Innovation for me is about action. It is about doing…stuff. Creating a solution for a problem, testing it, getting feedback and learning from it to share with others in the future. It is not about the coffee chat brainstorm, or what gets written on sticky notes. It is about what you do. Talking and planning it may help a little, but you have to start doing before it transcends beyond a mere thought bubble or lightbulb moment.
Company innovation can be random or controlled. Random typically involves getting chucked something at quick notice and forced to come up with an innovative solution fast enough to get on the market. This quite often involves playing catch-up with the new products to hit the street. If not managed properly, it can cause strain on a work team and lead to half arsed solutions rather than fully fleshed proposals.
Controlled innovation is about giving a team the freedom and time to come up with new solutions, whether that is to scratch an itch, fix a customer problem or just flesh out an idea that has been at the back of their mind. Having set times to carry out this process allows them to drop the activities of everyday work life and focus new solutions.
Controlled innovation can be defined to set times, whether that be a few times a year, to once a week. I love the idea of companies, particularly ones in a development environment, taking even an afternoon to solely spend time on company innovation. Something like an Innovation Friday would be ideal!
What is Innovation Friday
Innovation Friday would be a day that is dedicated to plan and build new features that are either customer facing, internal or some much desired improvements that are not prioritized in the work week.
The program would involve everyone in the office, as the purpose of an innovative organisation should be to have more people, being more innovative on a regular basis. The important point is that you have to ‘do innovation.’
Atlassian, a Sydney-based developer responsible for the creation of developer collaboration software JIRA, supports two innovation programs — a “20% time” initiative and a quarterly 24 hour code jam, called ShipIt.
These initiatives have helped produce much of Atlassians new product development, including JIRA Capture, a bug tool that enables teams to give detailed feedback on existing development issues.
Innovation Fridays sound great, but would benefit from being defined to a few key boundries. Set rules make it easier for company adoption/buy-in and give teams a way of better quantifying work that was achieved during the innovation periods.
The below is a small set of rules that I would introduce if in charge of implementing an Innovation Friday at a workplace/my business.
- Email free afternoons. No email after lunch. Anything urgent can be resolved with a phone call. If not, it can wait until Monday.
- No discussion current work week issues. Sometimes this will be unavoidable, but where it can be prevented, focus on innovation.
- Show and tell. At the end of the day, everyone takes a few minutes to summarize and share with the team what they worked on that day.
- Shared with all. All the innovations are summarised and uploading to a shared area, where anyone in the company can have a sneak peek and what was innovated that day. Tools like JIRA, Basecamp and Slack provide suitable platforms for broadcasting the message.
That would be my rules. People can leave the building as they see fit. The show and tell would be scheduled at the same time each Friday, so as long as people turn them up to discuss their innovations at that time, then it doesn’t matter where they work and who they work with. Outside inspiration can be refreshing.
Benefits for employee
- Gives everyone the permission to be creative and innovative
- Ideal time to focus on ‘scratch the itch’ problems
- Freedom and flexibility to take focus off the typical work week and try out something different
- Community opportunities to discuss and share innovations with others
- Relaxing end to the week
- Reduces end of week issues that drag on to the weekend
Benefits for employer
- 52 times a year are spent on innovating products!
- Potentially to transform a company into a more innovative and productive place to work
- Create a more engaging work environment
- Trusted and valued employees become more loyal employees
- Creates a more attractive work environment for existing and new talent
How to start an Innovation Friday
I’ve suggested a way of approaching the idea of Innovation Friday at work. This is something I’ve not personally executed, but it seems a general consensus within the online community on how such a program would be introduced.
- Decide on what time will be allocated to innovation — percentage, day, afternoon or less.
- Get management buy-in for the program. If it consumes more than half a day, that is already a 10% cut in ‘real work’ so management should be in full agreement that this is an appropriate direction for the company.
- Participation should extend beyond developers. It should include everyone from development, to documentation, marketing and QA.
- Apply the necessary structure and milestones to ensure innovation projects don’t continue without generating some sort of result.
- Create a platform structure to support collaboration, such as through a digital technique like Slack, to open up multiple communication channels for different projects.
- Track the ideas — both successes and disgarded ideas. Someone can always come back to it later.
- Consider a rewards system. If an innovative project results in a massive payoff, it is only justice that that person receives some sort of compensation. Bonuses are a great incentive to have employees ticking milestones and producing quality work.
- Continue to tweak based on feedback from everyone in the program. Results may not be immediate, so getting feedback at each stage will help support the longevity and result of the program.
That is my idea on how an Innovation Fridat would operate. Do you think it is a good idea? Would it be applicable at your business. Leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.