Innovation Room

Can you structurally embed innovation?

I was recently asked a question about using Kanban to visibly manage innovation across an organisation. This builds on a case study I wrote for NZPG on their Sorting Room [].

Q: "When we spoke last time we were talking about a company that has a room dedicated to innovation and ideas, where anyone can see the company strategy. I want to create this for [COMPANY NAME] with a whiteboard and post its. Have you got more info on how is best to lay it out and have people contribute?"

Innovation needs to be part of your organisational culture. The room should be an enabler, but it won’t create something that isn’t there in the first place. The good news for you is that you seem to have that culture already. The layout is something you need to experiment with as you will go through at least 4-5 iterations before you find something that works for both management and the staff. But some ideas to get you started;


You probably have different strategies with different flows. That’s natural, this may mean you will have a couple of boards, but you should start with a high-level, general, board. The initial layout could be as simple as “Idea » In Action » Realised/Done” - noting of course that each card should be an outcome that you are trying to achieve. Outcomes can be simple and practical or complex and hard to define, but should always have a tangible definition of done. Use codenames where outcomes are confidential (e.g. mergers).

Standard Kanban rules apply but, most importantly, you must limit WIP. You shouldn’t be working on more than ‘n’ outcomes simultaneously (and these should be a combination of short and long term outcomes). Each outcome needs an accountable owner (use pictures if you can).

As a side note, while you’re iterating the layout and process keep it simple (drawn lines, post-its, etc), but when you’ve settled on something, get it printed big and nice. It makes a difference.

Supporting Layouts

I’ve always liked NZPGs elephant in the room. It’s a single board with an elephant printed on it. Anyone in the organisation can place a post-it on the board and it forces a conversation on that topic.

It supports the main board, without distracting from the message.

Use the Board

Don’t hide the board in a corner, it should be large and prominent. Executive and team meetings should be around the board. Use it to facilitate the discussion. Given the distributed nature of your company, this may be difficult, but do what you can.

Also understand that anyone should be able to add an idea. Whether it is actioned is a decision for the executive. I recommend that there should be a process of funding a good idea. Give the team who proposed the idea 40 hours and a prepaid credit card (say $1000) to do/buy whatever they want to prototype of their idea. Could be in the area of IT, HR, or marketing, it doesn’t matter.

This should be a good start…