Why Your Company Should Adopt Innovation Days


Agile Encore speaker Emma Carter joins the Agile Australia blog today with this guest post. Emma spoke at Agile Australia 2016 and is encoring her highly-rated presentation on Thursday 10 November 2016 in Sydney.

Why your company should adopt Innovation Days

An Innovation Day is typically a 24-hour event in which employees form small teams to try and solve a problem relevant to the business. The teams have to present their ideas back to the business with a strong business case and working prototype. Many companies have their version of an Innovation Day.

What can a company gain from an Innovation Day? How can you successfully take an idea, put it into production, and ensure it resonates with your customers?

Never underestimate your staff

Traditionally new ideas for products or digital direction are filtered from the top down within an organisation, unless you’re Google or run a flat management system.

This traditional style of idea generation can sometimes stop the best ideas from coming to fruition. It’s the companies who are willing to take the leap and try something new that become the success stories of tomorrow.

Sometimes the best ideas are generated from those who work ‘in’ and not ‘on’ the business. These people see problems that customers and colleagues have on a daily basis that could be fixed from a simple bit of technology. Or identify a gap in the market based on something they would find useful as a consumer.

Decision makers at the top can sometimes be paralysed by running the business, whereas staff are more open to think freely, as they don’t tend to think about the constraints of an idea. Mars Celebrations, for instance, was the brainchild of an ordinary Mars worker in the UK, and has since earned millions for the brand.


Seemingly old-fashioned brands are embracing innovation

Banks are stereotypically seen as having an iron-fronted, non-innovative approach to business, and although many claim they put their customers first, many fail to practice what they preach. While this might be the stereotypical response, one of Australia’s banks have embraced user-centred design and team Innovation Days. They ditched the cumbersome waterfall approach in favour of a continuous-delivery methodology when it comes to their digital products.

An idea is born

An Innovation Day at a well-known bank, for example, inspired an idea to solve the issue of friends sharing the cost of bills. It would become a feature within the existing banking app and allow users to share group bills and send texts to their friends—telling how much they owe, their bank details, and providing them with a unique reference number that could later be used to track when a friend has paid them.

The feature would target a younger audience who, from the research, share bills on a frequent basis. The new concept was seen as something that no other bank was offering and would allow the brand to target a new audience.

Can’t justify 24 hours?

If you can’t justify taking 24 hours out of the ‘usual’ working period to run a Innovation Day, you could try an ‘innovation sprint’. Staff can post ideas or problems they want to solve up to a week before (the same as an Innovation Day). Individuals can then choose which idea they’d like to solve, and rather than building a working prototype, they could brainstorm the idea and develop a solution. The sprint would be limited to a normal 8-hour day.

Running Innovation Days, sprints, or even weekends, can not only help empower staff and help with team building, but can also create new initiatives for your brand.

Taking the idea to production

The concept was successfully pitched at an Investor Day, giving the team a small budget to explore the idea further. Once this phase was complete, it was handed to the mobile app team to build into the existing banking app.

Innovation Days were a new concept within the bank and – like with any new process – it was a case of trial, error, and improvement. The bill sharing concept was the first Innovation idea to go into production.

It became apparent early on that the new feature couldn’t simply be added within the existing app’s code base. Due to the short time the team had to work on the idea, there were a lot of areas left unanswered in terms of the user experience, functionality, and technology.

Get it ‘out’, then get it ‘right’

Launching with an MVP version of your innovation is a great way to ensure it hits the market before your competitors launch something similar. Many brands feel they need to spend time refining until it’s perfect before they launch. Working with an Agile methodology and getting an MVP version out as fast as possible allows you to test your idea with real users, refine, improve, and implement. While you can refine and improve your MVP version, your competitors are having to start from scratch to try and catch up. By the time they have caught up, you will have market share, along with a more advanced product and more in-depth user knowledge.

The bank’s bill sharing concept wasn’t initially going to have an MVP version. It was, however, going to receive a large marketing campaign; something the app had never received even when first launched. Although the app is always being refined to improve the user’s experience using the continuous delivery approach, launching a new feature with the backing of a large marketing campaign requires ensuring that the customer is centre of mind to avoid jeopardising user confidence and the brand’s reputation.

It’s important not to make user-assumptions. This can not only risk wasting time building something users find confusing, but can also waste valuable time designing a user interface that doesn’t resonate with the user.


To avoid the risk of jeopardising the concept, the team, which consisted of ThoughtWorkers and bank staff, built a case for justifying a soft-launch of the product. This allowed the team time to get user feedback, incorporate learning, and launch with a more user-friendly feature.

The product owner fully supported the decision to ‘get it out, then get it right’ approach. Having the product owner’s support speaks volumes for the great team relationship.

Making the idea better for the end user

Whatever new innovation you’re launching, whether it’s a new type of confectionery like Mars Celebrations or a new banking app feature, getting into the minds of your customers is key to its success. You may have the best technology, but if the design and experience of interacting with your idea does not resonate with your audience, you’ve failed.


With the bill sharing concept, we selected a group of users that met our target profile and conducted face-to-face user testing, which was invaluable to the project. This allowed us to confirm the following:

  • The new flow we wanted to implement was the correct approach. Validating this before we started re-coding saved time and money.
  • The younger audience does not like to read detail! Finding this out helped us write the correct onboarding messaging and prompts.
  • 50% of users paid attention to adding the reference number, as requested in the text message. Finding this out helped us avoid wasting any more time refining the messaging and thinking of alternate ways to improve it.
  • Removing what I believed to be unnecessary text to give a cleaner design, was proven to be something users preferred; they still understood the context.

It’s essential for a brand to engage consumers and take them along for the journey. The younger audience likes to get involved and the users of our app are very vocal; embracing this not only improved our new feature, but also made our younger customers feel valued.

Along with conducting face-to-face user testing for the ‘soft launch’, we also wanted users to give us feedback on the new feature. This would help us improve it in time for the official launch, which would coincide with the marketing campaign.

A small message that wouldn’t intrude on the user’s experience of the app was added. It simply read: “Hey, we’re building this new feature that we think you might like. It would be great if you can help us out, try it and give us some feedback.”

Unsure if we would gain useful (or any) feedback from our users, we felt it was important to try. Within a day of the ‘soft launch’ we started receiving great feedback. This enabled us to prioritise our ‘wish list’ of improvements allowing us to avoid wasting time implementing the wrong items, and ensured we gave our users what they wanted, rather than what we thought they wanted.


Design can make all the difference to your new innovation

When launching a new product, not only do you need to ensure it resonates with your customer, gives a great user experience, and technically works, but it must also ‘know its place’ within your brand architecture. Ask yourself the following:

If it’s a new feature within an existing product:

  • Does it still reflect the brand guidelines?
  • Are there ways you can still improve the design, without going away from guidelines, to ensure the customer gets a new experience but still recognises the brand

If it’s a completely new standalone product, which doesn’t need to rely on the main brand name to support it:

  • Does it resonate with the target market and stand out from other possible competitors?

How did we achieve it?

The bank we were working with targets the older generation, whereas the new feature was very much for the younger generation.

The younger generation within the mobile world is very passionate and vocal about being an ‘Apple’ or ‘Android’ follower. Both platforms have very different user interface designs and interaction, yet the majority of native apps, particularly Bank Apps, tend to use an iOS style across both App platforms.

We wanted the new feature to give the user a true native app experience, along with still feeling like the same bank. We only had a few weeks to implement and test both UI designs, which required prioritising for the maximum effect. Both iOS and Android style icons were implemented, along with appropriate layouts meeting material design and iOS guidelines. We were also able to integrate some native interaction gesture animations.


Why different departments should work as one

If your new innovation is digital, such as an app, wearable, or piece of software, it’s important that all the teams involved – from creation to production to launch – all work together and are kept informed.

Many companies keep digital, branding, and marketing teams apart, thinking neither understands the other, which causes complications. Marketing teams may be misinformed, or perhaps not understand the unique selling point; the digital teams might not be given the correct brand position for the product, or know correct deadlines.

Having all the teams working together avoids ‘middle men’ obstructing the flow of information and leads to a much better outcome.

With the bank’s new concept, we kept the marketing team informed with the improved features, latest UI designs, and insights from user testing, which we felt would help with their FAQ webpage. This strengthened their PR efforts. We were also kept up-to-date on the progress of the campaign concepts and media schedule. Having a direct relationship avoided ‘middle men’ passing messages and created one large team working towards one goal, rather than several teams heading in different directions trying to meet the same goal.

What can we learn from this?

Listening to staff from all areas of the business can not only generate remarkable innovations to transform your business, but also makes staff feel more valued. If you employ a large number of Gen Ys, holding Innovation Days is a great way to encourage their personal growth.

“58% of Gen Y want pathways to personal growth and want this closely tied to recognition initiatives.” – Huff, C, 2006

To reduce possible production problems, ensure you get everyone who would be impacted involved from the beginning. This will not only help you better estimate the effort, but the wider team might have further ideas on how best to build the product.


Don’t be afraid to refine and test your new product throughout the build cycle; ensure your target audience is always centre of mind. Ensuring your product not only resonates with your audience visually but also functionally (solving a problem) is a sure-fire way to ensure its success.

This article originally appeared on the ThoughtWorks blog.

To find out more about Emma Carter’s presentation at Agile Encore, visit the website.

Posted in Agile Encore, Guest Blogger, innovation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Weekend viewing sorted – new #agileaus videos!

If you’re interested in the neuroscience of human agility, how to smash the monolith, or how to scale as the tide turns, then your weekend viewing is sorted. You can watch presentations on all these topics from some of the presenters at Agile Australia 2016.

Choose from:

Scaling as the Tide Turns with Cameron Gough (Australia Post)


Smashing the Monolith with Leonard Garvey and Louis Simoneau (REA Group)


The Neuroscience of Human Agility in Organisations with Melissa Casey (Monash Health)


All Agile Australia 2016 videos are available online at InfoQ.

Posted in Agile, Agile Australia 2016 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Agile Encore comes to Sydney!

Some of the most highly-rated speakers and workshops from Agile Australia 2016 will come to Sydney this November for Agile Encore.

Taking place over one afternoon on Thursday 10 November, Agile Encore features 6 speakers from Agile Australia 2016, including:

  • Emma Carter – Experience Design Lead, ThoughtWorks
  • Jo Cranford – Lead Developer, Culture Amp
  • Adrian Fittolani – Program Director, Envato
  • Ben Hogan – Visual Management Mentor, AgileBen
  • Dipesh Pala – Agile Capability Leader – Asia Pacific, IBM
  • Richard Weissel – Senior Developer, REA Group

Richard Weissel at Agile Australia 2016

Session topics include practical design, visual management, lean thinking, and shaping culture and leadership.


Jo Cranford at Agile Australia 2016

More info about the speaker sessions can be found here.

This year Agile Encore also offers a suite of workshops:

  • Introduction to Agile – with Lachlan Heasman
  • How to lead by enabling growth mindsets – with Peter Heslin
  • Visual management masterclass – with Ben Hogan
  • The essentials for success as an Agile business analyst – with Jody Podbury

workshop image

For more information on Agile Encore please visit the website.




Posted in Agile Encore | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jeff Smith on ‘A Corporation as Big as a Small Country: Towards an Agile Enterprise’

IBM’s CIO Jeff Smith gave a keynote presentation at Agile Australia 2016. You can now watch his session online at InfoQ.


A corporation as big as a small country: Towards an Agile enterprise

“How do you get 600,000 people to fundamentally change the way they work, materially increase quality of outcome and have fun while doing so? The answer lies in making culture tangible. Jeff Smith, IBM’s CIO, shares his experience over the past 18 months of bringing an Agile way of working to his own organisation and to the greater IBM.”

Watch this session now.

Posted in Agile Australia 2016 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Save the date for #agileaus 2017!

Already counting down for another dose of #agileaus?

Get out your calendars and set aside Thursday 22 – Friday 23 June 2017 for the ninth annual Agile Australia!

hands up

Next year Agile Australia returns to Sydney and will take place at the Hilton Sydney.

In the meantime, you can check out photos from 2016 and watch sessions as they’re uploaded to InfoQ.


Posted in Agile Australia 2017 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Relive #agileaus 2016 with new video content

If you’ve been waiting to re-watch sessions of Agile Australia (or catch up on a presentation you missed), then we have good news – InfoQ has started to publish videos of Agile Australia 2016 sessions.

You can now enjoy Nomad8’s Sandy Mamoli and David Mole’s presentation, Creating Great Teams – How Self-selection Lets People Excel.

Keep an eye out here for the publication of other videos. And you can also relive Agile Australia conferences from previous years.

If you’d like to read more about Sandy Mamoli and David Mole’s work, you can also check out Sandy’s guest blog earlier this year on ‘Total Squadification‘.

Filmed sessions of Agile Australia 2016 will be published on a staggered basis over the coming months.

Posted in Agile Australia 2016, InfoQ, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Citizen engineers for good

Today’s blog looks back to a 2013 edition of AgileTODAY, in which the founder of Rally Software, Ryan Martens, shared his thoughts on moving faster to solve the world’s most intractable problems.

Citizen engineers for good

by Ryan Martens

Give me a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth.” -Archimedes

“Archimedes arranged a series of pulleys and cogs that allowed him to pull a ship out of the Syracusan Fleet from the water onto the beach. Today, engineers and business must operate as a cooperative team to ‘move the earth’ toward freedom, justice, opportunity, and sustainable development.” – Al Gore, Vice President of United States (1993-2001)

We can use the power of business to be a positive force for change. With more citizen engineers working closely with — and within — companies, we can move faster to solve the world’s most intractable problems.

Business is the only force on the planet large enough and pervasive enough to change our broken global systems. As Richard Branson says, screw business as usual. Business can be a force for social good. We are better than this.

Social entrepreneurship can save the planet.  Early visionaries are clean sheeting businesses that get to the root causes of many of the systemic failures of the 20th century. These entrepreneurs are paving the way towards truly sustainable and equitable solutions.

Pioneers like Interface Carpet, Nike, and Patagonia have shown that we can innovate and scale sustainable solutions inside of existing businesses, while unreasonable startups have shown clean sheet ways to create wholly sustainable enterprises.

We can get to this critical mass by growing social impact organizations or by affecting existing businesses with triple-bottom-line thinking. However, we are not doing this fast enough nor working with enough businesses on the planet.

The question is: how can we build both new social impact organizations and retrofit existing enterprises — and do it faster?

What is standing in our way?

Two things are acting as obstacles to wholesale change in our business systems preventing us from moving from open loop, single bottom-line to closed-loop, triple bottom-line businesses:

  1. We need a well-defined method for rapid innovation and learning.
  2. We need more engineers who can design and implement effective, sustainable solutions that scale or replicate across the globe.

In terms of a method for rapid innovation and learning – Lean Startup and Agile methods are emerging as disciplined approaches to continuous innovation.  The mobile/social Internet is becoming the means for replication while open source software and creative commons are becoming the platforms for effectively sharing of ideas worldwide.

This leaves us with the biggest bottleneck being the lack of Citizen Engineers. As Dave Douglas says in his book Citizen Engineer, they are:

“…the connection point between science and society—between pure knowledge and how it is used. Citizen engineers are techno-responsible, environmentally responsible, economically responsible, socially responsible participants in the engineering community.”

We simply need more engineers to change course and commit to solving these problems.

We Want You!


Now is the time for our society to make citizen engineers the shining role models and encourage their development.  It is going to take time to educate and mobilize engineers who can apply technology iteratively and incrementally in local settings to effectively solve the systemic problem with triple-bottom line solutions.

My vision is this: bring citizen engineers together with social entrepreneurs to help scale their efforts as well as to entice visionary, large businesses to create sustainable and equitable solutions that span the globe.

Together – citizen engineers and social entrepreneurs – can be the giant lever to fix the global systems that create clean water, clean air, rich soil, biodiversity and happiness as a natural by-product of everyday work.

To mobilize citizen engineers to do this, we need to leverage:

  • Design thinking to produce highly desirable solutions that scale quickly
  • Agile thinking to bring the power of small teams to large problems
  • Lean startup to simultaneously solve for feasibility and effectiveness
  • Open source licenses to disseminate learnings and solutions freely across the plane
  • Sociology and biology to design sustainable solutions that work with nature

How do we create and mobilize citizen engineers?

In wrestling to understand the problems and solutions, I have learned a few things. I do not believe you can make one singular giant leap to become a social impact enterprise, but incremental stair steps are what worked for us.  You need the support of the business to value the work and thus create an environment where citizen engineers are empowered to explore not just feasible and effective solutions, but highly desirable and sustainable solutions. We need to build the right things.

I launched Rally for Impact, a social impact business inside of a traditional venture-backed startup, Rally Software. From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, my slideshare deck and my Tedx-Mile High Talk, chronicle how we brought this to life. It took ten years, but we did it.

Through our strategic partners like the Unreasonable Institute, The Hub, B-Labs, the Entrepreneurs’ Foundation and Engineers Without Borders, we started to develop empathy for corporate social responsibility efforts, social impact enterprises and citizen engineers. It gave us the confidence to keep moving forward because they confirmed for us that it was the right direction.

For established companies that want to leverage corporate social responsibility, it is time to find strategic, non-profit, or social impact partners to help you empathize, explore and execute on a social mission.  In these partnerships, you will quickly find opportunities to empower citizen engineers through ideas such as impact hack-a-thons, sabbaticals, and intrapreneurships which allow your best technical folks to shine.

Business is the only force on the planet large enough and pervasive enough to change our broken global systems. A social impact business can serve as the platform for citizen engineers to stand on and move the earth.

Give me a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth.” – Archimedes

This article was originally published in AgileTODAY Edition Volume #5 (March 2013). Ryan Martens is a founding board member of Pledge 1%

Posted in Agile Australia 2016, AgileTODAY, Guest Blogger | Tagged , , | Leave a comment