crowdsourcing-525x350Innovation is a buzzword for large IT companies today, as corporations are faced with increased competition by startups and emerging players in their markets. Smart companies invest in training their people in new methods for customer-centric product creation and set up intrapreneurial programs to create a startup culture and boost innovation. These programs are all good and bring a positive change in traditional organizations to make them more agile and adept to handle the fast-moving market. But can we do even better regarding optimal use of the potential of the teams?

The Crowdsourcing Concept

There is a great HBR article that discusses in detail what crowdsourcing is and the different flavors of it that you can find out there. Basically, the concept is based on the idea of the collective intelligence of crowds, and suggests that companies go out to external communities to find the best solutions for the problems they are trying to tackle. This can be done as a contest, offering a direct incentive to the best idea author(s), or as a collaborative development (e.g. open source platforms), or it can base on the idea of forming an ecosystem, in which the crowd can complement and enrich the original value proposition.

Crowdsourcing in this form is for sure a very powerful tool to create good solutions. But it also brings a number of challenges for companies who want to use it, perhaps most notably, intellectual property concerns, as well as the potential need to change the overall working and organizational model, so that the company can accommodate the crowd innovation.

Intrapreneurship vs Crowdsourcing

What happens if crowdsourcing is used as a mechanism to leverage fully the internal potential of the company? Large companies with thousands of employees do have their own “private crowd” that possess a collective intelligence familiar with their domain, products and market. The problem is very often that all those people work in their own departments on their own product lines and in their own functional silo, which makes it very hard to exchange all that knowledge and apply it to find innovative solutions.

Intrapreneurship programs are to some extent tackling this issue by giving opportunities to the employees who are entreprenurial by vocation to develop and test their ideas in a safe environment in the company. It usually starts by defining a problem to be solved, and goes into finding a solution. I have been working with IT people for more than 15 years, and the problem I see here is that most developers really love finding a solution, but might get really impatient when it comes to understanding and defining the problem itself.

This is where I see the potential of internal crowdsourcing as opposed to intrapreneurship. Product managers who are usually focused on understanding and defining the problem at hand, can then offer this problem to the internal crowd and ask for a best solution. The benefits that I can see, are:

  • Better leverage of the technical excellence in the organization
    Departments in large companies sometimes use different technologies and have different levels of know how. Offering the possibility of all people to participate creates an opportunity to find the experts that can create the best technical solution.
  • Find synergies that you might not be seeing at the moment and induce more innovation
    As a product manager, you are probably well familiar with your company’s portfolio. Yet, from my own experience in a large company I know that sometimes you get surprised by the amount of small projects and ideas that are being researched in other departments, and by the potential synergies that you might not be aware of at first.
  • Break silos
    We are often talking about breaking silos, but what this really means is going from internal competition into co-creation. Allowing for open contribution from anyone in the company into your project creates a space for making this happen.
  • Create motivation
    Finally, it is of course very satisfying and engaging for people to be part of the entire process – from finding the solution to implementing it.

Finally, while writing this blog post, I came across a nice case presented in a short HBR video, which demonstrates how companies can leverage their people’s potential even more by using crowdsourcing. Enjoy it!

Innovation by Internal Crowdsourcing
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