missing out on a huge opportunity for innovation by following this proposal method.
At least in proposal phases, hierarchy within the company should be completely leveled; people who manage executive decisions should be at least on equal footing with the engineers. For our company, work only begins when a business executive feels the need to implement something new, but we propose that companies take a more diplomatic, grassroots approach to development. Ideas should be allowed to come from any individual employee in the company, and development will only begin once the idea garners enough support and attention. This will require a radically new hierarchy - one that sees engineering, marketing, product teams, and executives collaborating with equal authority and more tightly spread pay scales.
To help facilitate this new generation of ideas, we propose that SAP create what we call NextGen, an app with both crowdsourcing platform features and social networking features to track fresh and new ideas. Within NextGen, each employee will be linked to a profile with the freedom to create “Proposal Pages,” which function similarly to crowdsourcing “project” pages. Instead of pledging money to a Proposal Page, employees will be granted a certain quantity of “Support Points” that they could donate to Proposal Pages they feel will best benefit the company. Only Proposal Pages with the most Support Points and approval from a majority within each department will be implemented.
On top of this, NextGen will contain popular internet forum features, like profile comment walls and public forums for collaboration. This will help improve proposals, and ensure that departments can easily collaborate to facilitate approval.
With this new hierarchy and proposal system, we suspect that overall employee engagement and productivity will increase in more ways than one. Firstly, NextGen will create a feasible, organized avenue for idea generation. Speaking from personal experience, many employees in the web development field feel a distinct disconnect between themselves and their work, but with our app, employees will become direct catalysts for development. The workforce can now become the owners of their project, as opposed to employees simply following the ideas of business executives.
With an organized platform, NextGen enables ideas to become very traceable, possibly giving the opportunity for salary bonuses for the most involved employees. On a practical level, a leveled proposal system ensures that only the best ideas are put on the forefront, as Support Points and user-generated feedback will tangibly measure a project's worth for the entire company to see.
Lastly, the most important impact of this application is the wealth of innovation that will result from its proper use. We firmly believe in the talent of the workforce, and NextGen can harvest all the raw talent and creativity previously locked away by executive-driven project proposals.
The one challenge that trumps all others is the fact that our approach requires complete executive buy-in. This is particularly problematic because of the very nature of our hack; we are essentially stripping some power from executive teams. In order to successfully convince businesses of the benefits of our application, we would have to quantify the opportunity costs associated with limiting input for ideas. We would also have to quantify certain other side effects of this application, including increased employee satisfaction and ownership. This cost-benefit analysis requires extensive amounts of research, which we are currently investigating.
On the other hand, NextGen cannot simply be lazily implemented, nor can it be implemented alongside an existing proposal system. In order for our application to succeed, the entire company has to hinge itself onto this new hack, as the application will only be as powerful as the users that support it. New ideas obviously cannot emerge if the users do not feel the need to broadcast their ideas. Furthermore, the support and feedback systems only work efficiently if every user understands the gravity of their input, so NextGen faces a complex challenge of instilling authenticity and urgency. We suggest that SAP develop and include a training regimen with the physical product to ensure that all users understand how to properly harness the benefits of crowdsourcing ideas.
Companies looking to test how beneficial our hack can be can look into special "hackfest" events. Our company recently completed a hackfest, in which we were alotted an entire 72 hour block to simply think of new ideas. We divided into teams of two to four people from any department, and let our minds run wild with new ideas for our company's main product. The company even provided food and alcoholic beverages, just so we would feel more comfortable in a work environment. After the 72 hours were complete, every single employee convened to discuss which ideas were the best, and awarded prizes to the most favored ideas.
The basic idea to pull from our "hackfest" is that we legitimately enjoyed our work and felt attached to our ideas. Although hackfests and NextGen are on completely different scales of operation, the core idea of promoting a blank canvas, and encouraging people to think outside the box, can evoke so many new possibilities in product development. Many employees surely feel that creative freedom is very important; companies looking to advance to the next level of competitiveness should give their employees the chance to take them there. And lastly, if a company finds hackfests to be particularly successful, NextGen can permanently provide the company with the means to implement and streamline this sense of creative freedom.
Our hack was created and explored solely by ourselves, Christian Lee and Amanda McWhorter.