Why and how we’re running an innovation sprint

It’s Monday morning and there are at least fifty people hovering around the tables that take up most of the shared workspace on the ninth floor of the Toronto Broadcast Centre. The room is buzzing with conversation and an energy generally reserved for sunny Friday afternoons.

We’re mid-way through our department-wide Innovation Sprint. Technical architects, managers, developers, designers, and tech writers from our Digital Products team have cleared their calendars to spend two weeks exploring a range of product and process ideas to help accelerate CBC’s digital transformation.

Vishaka Ariyaratne, Het Patel & Alexa Pavliuc offering praise for presenters during the pitch session. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But why?

A few years ago, we didn’t have the culture, strategy or infrastructure to experiment with new technologies and new ways of working. In part, switching from a project-based to product-based culture allowed us to try something different: a dedicated two-week period to focus on exciting new projects.

There are three main goals for this Innovation Sprint:

  1. Provide space to give team members an opportunity to innovate
  2. Promote learning beyond the scope of day-to-day work
  3. Help build and strengthen relationships across teams and departments
Gareth Peek discussing project ideas with colleagues. (Bliss Man/CBC)

How did we make it happen?

Leading up to the Sprint, we developed ideas using the feedback we received through our contact page as well as our own curiosity. We brought the department together on a dedicated Slack channel to encourage conversations and develop connections.

The guidelines for pitches were pretty broad: the work had to have the potential to solve a problem for a current or new audience, or help the CBC more generally.

We let our stakeholders within the company know that — emergencies notwithstanding — we’d be putting aside our longer-term work to spend two weeks chasing new ideas. We also extended the invitation outside of our department, and were delighted when folks from other parts of the organization were able to take the time to join us.

The week before starting we held a “How To Pitch” session, followed by a couple of rehearsal opportunities. This allowed participants to get feedback on their pitch and connect with people with similar or complementary skills and ideas. For the entire Innovation Sprint, all our meeting rooms were freed up to act as incubator spaces for teams.

Emma Scratch presenting her idea for a kids smart speaker game. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Then it was go time.

We kicked off with a grand total of 27 innovative project pitches, ranging from augmented reality to rethinking how we understand our audience. People had two minutes to share their idea and then teams formed around the pitches that interested them most.

From there, teams self-organized and started working to bring their ideas to life, planning to build out the idea to either the POC (proof of concept) or MVP (minimum viable product) phase.

Elizabeth Melito & Jessica Willms enjoying working collaboratively with their team. (Bliss Man/CBC)

So now what?

At the end of the sprint we’re planning to all get together to showcase the ideas we’ve been working on. They won’t be perfect and ready-to-use, but that’s not the point.

We’re instead focusing on what we can learn and how we can apply that insight to the products Canadians use every day. Even if we bit off more than we can chew, there’s sure to be an interesting story to tell.

Afterall, the Innovation Sprint itself is an experiment — we’re as eager to learn from the results as we are from the process itself.

P.S. If you are in Toronto on the morning of April 16, come join us at 10 a.m. in the Toronto Broadcast Centre at Front St and John St to see our creations and talk to our participants!