Our Director of Business Development, Paul Tran recently sat down with David Detlefsen of WMS Gaming, a company with a rich history of innovation in digital gaming entertainment for the casino industry. WMS started their innovation program 5 years ago, during a time when they were experiencing strong revenue and employee growth. WMS wanted to ensure that it preserved its special corporate culture through this period and specifically maintain itself as a company of ideas.
For WMS having a platform that could support its vision…for every employee to share and to contribute to its innovative company voice was extremely important. It wanted to stimulate internal employee collaboration to help its managers solve real business problems and increase invention disclosures with IP patents groups, while keeping a focus on its core culture.
Using Brightidea’s technology platform, the program has been hugely successful since its inception in 2007, resulting in 64 patents being filed and the creation of 110 continuous improvement ideas that include efficiency improvements, cost savings, waste reduction, and safety advances. Deploying Brightidea’s Idea management platform onto the manufacturing shop floor means WMS can harness its employees’ creativity and empower them to take steps to improve their work life, while also creating cost savings for the company.
The program has evolved and continues to improve over time through valuable learnings gathered through its history, here’s just a few of the many nuggets David shared with us.
- Do not start with an open suggestion box, keep challenges focused and aligned with your corporate strategy. While it may seem like a good idea at the time, an open suggestion box will actually cause more pain by opening up a firehouse of hundreds if not thousands of unfiltered ideas to sort through, many of which will have no tie back to corporate objectives. And by not responding to all ideas, your submitters will get frustrated, causing ideas to dwindle in the long run.
- Respond to every submission that comes in, having a focused challenge will make this easier. Idea submitters don’t mind being told NO, but they like to know why. Keeping the two way dialogue alive will ensure that ideas get better over time and continue to encourage participation. If submitter’s ideas go into a black hole, this will make them less likely to participate over time. Providing a simple explanation for the idea not moving forward is much better than not hearing anything at all.
- Set a schedule and market your campaign. Leveraging your intranet, using a blog and a newsletter to communicate will keep your campaign top of mind and keep employees participating, collaborating, commenting, and elaborating on ideas. Develop a schedule that has multiple campaigns running at once so that each is in a different phase of execution and review at any one time.
- Develop a top level strategy deployment. This can be scheduled longer than a standard campaign period and is a business process developed in partnership with the CEO or President to set audacious goals for the entire company to strive for in the year. This is a stretch goal challenge that requires the entire company to be in alignment and work towards, to try to attain something the company isn’t currently doing.
David ends the interview by sporting his Innovation hard hat, tapping into the metaphor that innovation is fun, but at the same time can be messy like a construction site and also a little dangerous. You should always start with a blueprint, but in the midst of the construction, you should be comfortable getting your hands dirty but above all staying safe. And don’t lose sight that it’s okay be silly and have fun!
The interview is loaded with many more ideas for how to best structure an innovation program, how to set expectations and above all ensure success that will keep the program running for years to come. He reminds us to take things slow, establish a process and nurture it along the way, which will leave room for wider expansion that builds upon program success.
We’re thankful to our partner Planview for providing a forum for our conversation. If you’re interested in hearing best practices from more innovation
practitioners, our next Birds of Feather (BOF) event is happening soon in Chicago on June 24, 25th. If you’d like to apply for an invitation to attend, please contact Celia Seib for more information.