Advisor Case Study: Innovation Sprints

Rajesh Nerlikar June 8 2021

The following is adapted from Build What Matters.

At HelloWallet and Morningstar, we used to reserve some product development capacity each quarter for exploring new ideas and technologies in the form of Innovation Sprints. There were only a few rules for product, design, engineering, and QA during our one-week Innovation Sprints:

  • You had to work on at least one innovation project and demo it at the end of the sprint.
  • Teams were self-forming. On the first day, there was a pitch-a-thon to recruit colleagues to help you with your project idea(s).
  • If you planned to push a change to production, you needed a full squad (product, design, engineering, and QA), and the change had to be ready to deploy by the end of the sprint.

As a part of its Agile transformation, Morningstar renovated one of the floors in their Chicago headquarters to house a small amphitheater explicitly for sprint demos. I remember sitting in that amphitheater, watching an amazing demo from a front-end engineer and a designer. They had made a mobile responsive version of our new robo advisor web app in a week! It wasn’t production-ready, but they demoed the entire workflow in a couple of minutes. As we were walking out, I thought about how they were able to make such a big change in such a short time and concluded that it was a combination of:

  • Motivation (they chose to work on it)
  • Freedom (no one told them how to collaborate, and there weren’t a million Jira tickets to keep track of)
  • Focus (they didn’t do anything else for that week but sit next to each other and jam on this idea)
While you might not always be able to provide all three, take a minute to talk to your team about whether any game-changing process improvements might make a huge difference in how your team ships customer and business value. You may also consider asking the team to draft their ideal process and identify action items to close the biggest gaps from how they work today.

Are you trying to create a strong customer journey vision? Click here to get our free step-by-step guide to crafting a compelling vision for your product.

Written by Rajesh Nerlikar

Rajesh is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. Prior to that, he was the Director of Workplace Products at Morningstar, a Senior PM at HelloWallet (which was acquired by Morningstar) and a PM at Opower (which went public in 2014).

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