12 Months of Failure: Lessons Learned in Year One of Bromford Lab

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Guest post by Tom Hartland

One year ago the Bromford Lab was established as a way of accelerating new ideas, driving innovation in the business and building our external networks.

‘Failing fast’ was a founding principle, any idea was a good idea and our 12 week window to complete work was the target to aim for.

It’s good to see that we’ve failed to realise each of these ideals at least once – failing slow, watching good ideas turn bad and blowing our 12 week window to pieces… technically I’m still involved in a concept that went live in October!

These failings have helped us build, test and rebuild the processes that guide us, but only because we’re willing to learn from them. What we’re left with is a better way to frame potential concepts, a robust and flexible process to test new ideas and a separate, more defined pipeline for service pilots.

We’ve helped formulate ‘squads’ as a way of cultivating problems/opportunities from themed areas and getting things to test quickly – particularly the tests that require significant resourcing (i.e. a designated colleague). This is also a way of seeding innovation throughout the organisation and beginning wider cultural transformation.

We use the word ‘test’ more and more nowadays because we’re constructing them as safe environments to fail – typically time-limited, minimal resource and therefore low risk. The impetus is on testing more and piloting less, and where pilots are launched they’re supported by a raft of pre-testing to prove their value.

We’ve recognised that we need to be more ruthless – killing potential zombie projects and burying bad ideas in the innovation graveyard.

Working out loud, sharing everything we do on our website and trello board, we’ve become one of the most transparent teams in Bromford. In the same breath we’ve been reasonably useless at publishing updates on our internal network, yammer, something we’re going to get much better at in the coming year.

It’s hoped that by sharing our progress we can keep building our external networks – cross-pollenating ideas and sharing learning from similar concepts. We’re also working on an offer for potential partners to share our innovation-addled brains, toolkits and processes, negating much of the difficulty establishing a lab from scratch.

For now, have leisurely flick through our slide deck and enjoy our imaginary Bromford Lab birthday cake.

Here’s to year two!

TOM

6 Comments on “12 Months of Failure: Lessons Learned in Year One of Bromford Lab

  1. Great blog – a fantastic summary of where you’re at. With less and less resources available to public services, we can’t continue to work in the same way.The Auditor General for Wales is an advocate of well managed risk taking so it’s something that we need to be focusing on as an organisation, as should the wider sector.

    Cheers!

    Dyfrig

    • Thanks Dyfrig

      It’s an interesting point you make. I reckon that public services have being getting away with ‘failure’ for years. In more bountiful times things were less scrutinised. Today – every pound or euro is highlighted. Add to that the coruscating lens of social media – and public organisations have less wriggle room than ever before.

      The natural reaction to that might be to shut up shop. The more enlightened view would be to follow the advice of the Auditor General for Wales: advocating well managed risk.

      • Absolutely! It’s interesting seeing how transparent communication is helping to shape debate, especially interesting seeing it in action about reform of local government in Wales at the moment. It’s great to see people and organisations like yours having such open discussions about failure. Nice one!

        Dyfrig

  2. I love the idea of the ‘innovation graveyard’. It must take an element of courage to bury a potentially innovative idea in the graveyard. I know when I’m spouting ideas, I sometimes hang on to one for a little too long before admitting that it’s just not the best one for the job. I applaud your approach to test, test, test – I will definitely take some learning from that. Better to have an idea that fails, rather than failing to have any ideas, eh?!

    • Thank you!

      Although we welcome and support any idea initially it ultimately has to go through the Dragons Den test – would I put my own money on this?

      We are predisposed to hang onto ideas for too long – that’s what a lot of pet projects are. It’s normal but it can also be wasteful.

      Thanks for commenting!

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