What I Liked About Innovation Day 2020


Our First Innovation Days at Assurant Labs

Compared to a Hackathon, which carries on its back an image of a free T-shirt and all-nighters from everyone involved, Innovation Days are much more pared down version of the former, and part of it is due to its simplicity. Innovation Day events are usually limited to a shorter time commitment, this time 2 days, and align the work produced during the event to business goals or personal interests that support those same business goals. This helps keep scope (and scope creep) low and reduces indecision, thus allowing the team to move faster, making it even likelier that the team goal can be achieved.

What did you and your team work on for Innovation Days?

Patrick M. (Software Engineer), Rob R. (QA Engineer), Patrick B. (Designer), Heath C. (Software Engineer), and I (Software Engineer) worked on integrating our mobile app (Pocket Geek) troubleshooting content into Spotlight/on-device content search in order to increase engagement with it, bringing along with it a few technical benefits, such as improved diagnostics and improved app reliability.

Even with different skill sets, all of us were able to work as a team to create a plan of action and goals of what we were going to accomplish.

After that, we were off…

We ended up splitting the work as follows (and made sure that we were all on the same page):

Anthony G. (me) would be working on the Spotlight/on-device content search functionality module (for iOS).

Pat M. and Heath C. would be working on functionality that would allow troubleshooting content to be submitted to the module that I was writing and on the Android version of such functionality (more on that later).

Rob R. would be working on manually testing the functionality of the software produced by the code we were writing.

Pat B. would be working on creating mockups of screens used for demonstrating how our on-device search functionality works on Pocket Geek (iOS and Android). While we didn’t have the resources and time available to work on an Android implementation due to running into platform-related constraints, the Android mockups allowed our team to demonstrate to stakeholders that we were still had our eyes set on developing the feature further.

What was your biggest takeaway from Innovation Day 2020?

Anthony G. -

“It was a wonderful opportunity to lead (along with Pat. M), while working with fellow teammates towards the realization of a shared vision and to then come together to figure out how to bring our pitch to the business.

Rob R. -

“My biggest take away from Innovation Day was the opportunity to be a part of the task-level development conversations that take place from the conception to implementation of a feature.

Patrick B. -

“While prototyping the UX, I was able to expand my personal knowledge on the possibilities around iOS’ spotlight search. As a result, this inspired team-level discussions around additional ways we could incorporate spotlight search into our Tech Support product design.

Heath C. (working with Patrick M.) -

“As someone with very little iOS experience, it was good to work with Pat M. on learning a bit about iOS while creating the Lucid bridge. That’s pretty much what Innovation Days is all about - learning new skills and developing new ideas.”

What roadblocks did the team experience?

Roadblocks that our team experienced came from multiple directions: unclear documentation for the Android version of the feature and higher priority work rearing its head, taking precedence periodically. The largest hurdle we had was the fact that the Innovation Day event allows us to work with people we don’t normally work with, and as a result, we had to work through natural communication and planning hiccups.

How did we get past those roadblocks?

When it came to unclear documentation for search indexing on Android, we ended up putting a hard stop in terms of time and research spent and focusing that time on improving the troubleshooting content bridge and its integration with the iOS search module.

Since we had an alternative strategy to accomplish this if given more time and resources, we asked our team designer Patrick B. to create the vision for what the feature would look like on Android. We ended up demonstrating it along with the iOS demo.

As far as higher priority work is concerned, the team worked together in sharing the workload across one another to pick up where others left off when someone needed to step away. The team was successful by being able to accomplish both sprintly and innovation day work.

So What’s Next???

At the end of the event and the following morning, management and stakeholders in the company were ready to hear and see the different presentations presented over a video call. They were very much impressed and are awaiting the next one impatiently.

After each presentation, there was a question and answer session where anyone attending could ask questions. For our presentation, we were asked about the full value that our work can provide. Though we demonstrated the ability to index device troubleshooting content, we were asked by stakeholders about the ability to push our idea even further. We explained that other valuable content that we provide for our users, such as device manuals were a potential improvement that we could “get out the door” if additional time, effort, and vendor resources were provided to us. Even during our presentation, the enthusiasm, passion, and hard work on display spread to others listening in. This was demonstrated through an array of team members asking questions right away to find out more about the goals, aims, and the possible future of what we had built as we had inspired them to show what was possible (with a very small, self-organized team at that).

The demos created a positive vibe that made those attending and participating more happier and engaged with the event as it was going on and even afterwards. The fact that everyone had something to share that they were passionate about created an environment that had everyone in the event asking questions, putting forward suggestions and concerns, and asking the business side of things (such as time to market etc.). As a result of not being able to get to everyone’s presentation on the first day, we had a second day of presentations, which made sure everyone was able to share their ideas. Discussions about the future of the “innovated feature” have organically permeated discussions with other Innovation Day team members and have made future Innovation Days something to look forward to.

During an Engineering all-hands call, follow-up was also shared with the team, allowing team members to see if and when their ideas could be implemented in production. Some projects were prioritized for the following quarter and some ideas have multiple team interest, causing a larger organization of business requirements. We have hopes to continue Innovation Days at a quarterly cadence with the next one being scheduled in March 2021.