If you’re a small-staff association professional, you probably understand the challenges associated with innovation. There’s the issue of coming up with ideas, sure, but then there’s also the issue of having too many ideas and not enough resources (people, time, money, etc.) to execute them properly.

Can you relate? If so, we have some good news. At the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) Great Ideas Conference in Orlando last week, William Mallon, Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Association of American Medical Colleges, explained how to vet projects and ideas so that you and your staff aren’t left feeling completely overwhelmed.

According to Mallon, innovation shouldn’t be chaotic. It should be a process with very specific steps. And the first few steps should be somewhat of a vetting process – to narrow your focus and better manage your resources. See below:

Step 1: Discovery

In this stage, association professionals should simply determine:

  • What is the idea?
  • Whom would it serve?
  • What support would be needed to carry it out through execution?

Once those questions have been answered, there’s a final screening question to determine whether or not the idea should move on to the next stage. (Note: Every stage has – or should have – a screening question.)

Screening question for the discovery stage: Is this worth looking into more? Is there potentially “something” there? (You don’t have to know for sure because it’s just an idea at this point, but is it worth pursuing more?)

Step 2: Scoping

The next stage, according to Mallon, is called scoping. This stage is all about determining whether or not there’s value in the idea, and just as important, whether or not the timing is right. (If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you understand that timing is EVERYTHING.)

The screening question for the scoping stage: Is this idea aligned with our organizational strategy? Does it merit further time and effort?

Note: The Association of American Medical Colleges actually has a 1-page template for this section to help staff members clearly (and fairly) determine whether or not a project/idea should move forward. (How’s that for eliminating chaos?!)

Step 3: Planning

If a project/idea makes it through the screening stage, it will then wind up at the planning stage. Here, association professionals need to determine:

  • The project plan (How long will it take? Who will do the work?)
  • The business plan (What will it cost? Will it make any money?)
  • The research plan (What’s the question? What’s the methodology and design?)

As you can see, this is a much more detailed stage and requires a lot more thought. The screening question for the planning stage: Will we (the organization) support the development of this project? Will we commit the resources it needs?

Unsurprisingly, many projects/ideas get stopped within the first few gates. Now that’s not to say they weren’t (or aren’t) good ideas. It just means the organization doesn’t have enough resources at this time. (And knowing that upfront can save a lot of time, money, and stress.)

Now even with a vetting process in place, if you still feel like you don’t have enough time and manpower for innovation, it might be time to seek out a little help. Have you ever considered an association management system? It’s an all-in-one solution designed to streamline tasks and reduce administrative overhead so that you can focus more on your members and your mission.

To learn more about what an AMS does, check out our free guide, What Is an AMS?