Guides to Innovation at Scale: Planning a Challenge – Part 1

Underpinning the success of so many innovation programs is an approach that uses Challenges. It is a technique that brings focus and specificity to an element of business which can often be so open-ended that it doesn’t deliver any meaningful change.

By setting up questions that ask for participants’ solutions to real problems, companies are better positioned to innovate in a continuous, scalable manner. This guide is the first of a three-part mini-series focusing on one of the most vital elements of this Challenge-Driven Methodology: which is the planning phase.

Here, we’ll discuss the process, contextualize it through a sample scenario, and address some frequently asked questions which we’ve fielded through our decades of experience running Challenges.

The Challenge-Driven Methodology: An Overview

Above is the Challenge-Driven Methodology that Wazoku developed for using when you are starting an innovation program. It’s simple and completely customizable to any business needs. We designed it to be universal, to allow the organizations that we work with – regardless of industry or scope – to get started on the journey towards scalable and sustainable innovation.

With this structure in place, so that people in the organization can see the process at a glance, it becomes easier to envisage what the program is working towards. This makes buy-in at the start, and the eventual success of the Challenge(s) run a lot easier to deliver.

Three Key Phases of Challenge Planning

Breaking down this process even further, there are three stages in planning a Challenge. This is how we’ll split the guides in this series as well, so that we’re focusing on these stages individually.

First up, establishing the Challenge background is key. In this stage, we look at sponsorship, the framing of the question which the Challenge is based on. We’ll discuss which audience we want to be part of the solving process and how that solving process – including idea evaluation – will work. And finally, we’ll establish a timeline of events, to ensure that a time-sensitive issue doesn’t have a challenge that runs past a specific deadline.

Challenge Planning Process: Sponsor

The first thing to establish at the very beginning of the Challenge process is executive alignment. By alignment, we refer to the question of which executive has an issue or opportunity, and do they have the resources to ensure that the Challenge process is a success.

At this stage, it’s a good idea to ask some general scoping questions, to ensure that the right information is being established at the right part of the process. Some examples here would be:

  • Which executives care about this issue and why?
  • How does the mission align with the overall business strategy?
  • Does the sponsor have resources to take the successful ideas forward for implementation?
  • Who will be managing the Challenge on a day-to-day level?
  • Are there subject matter experts (SMEs) in mind to assist in evaluating the ideas?

Challenge Planning Process: Question

The next stage revolves around the question of the Challenge itself. In our experience, this is one of the most essential elements of the entire Challenge management process. Getting the question that is being sent out to a crowd right has a massive positive effect on how successful the eventual Challenge ends up being.

The rule of thumb is that the broader the question, the more ideas are generated. The more focused the challenge, the less numerous the ideas submitted; however, they are usually more-easily actioned.

Some of the scoping questions that it’s beneficial to ask at this point include:

  • What is the problem that needs addressing?
  • Is there a strict timeline in which successful ideas need to be implemented?
  • What does ‘success’ look like in the terms of this Challenge?

Whilst these examples may seem broad and slightly vague, they provide good jumping-off points from which follow-up scoping questions can narrow down the detail required.

Challenge Planning Process: Audience

Now that the content of the question is dealt with, the next stage to focus on is the audience to source solutions from. Contemplating this element ensures that crowd participation, and the way in which it is achieved, isn’t left as an afterthought.

The scoping questions that we would recommend asking here include:

  • Who’s the target audience(s) for this Challenge?
  • What’s the incentive for participating in this Challenge?
  • As an addendum to that second question, some follow-ups generally include:
  • If the crowd is internal, where in the business is it based (geographically)?
  • Regardless of location or type of crowd, how will they access the site?
  • Which languages need to be considered for translation of the Challenge copy?

Challenge Planning Process: Process

After these first three stages, the Challenge begins to take on a more real-world form. It’s now established who’s backing the process, what the Challenge centers around, and where the ideas are going to come from.

It’s now important to answer the question of how the Challenge will run from start to finish. It is vital to establish this at this point, as failure to do so can mean crucial stages of evaluation, feedback, and implementation are overlooked.

Scoping questions to consider at this point include:

  • What will the process for vetting ideas be?
  • Will top selected ideas that make it all the way through the process be judged at a final pitching event?
  • Who are the people that will be involved in the evaluation and selection process?

Challenge Planning Process: Timeline

The final consideration in this part of Challenge planning process deals with the timeline.The who, what, where, and how have been dealt with. Now it’s time for the when.

Some of the scoping questions that it’s advisable to ask at this point include:

  • When is the ideal launch date for the Challenge?
  • When do selected ideas need to be identified by?
  • Are there any upcoming business-specific events that could impact on the ability of the selected crowd to submit their ideas?
  • Are there any known restraints on the timing of idea implementation?

Once these five components have been ticked off; the Challenge has passed the first of three planning stages. Ensuring that time is given to considering the scoping questions mentioned above, especially when running an innovation Challenge for the first time, is a great way to avoid roadblocks at a later, less convenient point.

Conclusion

In this guide, we’ve started a discussion around the ways in which successful innovation Challenges should be planned. Using a staged process, we’ve outlined all the considerations that should feed into this area of Challenge management.

The well-used phrase “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” describes the experience of Challenge management perfectly. Taking necessary steps before launch to troubleshoot the main aspects of the process and ensure that the correct information is in there enables Challenge managers to run a more assured process, that is more likely to deliver the desired results.

In the next guide in this series, we’ll move on to phase two of the Challenge planning process, where we’ll discuss the framing of the Challenge.

About Wazoku

Wazoku is a pioneer in open innovation, crowdsourcing, and innovation at scale. For more than two decades, we’ve been helping our clients deliver sustainable and scalable innovation practices. As both for-profit and for-purpose, our software and expertise have been used to gain competitive advantage and overcome humanitarian crises around the globe, all of which are underpinned by the belief that anyone can be an innovator.