Every company has inefficiencies. But as a tech company, we have the means and talent to fix them in house. All we need to do is allocate time and resources to define the problem and build a solution.
To make that happen on an official level, we’ve launched Innovation Labs. Once a month, PNI employees convene to work through a business or industry problem and generate innovative solutions in this full-day workshop.
This is not a hackathon. Instead, Innovation Labs allow anyone to collaborate, whether they come from creative, marketing, product, QA, support services or elsewhere. There is no code to be written (but there are plenty of sticky notes).
Lab facilitators Daniela Pichardo and Chelsey Bonneteau ran our first Innovation Lab last month to great success. Read our Q&A to learn their insights about this exciting new initiative.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT WORKSHOP PROBLEM?
Leading up to the Lab, anyone in the company can submit problem ideas to the consideration pool.
“A great workshop problem is made of something specific enough to drill down to a root cause, and is costly to the business if we don’t address it,” Chelsey began. It can be industry wide or specific to our company or one of clients. It can even be a budding trend that we need to figure out how to capitalize on.
“Blue-sky thinking is extremely welcome. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to solve it. In fact, that’s preferred,” she pointed out.
A great problem comes with no suggested solution or inherent bias; it is simplified to its bare bones.
For example, a problem shouldn’t ask, “How can we add this feature to this tool to make this process more efficient?” Instead, simply ask “How can we make this process more efficient.” This allows Innovation Lab participants to ask the right questions to lead to better solutions.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT INNOVATION LABS TEAM?
Up to 10 people can participate in each workshop. Two aspects of a great workshop team are:
Diversity – Collaboration between representatives from a range of departments provides diverse ways of approaching the problem at hand.
“We want these workshops to reflect how diverse PNI is. Of course different areas of expertise are important, but it’s also interesting to see how things come into place when different people meet and connect,” Daniela explained.
An Open Mind – Leave your assumptions at the door and be receptive to others’ ideas. It makes a great experience for everyone involved.
In our first Lab, a great mix of developers, marketing and creative, product and QA team members signed up by chance. To maintain this productive balance in future sessions, facilitators will have dedicated slots to cover technical, strategic and creative roles.
WHAT KINDS OF EXERCISES DO YOU RUN IN THE WORKSHOP?
Frame Your Design Challenge: This is where the magic begins. It’s all about defining the problem, identifying who is affected by it, and what they need. “It also allows teams to align on these key elements so they can use it as a tool to filter ideas and resolve disagreements in other exercises,” Daniela explained.
Sketching: Participants turn their ideas into something visual. The visuals allow the whole group to clearly envision one another’s ideas, and therefore build on them to create a solution they’re all proud of.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT ROLES AS FACILITATORS?
Preparation – Gathering all the information needed to dive deep into the problem, and designing well-planned activities to keep participants engaged throughout the process.
Communication – Making sure participants understand the objective behind each exercise, and answering their questions.
Reading the Room – Anticipate and act if teams seem stuck or need clarification.
Timekeeping – There’s a lot to get through in one day.
DJing – Music is important in these workshops. Filling silences eases communication and makes the event more fun. Playlists welcome!
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE IDEAS ONCE THE WORKSHOP IS OVER?
At the end of the Lab, participants present their solution. Then, they’ll turn it into a pitch for PNI’s leadership and product teams.
Carson Wong, our VP of Product & Experience, says there are two things that they assess:
Is there business value to dive deeper into the problem and solution? And if so,
Where could we fit the solution into our roadmap?
The inaugural PNI Innovation Lab has been welcomed with tremendous engagement and excitement. Participant feedback is very encouraging, commending the program for targeting real pain points, providing an exciting sense of ownership, and bringing diverse perspectives together in a safe and comfortable environment.
The appetite for problem solving is strong here, and we can’t wait to see where that takes us.