Here’s How We Innovate From the Inside-Out

Innovation days

Key findings on what’s at the heart of creating, understanding and improving your product. 

It’s a Friday afternoon, mid June. We’re sprawled out in our office. Cross-legged, lounging in beanbags, leaning off desks. Still sleepy from our insanely delicious taco lunch.

We’re all waiting to share our ideas on how we can make Gliffy better—from small features like built in screenshot capturing to streamlining our customer support team’s ticket-processing.

This is the near-end of what we call Innovation Days.

It goes something like this: every quarter we get in teams or go solo. We’re tasked with something simple enough. Two and a half days of whatever we want to work on.

Two and a half days to loosen up, have some fun and make cool things based on our own ideas, observations and queries.

Call it what you like, it’s similar to hackathons or [in]cubator, even Google’s now discontinued 20% days. As long time partners with Atlassian, ours stems from their ShipIt Days.

Thing is, these Dayez (as they’re known internally) add a ton of really cool features and insights into our daily and quarterly routines.

That’s why we’re sharing the key reasons we put a heavy emphasis on these two days, plus easy steps for you and your team to do the same.  

innovate from inside out

This concept isn’t completely our own. It stems from Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore), a late-90s Lean Startup or Start with Why.

Moore’s idea is brilliant: for unparalleled success, companies must create new products that will win the hearts-and-minds of early adopters. Then, with early adopters at their side, companies must move quickly (or cross the chasm) to paying customers. You can read an excellent summary of the book here.

Moore’s concept lays a foundation of what we believe innovation should be about: how to get outside the bubble of constantly innovating and making-new.

Wait. Isn’t making-new a good thing?

If you’re always pressing to innovate, get ahead, get that edge, it becomes its own monotonous routine. Stale bread, flat bubbly. By giving people the chance to work on their own thoughts, ideas and concepts, the rhythm is broken up in an exciting, unpredictable way.

How to bring Innovation Days to your office  

To break up this monotonous rhythm there are three areas we focus on. They help us find new approaches to bettering our company and product.  And hopefully these same techniques can help your company, too.

1.) Get everyone out of their day-to-day tasks and driven elements

This includes teams outside of engineering.

Any routine can get old. Especially when it’s executed at the same speed for weeks straight. When teams break from their projects, sprints and deadlines, there’s a freshness to thought-process that is genuine and organic.

Getting people out of their day-to-day tasks allows them the opportunity to think outside the box.

out of the box

2.) Question the product

This is one of the best things you can do for your product—but it’s not for the faint of heart.

When teams familiar with a product question and challenge it, they create a space that exposes vulnerability. To have your product open to criticism and to let go of that safety net is huge. It opens up so many doors.

For starters, there’s now a space for anyone to bring up criticisms. And with a wide-range of backgrounds teaming up, people will bring in perspectives that can only help expose things in the best light.
The point is, everybody has a voice. And every voice, if it wants to, can be heard.

3.) Put a premium on making something shippable

Our innovation days took time to hone and shape. They’re still getting perfected—it’s a work in progress.

In the beginning we’d work on a lot of different ideas, really just go for it, and it turned out, regardless of how good they were, if there was only 5% of the idea completed, it couldn’t even be experienced by the rest of the team let alone our users.

By focusing on getting it done rather than honing the presentation, we started to move in a better direction.

A big part of it was making sure people could see how awesome these ideas actually were.

To really get the most out of each idea, we had three categories to really focus on:

Flair 

Flair makes the whole thing a lot more fun. It usually goes into the presentation itself, and involves disco balls, silver suits and loud music.

Internal Shipability

Simply put, how much work has to go into it before we can ship it? Something with a month of work will be much more attractive than something with six months of work.

Customer happiness (usability) 

How much work by the user goes into each action. Is it effortless? Is it clunky?

Over and out

In the last two years, we’ve had an explosion of great stuff that’s shown up in our product. Mindmaps, diagram recovery data, a screenshot plugin, and streamlining customer support tickets to name a few.

This break-of-routine helps us humanize the product, making it more and more practical for our users.

Thinking of implementing an innovation day for you and your team? More than anything, it’ll keep you honest when it comes to understanding the experience of your product.  

We’re big believers in mixing it up. Innovation days can help you and your company by making for happy employees that have a wealth of improvements to share and are just waiting for the chance.