Turning Ideas Into
Turning Ideas Into Projects
How & When Ideas Become Projects…
John-Michael Scott — NextInit, LLC
Idea Formation 4......................................................
When Does Idea Formation Happen? 4...............................................
When Is An Idea More Than An Idea? 4...............................................
Proto-Project Development 5.................................
How Do We Get From Idea to Proto-Project? 5...................................
Where Do We Go From Here? 9...........................................................
When Do Ideas Become Projects? 11.................................................
When Does Idea Formation Happen?
Companies, organizations and governments around the world are working feverishly to
identify the best ideas to stave off the oncoming wave of “dinosaurism" chasing
immediately behind them. Companies that dominated
their industry in one decade like Yahoo - are literally
struggling for their lives in the next decade. The internet
introduces a near constant stream of disruption
threatening to overtake “the way things are done” today.
But, what can hold back these forces? A resounding
voice across media and scholarly work point to
innovation as the critical offensive and defensive act.
When Is An Idea More Than An Idea?
“Mater artium necessitas”
~ William Horma, 1519
“Necessity is the mother
~Richard Franck, 1658
Just because a good ideas appears, is that enough? Does the idea spur an entire series of
events that leads to amazing moments of creation and disruption? Is a chain reaction lit
leading to an inevitable result? To that, there is only one answer - No. An idea is just that -
nothing more, nothing less until it is given motive force. So when does an idea become
more than an idea? An idea ﬁnds root in the hands of those committed individuals who
believe with conviction that the idea should be brought to life…
The landscape is literally littered with ideas lacking the patronage of a Tesla, Musk, Jobs,
Da Vinci or Alhazen to shepherd them from seedlings without root to into the fully formed
giant redwoods standing for hundreds and even thousands of years. So, this leads us to
an ingredient list for success that becomes critical to the future of all of our ideas:
💡 + " # $ % + 🔭 🔬 🌡 🛠 ⏱ + ⚖ 📑 📈 📉
Ideas + People + Work + Measurement
This is just the beginning though. We still aren’t at the point of deciding that any of these
ideas is actually worth anything. What we have hinted at here is that we should apply the
scientiﬁc method to every single idea we consider - even after there is some motive force
and we have taken the idea out of pure abstract concept and molded it into something
that might have some promise. So what comes next?
How Do We Get From Idea to Proto-Project?
The assumption many people make is that once you have an idea and some people
interested in making it happen - you’re set. It’s a project and you get to work. After many
thousands of hours and many millions of dollars - the world of startups has something to
say about that. Eric Ries coined a new method for building businesses and products in
2008 - the Lean Startup.
Tesla went on to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity
distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New
York and Colorado Springs, and made early (1893) pronouncements on the
possibility of wireless communication with his devices.
~ Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla
The focus in this method of development is “to eliminate wasteful practices and increase
value-producing practices during the product development phase so that startups can
have a better chance of success without requiring large
amounts of outside funding, elaborate business plans, or
the perfect product.” Translated to the process of1
evolving any idea to the point of being a porto-project - it
becomes critical that idea experience rapid and low-cost
iteration and that the development of time-consuming
and detailed idea speciﬁcations, charters and business
plans be avoided at all cost. The goal ﬁrst and foremost is
to plant the seeds, invite collaboration and identify the
most promising prospects before heavier investment of
manpower, dollars and time take place - let’s call this
“Lean Ideation.” So what could that look like?
A water utility once challenge the community served by the utility to identify methods to
improve water quality within one of it’s reservoirs. By asking all of the customers served by
the utility to participate in the process, the utility sought to improve the quantity and
quality of ideas that might be applied to the problem. In turn, the customers brought to
bear their observations about factors impacting water quality, techniques available to
offset impacting factors, technologies that might prove effective and people who might
be able to apply brainpower or manpower to contribute to solving the problem. By
expanding the circle of participants in the problem, the utility was able to tap into a much
greater collection of experiences, knowledge and problem solving capabilities than it had
access to on its own within the walls of the company. The ﬁrst step in every lean ideation
effort should be to challenge the largest possible audience of participants to contribute to
the observation step.
The lean startup philosophy is based on lean manufacturing, the
streamlined production philosophy pioneered by Taiichi Ohno by
combining ﬂow principles used by Henry Ford starting in 1906 and the TWI
(training within industry) programs introduced to Japan in 1951.
~ Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_startup
Famously, NASA, DARPA and the X Prize Foundation conducted an open competition to
stimulate the ﬁrst commercial launches of rockets to reach space. Since that competition,
the number of active commercial participants in the space industry has be steadily on the
rise. One famous CEO in particular has looked at the problem of how to get to space from
a signiﬁcantly different point of view than prior generations of rocketeers - what if we
could recover and recycle used parts of our rockets - what would that mean for the cost of
getting to space? The second step in lean ideation is to question the status quo - just
because a problem has been solved in one way previously does not mean that the
problem can’t be solved in another way more effectively. Additionally, what is effective
may be greatly impacted by timing, availability of capital, availability of technology and
many other factors which change frequently.
Recently, the XQ Super School project asked anyone who wished to participate to identify
and submit their ideas for what a re-envisioned high school might look like. Thousands of
participants have identiﬁed hundreds of new ideas to try in creating a new approach to
learning for high school students. This third step in the lean ideation lifecycle is about
trying to ﬁnd the beginner’s mind.
By being open to all of the possibilities, by seeking the contribution of all voices, lean
ideation offers the greatest opportunity to seek the best result.
Angel List (angel.co) may be the single largest collection of startups enumerated in the
world at this time with over 713,098 companies represented. Not every company on angel
list will become something and many businesses are in fact nothing more than nascent
ideas. But - these 713,098 companies have presented themselves for all of us to consider.
By doing so, they have put together proﬁles that include who their team is, what they are
trying to do, a quick explanation of their purpose, one or more deﬁnitions of their major
products as well as where to ﬁnd more information about them. Every seedling idea
deserves the same consideration in the lean ideation model. The point isn’t to create a
business plan for the project that the idea might become, but instead to present just
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind
there are few.
~ Shunryu Suzuki
enough information that others can clearly understand what the idea itself might become.
At a minimum, this includes the following things:
• an image to provide an immediate visual representation of the idea
• a single sentence deﬁnition of what idea is and what need it seeks to address
• a brief description that explains the reason the need exists, the value of meeting the
need and who has the need
• a sentence on what makes this idea unique and how it may be different from other
• a list of existing alternatives that have also been used to meet the same or a similar
The fourth step in the lean ideation process, then, is to present as many ideas as possible
that may meet the need that the idea submitted has been challenged with.
On Quora, a question was posed, “Why don't venture capitalists like investing in sole
founder companies?” One answer to the question offered the following observation:
The key point here for idea development is that it takes a team. Lean ideation in particular
requires a team approach. No idea can be pushed quickly thru the lifecycle to its ultimate
culmination or discard on the back of one individual. Collaboration and peer review/
contribution is critical to this process as the ﬁfth step in the lean ideation approach.
The sixth step takes us back to where we started in lean ideation. Few ideas reach the
status of “Proto-Project” without experiencing some evolution. Not “getting it right” the
ﬁrst time should not be perceived as a reﬂection of the value or merit behind the idea.
Sometimes an idea just needs more support, more tending, more evolution and more
exploration before it should be transitioned into active prototyping and structured
development with the concurrent commitment of manpower, time and budget. Iteration
takes us back to the beginning and asks us to look closely for opportunities to improve
what has been delivered up to this point. There is no right answer as to how many
iterations will be necessary for an idea to be ready to be “made real.” There is also no
guarantee that the budget, manpower and time are going to be available at the moment
when the idea is “right.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
So, how do we take this process “lean ideation” and make it happen systemically? We’ve
seen that there are a lot of things about ideation that look like a project and also a lot of
Don’t get being a sole founder mixed up with being a one man team.
One person teams are a red ﬂag because it signals a lack of ability to
recruit. As a founder, one of your primary tasks is to recruit a team.
~ Quora, https://www.quora.com/Why-dont-venture-
Microsoft Project Online Project & Resource Management
things that done. As an iterative collaborative process, ideation doesn’t ﬁt well within a
deliverable based time driven process (a project). The tools we use for project
management (task lists, resource assignments, gantt charts, network diagrams,
predecessor and successor relationships, budget, time, manpower) are all future needs
for our seedling ideas. We need a different tool that focuses on dialog, debate, opinion,
peer review, alignment of support, evaluation of alternatives and collaborative selection.
We need an idea management system that addresses this shared collaborative creative
mind-space rather than a system that addresses a get things done mind-space. The
analogy that applies best here is that of a toolbox. In everyone’s toolbox there is usually a
screwdriver and a saw.
Nextinit Innovation & Idea Management
A screwdriver is great for getting screws into a wall in a secure way. A saw is great for
resizing an object to ﬁt the space that is available. You would never use a screwdriver to
cut a piece of wood. You would never use a saw for turning a screw. The same idea applies
to a project management system vs. an idea management system. The needs of one
conﬂict with the needs of the other - one manages highly unstructured thinking, images,
conversations, investment games and more while the other manages highly structured
task driven activities with interdependencies between budget, time and manpower.
When Do Ideas Become Projects?
Once an idea has evolved and requires prototyping and testing to determine it’s
capability in meeting the originating need, the idea is ready to be structured. In keeping
with the lean ideation process, the same lean approach should be taken to transforming
the idea into a real business, system, process, product or service. It is at this point that the
idea must go through due diligence in the form of development of a project charter,
creation of a budget, identiﬁcation of tasks required for prototype and tasks required for
testing, measuring and evaluation. Manpower must be identiﬁed, level of effort must be
calculated and costs must be estimated. These are topics more for the professional
practice of project management, however, and will be left to that ﬁeld for further