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Organizational challenges? Accelerate to find solutions (quickly!)

July 7, 2016

There's always room for improvement in every organization - and inVision is no exception! In order to tackle a key organizational challenge and generate solutions quickly, inVision Edge CEO John Ferris and Partner Wendy Ferris organized our very first Innovation Engineering Accelerator, the kick-start that would help us take action to solve our challenge immediately.

What is an Accelerator?
An Accelerator is a condensed version of the standard Innovation Engineering project, which is typically twelve weeks from start to executive presentation. An Accelerator, however, is completed in just one week from start to presentation. It’s amazing how much can get completed in a very short period of time.

The inVision Edge Team (l to r: John Ferris, Wendy Ferris, Jody Milburn, Ashley Kodak, Robin Dick, Rhonda Honke, David Moskal)

The inVision Edge Team with the ideas ("Yellow Cards" generated during the Accelerator (l to r: John Ferris, Wendy Ferris, Jody Milburn, Ashley Kodak, Robin Dick, Rhonda Honke, David Moskal)

Our Accelerator had several steps:

1. Pre-Work: Define the Challenge
In the weeks leading up to the Accelerator, John and Wendy clearly defined the most pressing organizational challenge at inVision. On what we call a ‘Blue Card,’ they clearly described our mission and why it was important to the organization. It also included potential areas to explore and constraints (for example, budget). As employees, the transparency of the Blue Card helped us to take ownership of the challenge.

2. Pre-Work: Stimulus Mining
Stim what? Stimulus refers to pieces of info that may spark ideas in our team members. Mining refers to the search for the stimulus. For example, searching for industry trends, cool ideas from companies in other industries, and future casting are good sources for stimulus.

Team members post their stimulus in our online platform known as Innovation Engineering Labs, and review what others have entered. There’s no right or wrong stimulus – the value is in the sparks (thoughts and ideas) that the process creates in others.

3. Accelerator Day 1: Idea Generation
Using the data, ideas, and research gathered during our stimulus mining, Wendy built a “Spark Deck” to get us thinking in new and different ways. Using questions and prompts that stimulate thoughts, we each wrote down our “sparks”. Throughout the course of the morning, using various Innovation Engineering and our sparks, we wrote Yellow Cards (ideas) --- by noon we had over 60 new ideas!

We closed out the morning by reviewing the Yellow Cards and picking our favorites to explore further in small teams.

4. Rapid Cycles of Learning
The afternoon was spent working on our ideas: researching, creating math models with sales estimates and cost projections, and flushing out the details of our idea. We gathered feedback from potential customers and hit the streets of downtown Winnipeg to interview the public about our ideas. These rapid cycles of learning are exactly that --- gathering information and sharpening our ideas over a period of hours (in preparation for Step 5).

5. Idea Pitch
We closed out the day by pitching our ideas to John, Wendy, and the team. Condensing everything we had learned about our idea into a business case to “sell” the group on our idea was challenging. The group asked questions to poke holes in the idea, with the goal of making us think deeper and make the ideas stronger.

6. Accelerator Day 2: Idea Refinement
Day two began by reviewing the Blue Card again to make sure that our ideas were on track to solve our challenge, and then breaking into our groups to continue refining our ideas. The morning ended with the group sharing that morning’s learnings.

(A quick note: It’s surprisingly easy for an idea to be really cool but at the same time be way off track of the Blue Card. It’s important to focus your idea for the purpose of the Accelerator, hence revisiting the Blue Card throughout the session. However, those off-topic cool ideas shouldn’t be scrapped. Put them in a “parking lot” to revisit later.)

7. Future Mapping
The last step of the day was mapping out what inVision’s future looks like. We took all of the viable ideas and placed them on an action timeline so that we could visualize what the next few months would look like. This was my favourite part of the Accelerator because it made those ideas feel more real: we would actually be taking these ideas and making them a reality in the near future and that was exciting.

What did I learn?
As I experienced firsthand, an Accelerator is a very efficient way to generate innovative ideas to solve a business challenge. We walked out of the Accelerator with three actionable ideas to work on right away, and so many more to explore for the future. Using our own products to make our organization even more successful was empowering and a valuable learning opportunity for me as I continue to work towards my Innovation Engineering Black Belt certification.


Want to learn more about how an Accelerator could work for your organization? Listen to our podcast!

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