Does It Scale?

By Kaitlin Milliken |  October 1, 2019

So we wanted to know, “How do you successfully scale new ideas?” To get best practices, InnoLead traveled to Shell TechWorks in Cambridge, Mass. Experts from ESPN and KPMG also shared their advice. 

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This episode is sponsored by KPMG. As a leading professional services firm, KPMG provides innovative business solutions and audit, tax, and advisory services. They’re also the sponsor of our 2020 Benchmarking Report, sharing research and best practices on innovation from over 200 companies. For the full report, visit Or, meet the KPMG team at Impact, this October 22 through the 24 in San Francisco.


Julie Ferland: It becomes very binary whether the scale happens or not.

Ryan Spoon: Prove out some success to get to develop a larger strategy and larger investment.

Colleen Drummond: You have to figure out how to bridge between two worlds really.

Kaitlin Milliken: Hey, you’re listening to Innovation Answered, the podcast for corporate innovators. In each episode, we ask a central question about the things that make change hard at large companies. Then we get answers from experts about how businesses can overcome these challenges and make an impact. I’m Kaitlin Milliken from InnoLead.

This episode tackles the age old question: How do you turn a promising but fragile idea into something really big? In other words, how do you successfully scale new ideas?

Every innovator wants to score home runs, creating initiatives with widespread impact across the organization. But let’s go back to the very beginning. Every innovation starts out as an idea. Something that needs to be validated and tested before scaling even starts.

So first you need experiments to prove that your innovation could in fact work.

Ryan Spoon: How do you achieve something with the smallest executable step? How do you achieve something and validate a larger series of again hypothesis or beliefs. … Prove out some success and get to develop a larger strategy and larger investment.

Kaitlin Milliken: That was Ryan Spoon, the Senior Vice President of Digital and Social Content at ESPN. Ryan was one of twelve innovation executives that we featured in our recent Benchmarking report. During his interview, he recommended that teams start testing their ideas and build a strategy for scaling along the way.

To illustrate, Ryan shared his experience of building new shows for Snapchat, a social media platform optimized for vertical video.

Ryan Spoon: To quickly build out a prototype or a series of shows on snap and say, ‘Here’s SportsCenter on snap. It looks totally different, different hosts different voice all shot vertically etcetera.’ And as it works and as it reaches new audiences we have immediate feedback. We have immediate results and success which then allows us to build out a more robust strategy, to take the show on site dozens and dozens of times a year to build out multiple shows where we

now have four shows on snap. Two of which are every day and the other two are weekly.

Kaitlin Milliken: ESPN’s Snapchat presence started out as one show. They eventually scaled up once they gathered feedback and data to prove out their strategy.

To find out more about scaling, we visited Julie Ferland in Cambridge at Shell TechWorks. We’ll be back with Julie after this break.


Kaitlin Milliken: InnoLead has a lot of great online resources for corporate innovators. But, you can also connect with our network, including executives who have been on this show, at our in-person gatherings. Up next on our events calendar: Impact 2019 in San Francisco, on Oct. 22 through the 24th. Here to share some of her favorite speakers is our events producer, Caitlin Harper. 

Caitlin, what are you excited for at Impact?

Caitlin Harper: I’m personally really excited to see VP of R&D at Impossible Foods. She’s doing a session on the creation of the impossible burger, and I’ve personally been a pescatarian since I was 7, so I’m really interested in plant-based foods.

Kaitlin Milliken: So I know we also have someone from Uber who’s going to be running a session, can you tell me about that?

Caitlin Harper: I’m really excited to see Waleed’s session, he’s doing something on the future of location, which is a really interesting topic, especially considering his previous background at Google, doing mapping and mobile.

Kaitlin Milliken: I’d highly recommend attending Steve Rader’s session, he’s from NASA and will be sharing best practices for crowdsourcing. Last time we talked, he said NASA’s program had a 90% success rate. So there’ll be a lot of really great insights from that. To see who else will be speaking and to get a ticket, visit See you in San Francisco!


Kaitlin Milliken: And we’re back. With Julie Ferland. Julie is the general manager of Shell TechWorks. Founded in 2013, TechWorks is an open innovation program that brings together expertise from outside the energy industry. These innovators build technology solutions that solve problems in the different branches of Shell’s business. During the conversation, she shared how her team has scaled their impact and the scope of their projects.

So just to get us started, can you tell us about TechWorks and what goes on here?

Julie Ferland: Absolutely. So TechWorks was started about six years ago. And it’s a bit of a different model in the innovation realm, because we were actually started almost like a startup inside Shell. And the idea was for Shell to be able to bring in innovative technologies, and to bring in ideas that are coming from other industries into the company. We do that on a fairly short time scale. And we also try and deliver innovative ways of working into the company across all of the different lines of business.

Kaitlin Milliken: How did TechWorks get started six years ago?

Julie Ferland: Well, it started as an idea. And it started as an idea to see how we can bring more external perspectives into Shell. And my background is a good example of that. I was a naval architect in the past and a lot of time on ships, but not much time in an oil field or delivering energy.

So my team is comprised of people with very diverse backgrounds. And the idea was to bring folks with that are coming from consumer products, that are coming from defense, automotive, all these different industries, and bring them together to see what they can leverage from their backgrounds into some of the challenges that we see inside Shell.

Kaitlin Milliken: The technology that you’re working on here is already proven and scalable. Can you explain what that means?

Julie Ferland: Most of what we try and bring to the table is what our research and development organization doesn’t bring, which is a background from other use cases. So with the diverse background of the folks on my team, the hope is that they’re also bringing in interesting things that they’ve worked on in other places that might not be on someone’s website as fit for purpose for a challenge inside Shell. But when you look, kind of at the next layer down, you realize that the use cases are quite parallel. And you might be able to do a bit of development work on that, or bring a couple different technologies together, and integrate them into a system that solves a challenge that we have. So we do our best to try and short circuit the technology development cycle by bringing in things that might be commercially available, and we can leverage right away against a new challenge.

Kaitlin Milliken: I’d also love to cover the idea of growth, have you brought in more people since you’re doing different types of projects? And do you see the number and breath of your projects expanding?

Julie Ferland: So certainly the breath of the projects is expanding. And the number that we do in a given year is expanding.

So in terms of growth, the way we think about it, our organization is meant to innovate. So we purposely keep tech work size, fairly small. I don’t think it’s likely that TechWorks will grow to over 100 to 150 people. You start developing a different team dynamic in that environment.

What we have done to scale though, is we’ve sent folks in TechWorks out into the world. So when we work with a business and develop a new way of working, often the end state of that is for a couple of the people that came into TechWorks, that then feel a deep level of ownership in a new line of business, to go over and work in that line of business and carry that product forward or carry that way of working forward. But not as a consultant, as a do-er, as an actual entity in there.

Ultimately, Shell is an energy company. It’s not a technology company, which is a bit of a transition for a lot of my staff to take on, we don’t think about IP as kind of our crown jewels, because we ultimately are likely to license out any technology so that Shell can use it across its lines of business. And by doing that, it gives us a lot more opportunity to work on something, hand it off to a third party, and then work on something different. So it kind of allows us to grow and expand our horizons without creating the kind of natural gaps as an organization grows to a larger size.

Kaitin Milliken: Other than sending talent into the larger organization, what other factors have contributed to success at TechWorks?

Julie Ferland: So the successful projects we have are really the ones where we are able to go interact with the people that are going to hold the technology we’re doing, we’re working on, in their hands. And we’ve learned that you can identify a problem and have executives that identify an area to work on, but to truly make an impact, you also need that end user feedback. And so we spend a lot of time in the field. And we spend a lot of time interacting with the people that are actually going to hold and use the tools we develop. And the lessons we get out of that are so much more valuable in developing the right set of requirements that in many cases, what we think technology will be most valued for changes when when you actually put it in someone’s hands. And they come up with the idea and say, “Well, this is really neat. But man, if it could do this, it could really impact my way of working.” And so really getting those user stories and spending the time to work through that with end users has been very instrumental in the type of things we do.

Kaitlin Milliken: I’d love to pivot to the innovation process. So you’ve taken that user feedback, and you’ve iterated, when do you know that a project itself is ready to be scaled?

Julie Ferland: For the most part for our projects, it happens organically. So we tend to have a buzz that gets created around something that we field. So if we put a technology out into the manufacturing sector in Shell, the manufacturing managers all talk to each other. They hear what one person used and how they can leverage it in their business. So we tend to get requests that way.

The other thing that my team gets the unique capability to do is to see parallels across businesses that might not be intuitive. Shell’s a big company. We can be honest that there are silos inside the company. And it is not always obvious how something that has great effect in an upstream business might also deliver great value in new energies or in retail. If you’re doing schedule optimization, that’s not just a problem in projects or in wells, it’s a problem that we all see. And you can erase the kind of very detailed requirements and get to a solution that can be leveraged across many different use cases in the company.

Kaitlin Milliken: Spreading the technology happens organically. Do you find that because everyone’s talking so much they’re coming to you and saying, hey, I want that thing that the other team has? Or do you have a more structured rollout that happens alongside that organic word of mouth?

Julie Ferland: So I think in the early phases, we tend to try and find the right early adopter. And then there’s a bit of the adjacent to that early adopter, that might be the fast followers. We also have a very structured process. So we have a Technology Deployment and Replication team that actually sits over in the Netherlands and has units across all of Shell’s business areas that work closely with our assets to understand their challenges at each phase of their development, and to try and marry technologies, whether they were developed here at TechWorks or elsewhere in the R&D organization with those challenges. And that’s their sole area of focus. We work closely with that team, because they have that more global spread. So they can quickly replicate something that might have been developed in Malaysia, with the Gulf Coast or other areas of the world through through the mechanisms that they have in place globally as part of the company. So we leverage both.

Kaitlin Milliken: You spend a lot of time talking about the anecdotal feedback from users. Are there any other more qualitative metrics that your team really think are important to this scaling process?

Julie Ferland: It becomes very binary, whether the scale happens or not. And so the two pieces that we see there are the market. And when we go to commercialize the technology, it becomes obvious where the market sees the value in what we’re bringing to the table. And that helps to determine the level of scale we go on. So we’ve had examples where we’ve spun out a company because the market was so much broader than even the energy sector. And it has just made sense to let that company go and fly and scale beyond the bounds of what we might see, and beyond the bounds of what core energy sector suppliers might see.

Yet, we’ve had other examples on the other side, that are technologies that really are niche. And it doesn’t even make sense to attempt to commercialize and we’ll publish the IP and and build one or two of them to fit a specific use case. We have an example of that, that was very well suited for regulatory environment in one particular area of the world, that regulatory environment doesn’t really exist anywhere else. So build the tool, deliver the value there, and don’t scale.

Sometimes that’s an even harder decision, then when to scale is when to not scale. That obviously, if something’s going to scale — globally and very broadly — you have to ensure that you are addressing the kind of technical debt you build up when you’re building prototypes and ensure that you’re staying in front of that so that you can scale when the time comes. Whereas if something really is a one off, you don’t need to worry about that quite as much. And you can do a bit more rapid development and just get it out there.

Kaitlin Milliken: So my final question is me just picking your brain for a little bit more advice. Do you have any tips on either how to scale your initiative, or how to scale these individual projects for the other innovators out there?

Julie Ferland: The biggest challenge, I will say, is that as technologists, and I am guilty as charged, we tend to think about the maturity of the technology and the ability for the technology to succeed. It’s very easy to forget about the change management for the people that are going to ultimately use the technology. And so we have seen technology that we know delivered value, we know that it’s being embraced. But when you look at what it requires to change in the process of how we do our business, we ultimately shelve the technology.

That often doesn’t fall into your risk factors when you’re developing a technology, and it’s hard to swallow for technologists who [say], “but it’s really cool and it works.” But sometimes, even the coolest things or the best technology isn’t what goes forward, that there is a factor of ensuring that it can be adopted and embraced and that you have the right buy-in. That’s a real challenge, I think to figure out how to capture that and best gauge it along the way so that you don’t go down a path that results in a great product that doesn’t get adopted.

Kaitlin Milliken: So a lot of it is not only picking what to scale, but also building the right environment for it to thrive and grow.

Julie Ferland: Absolutely and making sure that that environment exists as you develop the technology, that there’s some things that you can develop. And know the technology might be ready, but the world isn’t ready for it until perhaps sometime in the future, and then knowing when to bring those things back up when the world is ready for it.

Kaitlin Milliken: So not every idea should be used at scale. Innovators need to assess what can achieve adoption and determine the roll out strategy from there.


How else can teams prepare to scale new ideas? To find out, we sat down with Colleen Drummond. Colleen leads the innovation labs at KPMG Ignition. In her role, she focuses on disruption, signals of change, and new business models. We should also note that KPMG is a sponsor of this podcast episode and InnoLead’s recent Benchmarking report.

To get us started, can you start off by describing what scaling is and how teams know that they’re scaling their ideas?

Colleen Drummond: I’d be happy to, Katie. When innovation gets scaled, it actually becomes part of the fabric of the business. And ultimately, it becomes apparent in the financial results. There’s some kind of demonstrable result that either generates revenues or reduces costs, and it’s visible. So customers see that something new is happening. It changes things. So you may see new habits, new preferences, shifts in NPS scores. Operational people get bought into it. And ultimately, those around the organization, start accepting it and see that it’s something that’s here to stay.

Scaling isn’t a one and done thing. It’s not at one point in time, we scale. You scale from when you have an idea to when you pilot. You scale again from a pilot, to a proof of concept, to a business case. And then often, depending on how you’re executing it, it may be to executing a partnership, or how you’re building internal capabilities to be able to scale to the external market. And then ultimately, how you scale to get to actual revenues.

Beyond the phases, there are also different models for scaling. So you may be scaling for design of a product versus manufacturing versus the distribution. And it’s good to understand that there are different phases and models because there are nuances.

Kaitlin Milliken: So scaling is great once you get to that point, but there may be some challenges along the way. Can you describe what some of those are, and how teams can work through them?

Colleen Drummond: Scaling — meaning that can you actually get innovation into the business — is challenging because of corporate antibodies. And those antibodies come in different forms, ranging from competing priorities, which often revolves around budgeting and money flows and allocation of resources. But there can also be some deep seated cultural nuances.

On the budget side, in our experience, competing priorities often arise, because original plans don’t contemplate what it will actually take to scale. And so as a result, there are multiple questions that get overlooked that can cause big issues down the road. So things like what’s the expected ROI? Who’s going to fund the scaling? What’s it going to take to operate going forward? And who’s responsible for that? What are the soft costs? What does it take to keep it going? At what point does it stop being innovation and start being business and budget as usual? A lot of authority questions around money that often aren’t on the table at the outset.

Kaitlin Milliken: So you mentioned all of these questions. How can teams plan to eventually have to answer them and also plan to budget for scaling?

Colleen Drummond: Really knowing where you’re at in the process, and what information is actually available based on where you’re at. Because sometimes it can be, and when you’re in the idea stage, it can be counterproductive to burn a lot of cycles on ROI and deep business case plans for scaling. But to be able to know that that’s out there, and that there are certain points where it becomes much more important, particularly when you get to a business case stage and you’re asking for more than a small sum of money. That’s where it can become a bad surprise. If the full extent of the funding in what it takes to scale doesn’t get factored into those bigger budget requests.

You can also use funding models where you invest a little early while you’re exploring and keep some funds and reserve an ability not only to test the concept, but to start testing what some of the scaling could look like.

Kaitlin Milliken: One pain point we hear from our members is that sometimes to scale initiatives, you have to hand them off to teams outside of the innovation unit. How do you ensure a successful handoff?

Colleen Drummond: I’ve never seen it actually happen as a handoff. I think the idea of scaling being a relay where you’ve got a baton that’s being passed between one team and another is where things fail.

In the idea and the concept, you have to figure out how to bridge between two worlds really, because the idea is coming from the innovation world. And you have a team of people where that’s been their baby, where they’ve really invested their time and energy to bring it along. And you know, to [laughs] basically not even a baton but to take that baby and just hand it over to somebody else who doesn’t have the history and all the knowledge that went behind it, introduces significant risk into the process.

So where we’ve seen it done best is where you actually have a joint team. That is the team that had the innovation coupled with people who are really good at getting things into the organization. And people who are good at scaling, know how to work the organization. They know who to influence. They’re great collaborators — not say innovators aren’t great collaborators. Because the skills to scale are often different than the skills to innovate.

Kaitlin Milliken: Another thing that you mentioned last time we were together was parlor rules, and how that plays into scaling. Can you explain what that means?

Colleen Drummond: Parlor rules are often unwritten rules about how the organization works, how decisions get made, who actually has influence where the real power resides in the organization, who are the power players, both formal and informal. Often this parlor rules are evolved over time, sometimes over decades. And there’s no manual. The rules aren’t written down anywhere, they’re just known by the power players.

By the way, with power players, they’re often multiple layers. So you may have execs with name titles, but there is a parallel universe that goes along with them of the people who are getting things done. Being cognizant of that and actually taking the time to understand those rules can have a big impact on getting the buy-in and getting the right decision making.

And especially in this world of navigating between innovation scaling, you really going between innovation and the business. It’s about roles and responsibilities. It’s about allocation of resources. Being able to to know who are the leaders with the ability, and the influence, and the drive to scale is key. You can actually map influence diagrams to help unpack the power structure and understand how to tap into the right leadership engagement.

Kaitlin Milliken: And in terms of influence diagrams, can you just give a little background as to what that means?

Colleen Drummond: It’s who has influence over what is really what it comes down to. And that’s a function of both accountability, decision making, but also money. And often the owners of the economic budgets are not always the ones who are the decision makers on the project, but they have to be influenced to allocate the money. So it’s, it’s knowing the players how they fit with each other, who has influence over what, and then what are their key drivers? What are the things that are going to impact their decision making,

Kaitlin Milliken: Knowing the rules and knowing the right players, that’s really great advice. Do you have any other closing tips that innovators should know when they’re scaling their ideas?

Colleen Drummond: I do. One of the key things that we see tripping people up is really understanding what kind of innovation you’re dealing with, and how that impacts scaling. And in particular, much of the new innovation that’s happening today is impacting business and operating models. And that has implications for your organization, both in terms of how you make and spend money, and more importantly, for scaling.

The more transformational the innovation, the more difficult it is to actually scale it within the existing organization. And that’s because new business models tend to cannibalize existing businesses. And so they’re impacting people’s day jobs. And they also often don’t have a natural home in the organization. So when you’re going to scale you don’t know where to put it, or there’s not a landing pad. There’s not somebody who’s, who’s receiving and welcoming it. In fact, you often have people who are combating it, because it impacts the economics of their business. So just knowing and understanding the business model innovation, and that when that’s there, it can create conflicts over allocation of resources.


Kaitlin Milliken: So scaling shouldn’t be an afterthought. Teams need to build the right foundation, secure support, and gather the right resources to grow new initiatives. After laying the groundwork, you’ll be able to say, “Yes, it does in fact scale.”


You’ve been listening to Innovation Answered. This episode was written and produced by me, Kaitlin Milliken. Special thanks to Ryan, Julie, and Colleen for sharing their insights.

For more from our 2020 Benchmarking Innovation Impact report, check out While you’re on our website, listen to more of this podcast and read our most recent case studies. If you loved this episode, rate us and review us on Apple Podcasts. That helps other innovators find the show.

Thanks for listening and see you next time.


Special thanks to our sponsor KPMG. As a leading professional services firm, KPMG provides innovative business solutions and audit, tax, and advisory services. They’re also the sponsor of our 2020 Benchmarking Report, which provides insights and best practices on innovation based on input from over 200 innovators at big companies. The report provides key guidance on how to build a network of champions, secure budget, create the right project portfolio, and much more. Gain new perspectives on innovation, get the report at