Few companies have launched an innovation workshop series with as much intensity as NTT Data, the IT services division of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph. Tokyo-based NTT Data has about 76,000 employees in 40 countries, and its 2014 revenues were $13 billion.
NTT Data’s workshops are short — under three hours. They typically have about 30 participants from diverse parts of the business. In 2014, they held 11 workshops in cities like Phoenix, Toronto, Barcelona, and Beijing. This year, the company is planning another dozen, with a specific focus on disruptive digital innovations, according to Naureen Meraj, senior global director of digital engagement and social gamification for the company. The workshops are “a great way to get employees thinking about innovation in the digital space, especially since it is so important for our clients right now,” she says.
Highlights from our conversation with Meraj follow, along with some slides that offer an overview of the workshops’ benefits.
“We always encourage people to volunteer. But because we don’t know the people in the city, we do rely on management there to gather up the folks to attend. Sometimes everybody attends.” Meraj caps participation at 45-50 people. “The bulk of our folks are IT consultants, but we’ve had HR folks, admins, salespeople, and business analysts also participate. It’s open to anyone, and we especially encourage junior-level or field employees to participate, as they’re the ones with the insights and fresh ideas about particular industries. We see it as an extension of our employee engagement initiatives.”
Many NTT Data employees work at client sites or remotely, so the workshops offer them “a chance to meet folks at different departments.” Meraj says that its important for junior-level and field employees “to have a voice in innovation and creating solutions.”The workshops are based on the Open IDEO methodology, getting participants to not just generate ideas but explore their feasibility, viability, and desirability.
- “The last couple years, the design challenge in the workshops was ‘how to help clients get products to market faster.’ We chose that because it hit everyone — it was agnostic to what vertical or industry people were from.”
- “Now, the workshops are focused on digital innovation — how disruptive technologies can help different organizations meet their goals.”
- “We give them the design challenge as a group. Then, we brainstorm around what kind of topics or subtopics are relevant to that particular design challenge.” Meraj and a colleague (usually Chief Technology Officer Imran Sayeed) typically “coach” the brainstorming so that participants understand how it works.
- “We spend about 30 minutes brainstorming ideas, and then narrow them down to the top six.”
- “We divide people at random into six teams, so they can meet colleagues in different areas of the organization, with different backgrounds.” In other words, they can’t group themselves with friends or colleagues.
- “We ask teams to come up with a solution based on one of the top six subtopics, and to think about who the idea is going to impact, and who it’s relevant to. Do you present it to the CIO, or the head of HR?”
- At the end of the workshops, participants from each team get a chance to pitch their project in front of a panel of judges. The judges choose a winning solution from each city. Then, each year, judges evaluate the winning solutions from each city, and narrow that list down to three or four semi-finalists. They get to attend NTT Data’s annual global innovation summit; this year’s gathering took place in Rome last month.
- The eventual global winner gets their solution funded, along with a nice prize and a trophy. “They also get to be part of the team that works to develop the solution. It may get funded by a client, or it may be something they’re developing on a prototype internal basis first.” The 2014 winner was a project called Expresso, which created a real-time analytics dashboard for software projects as they progress, with different views for project managers, business unit leaders, and the CIO.
- About 800 employees have participated in NTT Data’s workshops so far, Meraj says. “Even if their particular team does not win, we have seen many individuals become more proactive with their work and contributions to innovative solutions. In fact, these workshops really allow us to find hidden talent within the company – regardless of whether they are from the winning team.”
- The workshops have also gotten NTT Data thinking more broadly about innovation, and how different solutions and ideas may work better in different environments and cultures. “Hearing about the solutions that our employees across the globe come up with validates the fact that there is no straight and narrow path to innovation,” Meraj says. “Based on where the people are, what is important to the people within a certain region of the world, innovation will be defined differently, and impact the local people and companies and clients there differently as well. So doing these workshops really helps our management think of innovation from many diverse angles, and how it could or should benefit people from a multi-cultural perspective.”
You can download the complete presentation in PowerPoint form from our Resource Center.