Tieto SPARK - ‘Not another Innovation program!’
I once read that the best way to kill innovation in an organization is to implement a corporate innovation program. Something like this would simply ensure that the true innovative spirit of an individual gets drowned out by corporate bureaucracy. So my initial thought when I first heard about Tieto SPARK was 'not another initiative to get us to be innovative’! The reason I use the words 'my initial thought' is that actually being part of the overall process changed my mind.
There are many things that the core Tieto SPARK team did to make it different; things that would make this something else than ‘just another innovation initiative’. While much of it had to do with the people that were driving the process, I do also believe that the five points listed below certainly made a huge difference to its success:
a) Getting the focus right from the start: The Tieto SPARK program was, from the very start, able to position itself as a corporate program being driven from the very top and having the required mandate from the company. In this way, they got the attention of all the employees in the company. It was well publicised and the stakes were defined up front so that everybody could do their best.
b) Using a time-boxed approach to things: The other thing that was both well communicated and managed was the time-boxed approach to the entire program. Each stage had a clear timeline and objective, the deadlines were kept, the needs well-articulated and the expected results understood.
c) Getting the much-needed external support: The process also managed to incorporate some external mentors, such as real life venture capitalists and coaches who work with some of the well-known start-ups in the region. This was the much-needed external trigger to groom and guide the teams to help sharpen their ideas and present them in a business-friendly way.
d) Instilling a healthy sense of competition: The program itself and in the selected teams at the ‘Boot Camp’, was able to generate a healthy sense of competition. The result was each team getting inspired and motivated by each other to do better and to improve upon its own performance by learning from each other.
e) Keeping it real and close to the customer: Last, but not least, one important element that clearly put Tieto SPARK in a different league was the fact that it was very real and end-user focused. The solutions being developed by the teams were tested with customers as early as possible and their feedback was used to further develop them, keeping the process very agile and customer oriented.
As you have probably been able to guess by now, the reason I am able to explain this in detail is that I had the privilege of leading one of the teams into the ‘Boot Camp’ round in the Tieto SPARK program. This journey gave me valuable insight into how things can be done differently and what makes such programs successful. The Tieto SPARK program now enters its last phase with the chosen top three ideas (full disclosure: my idea was not one of them), however, it will be interesting to follow events and see how these ideas prove their merit in real life.
The Tieto SPARK experience, as I would like to call it now since my journey with it is over, has taught me a lot. Things that will hopefully help me in the future are:
- Teams and individuals matter the most – you need to put your money on the right teams and people, the ideas always get developed and refined over time. (invest in people and talent)
- You only put in your best when faced with real competition – so if we want people to put in their best then they need to be pitched against the best. (build healthy competition)
- Failure is truly the stepping-stone to success - we only succeed by learning from our own failures and correcting them. (fail fast and cheap to succeed quick and big!)