How We Organize for Innovation at LCBO

From an innovation charter to skill-building opportunities, these are the steps to take to surface and act on great ideas
Simon Lee
How We Organize for Innovation at LCBO

As the manager of innovation at the LCBO Next IT Innovation Lab, I support the development of an innovation culture at the LCBO. We turn ideas into working prototypes at our lab, which is based at the Communitech Hub in Waterloo, Ontario. It’s where we can try out different ideas using fail-fast, test and learn, or rapid development approaches.

The LCBO’s innovation journey was laid out in 2013 when it adopted its IT strategy agenda. In 2014, I started a few innovator programs at the company which in turn helped to build innovation momentum. We were seeing some traction in terms of the number of people wanting to test ideas and learn from them, as well as wanting to solve problems differently. It was clear they wanted to challenge the status quo. That’s why we established our hub in Waterloo in 2015. In the first year, we had 17 different ideas and sessions in development and built out approximately 11 prototypes.

For me, innovation is about more than just creativity. Creativity is about generating new ideas and thinking outside the box, but innovation is tied to activating the ideas and bringing them to life. It’s important to note, too, that innovation doesn’t only apply to technology: you can also have product, process, or cultural innovation as well.

Establish an Innovation Charter

Companies that want to develop more corporate innovation should establish an innovation charter. To do that, you’ll need to ask: What does innovation mean to the organization? What services do you want to provide as an innovative team?

Once this is established, identify some success metrics — these can be both quantitative and qualitative. Next, adopt an innovation process and identify the necessary funding and resources for support. Finally, consider building an innovation lab, located either within the organization or off-site.

When you’re thinking about an innovation charter, it is important to identify innovation sponsors. These sponsors can be executives who already have a challenge they’re trying to resolve, or who have the resources to execute on opportunities, or who are involved in innovation or start-ups. I’ve found success in partnering with these kinds of executives to “hit singles,” by which I mean tackling one modest project at a time to build traction and develop an innovation mindset.

Identify Your Innovation Baseline

It is worth asking how ready your organization is to embrace corporate innovation. Some refer to this as the innovation baseline. Companies may not have a governance model for innovation in place — as an intrapreneur you may have to build it out. In the corporate world, we frequently talk about processes, so that innovation model is also your process and will dictate how your policy will be laid out. These components must be in place in order for your organization to be ready for innovation.

Your innovation lab will be fed by an idea pipeline. You will then use an iterative approach to doing research and running ideation workshops in order to define your product with your “customer.” This is an important distinction: in a traditional setting, you simply hand off the requirements to an IT technician who builds out your idea based on specifications. I view innovation as inclusive, which is why we invite sponsors and idea initiators to work with us on designing the product, and why we invite all of our stakeholders to idea-generating sessions.

Plan Your Strategy

With all of your information gathered, you then want to plan a strategy to test the proof of concept. This needs to happen in an environment that is safe and can validate whether you are on the right track with your idea. You will then want to report all of your findings back to your innovation council to ensure buy-in from different executive sponsors.

At this point, I would draw a very clean line between the actual project and the initial test-and-learn phase. As an innovation lab, you want to be an incubator or even an accelerator, but you do not want to be a typical IT department that just takes a project and puts it into production. You’re helping the individuals in your organization to ideate, to innovate, and to test and learn. You’re not there for support or maintenance, and you may not even be there to roll out the product.

Your innovation team will be key to the success of your lab. Besides me in the role of manager of innovation at LCBO Next Innovation Lab, we have an innovation activator, who facilitates ideas and sessions, connects with other innovation labs, and looks at technology solutions and research. We also have a developer lead who focuses on technology development, and four co-op students who work on different IT projects. It’s a relatively small team.

A good innovation department will also provide innovation-related programs that will help to build out an innovation workforce by teaching design thinking, “lean canvas” planning, empathy maps, and similar processes. Invite people who you think have the potential to become innovation advocates to these sessions. Teach them about innovation; they’ll return to their regular jobs to apply their knowledge, and come back to the innovation lab to bring ideas from their own departments. That way, you can guarantee a continual flow of ideas and projects.

Simon Lee is manager of IT innovation at LCBO. He leads LCBO’s IT Innovation Council and is a senior member of IT Strategy and Architecture team. Lee is in the Queen’s Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

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