First Step: Introduce Online Social Innovation Technologies
The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for welfare and pension policy as well as child poverty advocacy. With 120,000 employees serving >20 million customers, DWP is the UK’s largest public service delivery agency. Initially, DWP focused on decentralizing innovation to engage all employees in the innovation process. Unfortunately, a traditional suggestion box system lacked the infrastructure necessary to effectively manage and develop ideas. Realizing the need for a centralized approach to idea management, DWP implemented an online social innovation community run on the Spigit platform, called “Idea Street.” By year’s end, 4,500 employees contributed 1,400 cost-saving ideas of which 63 were implemented. Cost savings from the implemented ideas exceeded a whopping 20,000,000 pounds.
Second Step: Expand Innovation and Break Down Organizational Hurdles through Lean Collaboration
Even with such staggering results, DWP recognized that innovation efforts were limited by the number of hands to implement ideas. The Idea Street community decided to partner with DWP’s previously established Lean Development Center to bring more ideas to the forefront. The Lean group was looking to improve and standardize business processes across the organization but had no effective way to share their lean efforts agency-wide. According to Duncan McGugan, Innovation Manager for the IT Directorate for Operations and Innovation, “One lean practitioner could be looking at a problem while another was looking at the same issue in a different office.” While Idea Street offered Lean enhanced collaboration, transparency and organizational learning, Lean offered the Idea Street community a ready-made system for idea implementation.
This extension of Idea Street, a community called “Let Us Know,” includes Lean Practitioners in the early stage of idea development. Idea submitters are helped with root cause analysis (e.g. The 5 Whys, and various other Lean techniques) providing a higher quality solution from the start. Others can see, comment and draw upon the broad expertise within the organization to develop ideas and extend insight and learning in the process. Lean Experts are then enlisted to develop the business case and, if accepted, an idea advances to the Lean Development Center for implementation. If not accepted, an idea isn’t merely discarded. Agency leadership believes analyzing ideas that don’t advance is as important as promoting those that do to fuel organizational learning.
In the spirit of lean and continuous improvement being driven from the front line, front office employees were trained to become Lean Practitioners, thus multiplying the insights fed to Lean Experts and ultimately Lean Development Centers. Aligning with DWP’s core value to advance and develop people, every effort is made to keep idea generators involved as much as possible in the development of an idea. In fact, idea submitters may be excused from their job to help further develop their idea, providing employees more experience with the organization as a whole.
The momentum generated by partnering with lean business processes helped break down organizational barriers, the innovation antibodies often first encountered when trialing idea-sharing.
Final Step: Keep Innovation at the Forefront and Highlight Leadership Support
To keep innovation front and center, McGugan’s team emphasizes communications through multiple channels. From an Idea Street icon on everyone’s desktop, to managerial initiatives coming down from the top to encourage innovation, to perpetual storytelling to promote good news of idea submitters and results, DWP has grasped strategic framing as well as communication, two key pillars in any innovation program’s success. The triumph of the collaboration between Idea Street and the Lean initiative led DWP’s COO to personally promote the rollout of “Let Us Know” across the entire organization. Similarly, DWP’s CEO, who is dedicated to changing the way the agency works culturally, promoted the innovation program as an integral part of the effort to transform DWP into a listening organization.
One month after the launch of Idea Street’s “Let Us Know” community, 30,000 users had participated. Three months later, >50,000 participants had joined the community, contributing a total of 2,588 ideas, almost 3x the number observed in the first year of Idea Street before partnering with the Lean team. Finally, the collaboration between Idea Street and the Lean initiative increased the number of implemented ideas by 168%.
DWP next plans to expand into bigger picture, strategic challenges, bolster communications support even more and combine online challenges with offline events to further promote engagement. Perhaps most encouraging is the adoption of Idea Street by other government departments within the U.K. According to George Addison, Innovation Manager, Idea Street has been implemented in three other government departments, is in the process of implementation in two other departments, and is being evaluated by a half-dozen more.