June wrap: Innovation at Large Companies

We gathered this month to talk about innovation at large companies. What makes it hard to keep innovation happening? What options do you have to encourage it at a large organisations? We finished with some good news stories as well.

Our panel for the evening have large company experience at Sensis, Tatts, Victorian Government, AFL, Lonely Planet & others. We’d like to thank Jamie SkellaAndrew Niere and Mark Andrew for sharing their experiences & knowledge.

More thanks go to our facilitator of the evening, Daniel Kinal, whose passion for the topic got him the gig! Thank you to our host for the evening – Nintex.

I have tried to capture the spirit of the evening and give credit where credit is due. I may have missed some so … the words were said by someone at some point of the evening….

We opened with the “worst” experience the panel had had in their innovation careers ….

Jamie: Tatts Group spent years and many millions creating a one-stop websites and apps, combining lotteries and wagering products. Ultimately that didn’t actually make a lot of sense because of the varied customer base, so it is now being undone at additional cost.

Mark: Got an innovation hub up and running at Telstra to build the first online call centre technology. They had good UX engagement and endorsement from senior leadership. Turns out having so much good support can be an issue because many people wanted to get involved and Mark spent most of his time fending them off. Multiple vendors/consultants could all “help” but had different approaches to UCD + innovation so there was constant conflict between them.

Andrew: Gave an example from his first day of work to give us an idea of what the environment is like in government. While using his work email, he tried to search for an email but could only use subject and sender criteria to search. Very limiting! He then noticed an index option within the application so he rang IT and asked them why that hadn’t been enabled. They said it would add size to the files + why would anyone want to search their email?

Andrew also shared a story to highlight the opportunity that exists for innovation but needing to work in the existing system. They needed iPads in order to to test software. To get those iPads, they had to download a form which had to be sent by fax. While they could do cool new things for their customers, process was still stuck in the past.

We’re all here, probably, because we believe that that innovation is important to larger organisations. How important is it really? Is it important in its own right? Or is it more just a function of trying to stay relevant in a dynamic marketplace?

Mark: Preventing innovation comes from the top down. If you stop ideas it breeds a nasty culture and sub-culture of staff trying to work around it. Inclusion in the company creates empowerment and encouragement to share ideas and fostering them is really important for building that positive environment.

Jamie: Someone talked about having an “innovation unit” at one organisation but Jamie’s approach was to set up open sessions were anyone could come along and offer up ideas. However, his experience at the organisation was all started well but if actions don’t follow through to show innovation is truly supported by actually progressing ideas – things stall.

Mark: Has seen great initiatives at companies that have hack days but often those ideas don’t get a chance beyond those days. The moment for creation is short lived unless you do “things” to encourage continuation.

Companies inherently don’t like failure and yet at its heart many of this work requires embracing failure and knowing you tried something and it won’t work (for now).

Andrew – had a great example of a fabulous innovation that failed – perhaps because it was ahead of its time but also the process ended up bogging it down and killing it. Ultranet was an education innovation with really great experts involved in the work so it had great content and intentions – plus millions of dollars of funding behind it. But the procurement process of government killed it because this system that normally builds roads & hospitals had a long process. By the time you had found people to do the work, the idea was dead.

Everyone is busy with “business as usual”, if you don’t make space for things above BAU then new ideas will stall.

Andrew: if it takes 5 years to get something to “market” then it is no longer fit for purpose by the time you deliver.

How to you stop discouraging innovation?

Mark: Sometimes you have to move people out of the organisation to create the change. If they are the ones holding on to a process or governance that is preventing new ideas then it isn’t always about altering the process, you have to change the people.

Jamie: Had a product council and you could get great ideas submitted and then reviewed by the council but BAU would keep getting in the way. The ideas would constantly be pushed down in preference to continuing with BAU activities. This action started to kill the ideas because nothing got through.

Andrew: Sometimes you have to keep your head down and just do it without asking first. A particular initiative with cystic fibrosis patients and telehealth got off the ground by a entrepreneur clinician who just tried it, had connections and pushed it through. Even though something has been proved, there is still the issue and concern that bringing it back into the larger organisation won’t work because the traditional bureaucracy will pull you under again and kill the initiative.

Mark: This is where you get skunkworks and underground teams and groups and that sounds cool, but it can also be destructive.

Andrew: We wanted to give our volunteers iPads to do data entry on location. This would save precious time as they would not have to collect and enter information from paper forms. When this approach was found out by the IT guy, he became all stressed about having to support the iPads. This one person could block innovation for many.

“nothing kills innovation faster than the IT department”.

Question from the audience: Is a skunkworks approach better?

Jamie: at Tatts Online, the innovation can also be killed by those who are most afraid of change for themselves, and thus the only way to get something done was to be a separate group/team and run independently of everyone else. We need to get digital or else, but at the same time “this will kill us” because their seemed as if there would be conflict between the online site and the retail outlets would hurt retail. Of course if the company didn’t go online someone else would grab the spot and kill both. Seems obvious but the only way sometimes to be innovative is to keep it small and separate from the larger org and the culture (of resistance).

Mark: Don’t ask for permission. You hear this said a lot, but what does it actually mean and how do you use it well?

Andrew: Test what works best – perhaps you should have a crack team that is breaking all the rules and then helping push out change. Once you try to embed that it can get ignored or you have a champion in each team and help move things along across an organisation as a more embedded approach.

Jamie: Believes company growth can stifle innovations because as you get size you get process, structure and silos. Culture is easy to hold and cultivate at 20-30 and then becomes a thing you have to be very conscious of as you get larger.

He called out the example of Basecamp who have made a conscious choice to NOT grow. They are making money, maybe not the out of control money making that others go after. They want to keep the culture they have, which they find manageable with the number of people they have to today and thus are satisfied with what they can do at that size. They can stay focused on building the products they want for the community/customers they have and any new customers that join, have to sign up for that as well.

Continuous improvement is not true innovation and in some ways once you set yourself up for that i.e. embed a great agile process, then you are laying a foundation for status quo over an innovation culture.

Question from the audience: what is innovation exactly in your mind?

Jamie: Finding an edge not easily copied.
Mark: without precedent
Andrew: New way to do business, new way to do process, new ways of doing things.

Last one: What is your best innovation experience?

Jamie: His most recent was working toward getting buy-in and the ball rolling for virtual reality (stereoscopic 360 degree video) initiatives at the AFL. It was initially met with lukewarm reception, but after buying and demonstrating the hardware, it gained traction. He’s no longer at the AFL, but has left the company in a great position, who are continuing with VR opportunity exploration and real experiments, which should keep them ahead of local competition.

Mark: Loved his time at Lonely Planet when they built an iPad app for the inaugural launch of the iPad. They got it done in 6 weeks and built a beautiful product in that time frame.

Andrew: (I can’t remember! Andrew, please remind me of your story!)

Daniel: is loving what Microsoft are doing lately. By bringing in a new CEO, they have change happening and have instigated a new era instead of being one of the behemoths that you might predict are stuck.

Thanks again to our panelists and facilitator for such a great conversation.

Thank you to Nintex for hosting us and I look forward to you joining us for our July session on how to work better with your Sales teams.



July event: 7 things you need to know to work well with Sales

Do you work with a sales team? What is your relationship like with them? A bit frustrating at times?

This month, Shane Goldberg, a former product manager who moved into sales support, will help us understand how to successfully work with Sales.

Shane has put together the top 7 things you need to know and has kindly offered to dig deep on specific ones. We’ll vote during the session to determine which items need more exploration.

He’ll cover topics including:

  • How to make it easy for sales people to sell
  • Involving sales in the development cycle & roadmap creation
  • Pricing & discounting

RSVP for Thursday July 16th

Our presenter for the evening is Shane Goldberg, who has strong customer experience, strategy and business improvement background from his 12+ years working with Telstra in a range of different areas.

Shane started as a product manager in the company, transitioned through business planning and program management roles and finished up running a team of 60 or so professionals in a sales support group accountable for NPS, process management and knowledge support across the sales areas of Telstra.

During his time at Telstra, Shane led both small and large teams, managed products with revenue of $100M+ and led projects delivering NPS improvements of 10+ points and greater than $10M cost savings per annum.

By utilising the knowledge gained in these many different roles along with Shane’s experience gained in undertaking his MBA, he has established CustCore Consulting, a boutique consultancy practice specialising in helping companies measure and improve customer experience, sales performance and go-to-market.

RSVP for Thursday the 16th of July and join us as Collective Campus are our wonderful sponsors and hosts for the evening.

Coll Campus

Collective Campus is an Enterprise Innovation School. Through high-impact workshops and classes, CC helps enterprise companies and their employees to remain competitive in an era of rapid disruption. Some of our initial streams include topics in Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Agile Methodologies, CX/UX, Organisational Capability, and Growth Strategies. For more information, please visit – www.collectivecamp.us

May Wrap: Startup Session: xLabs – What are your users actually paying attention to?

For our 2nd startup product management session, local Melbourne company, xLabs, shared their MVP story as two of the co-founders, Joe Hanna and Steve Roberts, took us from idea to paying customers.

What is xLabs?

With a unique technical ability, xLabs, provides valuable UX data via continuous real time tracking of eye & head movements using only a webcam instead of complex technical equipment.

The head tracking component does not require calibration so it’s easy for the end user involved in the testing and while the eye tracking does require calibration – having good lighting is the hardest part.

Getting to MVP

The technology behind xLabs was built by 2 additional co-founders – the scientists – Alan Zhang and David Rawlinson – who thought it would only take 3 months to build the algorithm. In reality, it was 18 months until they had a working prototype and were ready to launch an MVP.

Research & Choosing a Market

There are many applications for the technology including the ability for people without the use of their hands to control a computer using their eyes & head. Of course, Joe & Steve needed to choose which market to go after.

In conducting user research, they realised the technology could be really useful for UX research and began down the road of SaaS eye tracking heatmaps.

The research also held two important findings – privacy concerns & ease of use.

It was important that they were ‘privacy by design’ and the end user explicitly turning on the camera. They are very careful to store only the output of the analysis (not the camera data). Everything is either discarded or left on the local machine.

They also found users hated downloading the software to their desktop and so they very quickly switched to a Chrome extension with a much lower barrier to use.

How to go to market?

In a ‘build it & they will come’ moment, they thought users would flock to them once they launched the SDK – but nothing happened.

It turned out they needed to be able to show people how the software worked instead of just describe it. This is when they began working with a proof of concept model.

They built enough tools to show the features & functionality & then partnered with organisations like Loop11 who could benefit from the technology learnings.

It was during this time they found out that their key persona – the UX person – was not an adopter because external UX studies were seen as a more ‘formal research event’ conducted post ideation by which time ownership had passed to the business. There was also resistance to change based on a perception of, ‘what can I learn here that I don’t get from mouse/click tracking’ that Joe & Steve need to explain.

This is when Joe and Steve got more heavily involved in the next evolution of the product and the design to pivot on this first approach.

In tackling these two aspects Joe and Steve used some early adopters to reveal both the advantages of eye-tracking over click-tracking and remove the biases of previous design methods.

Eye-tracking technology reveals there is much to learn about how users engage with their computer screen without relying on their mouse any more. Changes to our behaviour driven both by touch technology and the increased density of information applied to websites has moved us away from pairing our hands/mouse with our consumption of the page.

We finished up the evening with questions & a chance for everyone to try the software themselves. For those of you who couln’t make it please check out what xLabs are all about via their Chrome extension or Developer SDK.

Thanks so much to Xero who hosted this month!

This month - hosted by Xero

And a copy of the slides and videos can be found here: