Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Brooke Creef
May 24, 2018 · 5 min read

In Article 2 of our series, we discussed Design Sprint Best Practices. Innovative culture is at the core of this process, but what does this mean?

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “a new idea, method or device.” Using this definition, it is explicit that innovation implies new, radical changes to existing processes. And more times than not, enterprise companies aim for small, incremental changes to help sustain a successful business model. Or, they are too nebulous with their “radical changes” that no-one knows how to actually execute change. That said, how do companies reframe thinking to foster a culture of innovation?

At SXSW this year, David Aycan’s session, “Leading for a Culture of Innovation & Creativity,” provided context for what IDEO calls the six creative qualities of innovation: Purpose, Looking Out, Experimentation, Collaboration, Empowerment and Refinement. Let’s walk through each of these and illustrate “innovation in action” at The Home Depot.


A company’s vision must be scalable and clear to empower teams to work autonomously. Additionally, having a clear purpose allows organizations to set metrics and tie-back to company success.

At The Home Depot, our scaling strategy for Design Sprints begins with a mission statement:

The Home Depot Design Sprint team facilitates innovation through collaboration and human-centered design. This process allows the Interconnected Retail team to work autonomously on innovative solutions with minimal risk. Moreover, interdisciplinary teams ladder up to The Home Depot Inline Innovation strategy that aligns with overall business objectives. By fostering a shared vision and alignment, we uncover risks upfront, fail-fast while learning and quickly validate/invalidate assumptions.

This statement sets the foundation for the program by clearly stating the goals and vision for the team. As leaders, we are continually refining the process and mapping back to this mission statement to gauge how our program is scaling.

Looking out

Understanding the critical elements of Design Thinking is a key-tenet of innovation. Specifically, it is imperative we understand our business, customers, and technical constraints. This view gives a broader lens into the problem-space to help successfully balance all three. Note, this is contrary to the traditional UX field where the primary focus is creating a streamlined experience for end users.

At The Home Depot, we use Design Thinking as an interdisciplinary approach within each segment of the product or service. Our process starts with the understanding of our customer segment. For example, we use a Value Proposition Design strategy to measure how our proposed business solution fits the needs of our customer segment. Next, we work together to balance these constraints with current technical implementation as well as the vision of the future state.


Fail-friendly cultures that encourage experimentation through a continuous feedback loop are vital for companies to strive. At The Home Depot, teams are empowered to test hypotheses. They are rewarded when failures and successes happen as both are integral to successful business objectives. Even if an experiment fails, it still is a success in that the rapid experimentation saved the company time and resources pursuing a problem that customers ultimately didn’t want.

Piloting new ideas is imperative to our fail-fast culture

At The Home Depot, we pride ourselves on our fail fast, learn fast, improve fast culture. Teams prioritize the most difficult work and target the riskiest assumptions first. We believe shifting perspective is better than being smart and that failing is ok, as long as there is learning.

We use Design Sprints as a kick-off within the discovery phase of a new feature or service. Specifically, we have a tiered structure based on research insights that are used to frame the problem statement coming into the sprint. Teams choose from a 1, 3 or 5-Day structure based on the User Research inputs, problem-statement and Design Sprint outputs. This serves as a starting point for the teams, but facilitators are empowered to improvise as needed. From here, teams use the framework to stress-test the hypothesis with real-users and also balance the solution with the constraints of our current business model. At the end of the sprint, we have identified assumptions that tested well versus ones that may have not. These findings are used for roadmap prioritization as teams plan for execution. Post-sprint, teams further refine the designs using Lean Start-up for continuous deployment.


Collaboration is at the heart of innovation. It is imperative that our teams collaborate daily to bring in different perspectives. Too many times companies work in silos, and this is not productive. Teams must communicate on a regular basis to troubleshoot problems and push the project forward at a steady pace. At a foundational level, Design Sprints require five days of focused time, which can be challenging to schedule. Our teams must understand the value of Design Sprints to get this kind of dedication.

Additionally, our teams balance collaboration with in-person Design Sprints and post-sprint execution that is a combination of remote and local collaboration. Whether it be in-person or virtually, our teams strive for constant communication across many channels.


At The Home Depot and other innovative organizations, we distribute authority across the organization and are transparent in purpose and vision. We balance this autonomy by providing clarity and purpose.

Our Design Sprint Training Manual helps empower teams/distribute authority across the organization

We provide teams with a baseline workshop structure, but they are empowered to read the room and improvise as necessary. Each facilitator is a leader in the space and trusted to make decisions. We feel that this provides ownership and pride which inspires teams to work toward a common goal. Additionally, we are continually refining our process with team retrospectives. These sessions allow team members to share learnings that can be applied as we scale.


Lastly, execution and problem-solving are vital for creativity and innovation. In his SXSW talk, David Aycan states “that high-performing teams work in parallel across functions with leaders who foster clear purpose and consistent intent. Moreover, these teams explore and iterate 5 or more solutions to create space to problem solve during implementation.”

For us, we strive for a fail-fast, learn-fast culture using Lean Start-up and continuous deployment. Research is the backbone of this process as we continuously engage our customers to stress-test designs throughout the process. Finally, we map back to our mission statement and purpose to measure success.

Now that we have explored the fundamental tenets of an innovative culture, we will discuss how we are using this foundation to scale design sprints within our Interconnected Retail team. Keep an eye out for the next article and thank you for reading. Comments and feedback are always appreciated.

Links to other series articles are below.

Design Thinking and Design Sprints at THD

Design Sprint Best Practices

Scaling Design Sprints for Design Transformation

THD Design Sprint Training Manual

2018 Google Sprint Recap

2018 Year in Review


Leading for a Culture of Innovation & Creativity,

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