A Decision Tree for Would-Be Digital Innovators
Is This Process For Me?
Assuming you’re an innovator in an organization who needs it, you probably are desperate to see great ideas brought to life. You know your cause needs it, and the world your programs serve needs it.
- You need to reach more people without spreading too thin.
- You need to scale your reach without losing the human touch.
- You need to dream big about whole new initiatives
But how do you go from the desire to innovate to a process for innovation that everyone can rally around? After all, innovation is messy, and you don't have an R&D department, no fully-staffed “innovation team.” Everyone is already tapped serving in their day-to-day roles. How could you do something that everyone can get around without breaking the bank or going over capacity?
We created this guide for you based on a process that we’ve been baking for over three years working with a range of organizations, from LEGO to three-staff nonprofits.
It’s an awesome process, but one that requires a few gut checks before diving in to make it your own.
The Decision Tree: Is My Group Ready for This Process?
Before you go any further, do a brief diagnostic of you and your organization. We’ve learned over the years that there are two make-or-break checks that must pass for the process to work.
Capacity Check. Unlike work that is already funded and staffed, time for innovation often has to be fought for. You’re either going to have to go above and beyond (we’re talking nights and weekends), or shift some other priorities to make room for the process. You should devote fully half your week to the process. Other team members can be less involved, but plan for at least 5 hours a week from two others to join you for the cycle.
If you don’t think you’re going to be able to get the right amount of focus with the amount of external pressures facing your team, consider finding a partner to guide the process the first time you do it, and/or seek outside funding specific to this work from an outside source.
Culture Check. This process will challenge fundamental aspects of the work your organization is doing. You may unearth inefficiencies, touch nerves, identify areas for cross-collaboration that’s not approved in the org chart. You need to trust your organization and be trusted by your leadership. Is your culture ready to rock, or ready to shut down change?
If you have the capacity and a strong culture ready to rock, let’s look at the path ahead.
Weeks 1 and 2 are all about discovery. In the first two weeks you’ll form the problem statement, conduct research, form hunches, identify assumptions, and brainstorm experiments.
Weeks 3 and 4 are where the action happens. In the second two weeks you’ll build and test rapid prototypes that strike at the heart of your biggest hunches and assumptions. Then you’ll iterate and synthesize learnings into a go-ahead roadmap.
- Week 1: Problem Immersion (Capstone activity: Drawing Board 1)
- Week 2: Empathy and Research (Capstone activity: Drawing Board 2)
- Week 3: Build & Validate (Capstone activity: Lab Day)
- Week 4: Synthesis and Next Steps (Capstone activity: Roadmap)
Why 4-weeks? We’ve learned that this is the right amount of time to jump into our process, build practical progress, then take that progress and leverage it quickly. 2 weeks? Not enough time. 8 weeks? You’ve probably over cooked it. We’ve learned that 4 weeks is the right amount of time to get to practical innovation. Then, we build. But first, this process is about getting from a blank sheet of paper to a plan. A really important, shake things up, make things that matter plan.
One of the primary reasons a process is important is that it keeps us from doing one simple, injurious thing: jumping straight to a solution.
So often we’ve found that ignoring the urge to jump to a solution is the key to success. Rarely are great solutions your first idea — rather than Plan A, it’s more likely plan X. And that’s a good thing. The process is crucial to lead into new ideas. The process is where the magic happens.
Trust the process. It’ll take you to great places.