How To Implement A Culture Of Innovation With Free Time

18 July, 2018 / Articles
millenials (Medium)

At SilverRail, we recently completed our first annual Interchange Sprint where we provide the product delivery organization with free time to drive innovation, collaboration and a culture of continuous improvement. This resulted in a wide array of new ideas spanning from innovative voice and travel applications to explorations with blockchain and distributed caching frameworks. These projects were delivered by 15 self-formed teams that established new relationships, perspectives and shared learning across four different continents.

To learn more about the value of free time and how to implement it within your own organization, I’ve put together a brief overview of our key takeaways and top tips.

Leaders often struggle with an approach to innovation, in part because its meaning can range from creating greenfield new solutions to finding a better approach to solving existing problems. All too often, they conclude that they need to establish an innovation team, believing that they’ve found a shortcut to what typically amounts to a broken portfolio management process. While there are situations in which these types of teams are effective, they should be approached with the awareness that it often leaves the rest of the organization grappling with the question of what it means to not be on the innovation team.

A better solution is an “innovation is everywhere” approach, which, combined with a culture of continuous improvement, builds an environment of empowered teams doing what they do best — solving problems. In contrast to a single innovation team, this approach fosters a highly collaborative, open environment through pre-planned free time where the entire product delivery organization self-forms into teams to work on projects of their choosing.

Executing dedicated free time requires thoughtful planning and buy-in from the entire organization. Follow these seven steps to ensure yours is a success:

 

1. Get Executive Buy-In

 

One typical reaction to free time is “What if they pick the wrong things?” Highlight the value of shared learnings, operational efficiency gains, clarity on ideas stuck in the backlog and of course cool new apps. Connect the dots showing how time for ground-up improvement and exploration is an accelerant for the next generation of value delivery.

2. Plan

 

In organizations with aligned sprints, the sprint calendar is the heartbeat of the organization. Use this to your advantage by picking one or two sprints per year for free time. Dedicated sprints maximize the potential for new relationships, shared learning and new perspectives. Pick dates that fit well within you delivery calendar and avoid major holidays or the end of the year to maximize participation.

3. Define The Rules

 

Devise a simple set of rules to serve as guardrails. “Make the company better” and “No teams of one” are two rules that help drive the selection of ideas and ensure collaboration.

4. Establish Stakeholders And Rally Teams

 

At least two months ahead of your free time sprint, send a formal announcement to the organization with important dates. Provide transparency into key opportunities and challenges facing the organization by rallying stakeholders from other departments such as support, sales and operations, and provide them with time to pitch their ideas to help seed potential project teams. Establish a central location for team self-formation and provide ongoing support and encouragement.

5. Execute The Free Time Sprint

 

Hold an official ceremony to kick off the event. Cancel nonessential recurring meetings. Ask the engineering leadership team to take over front-line escalations to provide the teams with uninterrupted time to execute.

6. Conduct The Sprint Review

 

Conclude the free time sprint with a special sprint review. Plan time appropriately and focus on demonstrable features to keep your audience engaged. Highly technical projects are best suited for a “science fair” following the sprint demo but can be advertised during the meeting through a brief video.

7. Conduct A Retro And Iterate

 

Follow the event with a formal retrospective or survey. Find out what worked well and what needs improving and incorporate it into planning for the next free time sprint.

 

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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