The needs of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, one of the busiest airports by passenger traffic in the world, are constantly evolving — whether the team is reacting to a local emergency like February’s winter storm in Texas or a global one like the pandemic. This can make planning projects far in advance tricky for Jodie Brinkerhoff, the Vice President of Innovation at the international hub.
Her team is relatively new, founded about two years ago, and she is still figuring out how to balance future projects with the present and effectively measure the group’s innovation efforts.
“We’re right now going through a process of looking at…anything that was either suspended, or turned over to the business, or tested for the purposes of learning…with a backwards lens. [We ask], ‘What happened? Where did it go? How long did it take?'” She says. “But I think we’re still in our infancy with regard to using our data…to improve the way we work. We’ve barely scratched the surface.”
This interview with Brinkerhoff is a part of InnoLead’s most recent research report, “Developing Innovation Metrics & Reports That Really Matter.” For more data and interviews on how big companies are using metrics to track innovation, visit the main report page.
What are metrics that you use to gauge the success of your team?
One of my core targets is very simply the number of tests executed in a year. … Some of our programs are designed to help the core business… There are four portfolios: evolutionary, which is…natural iterations of the core business; revolutionary, which is new [projects,] not being done today; differentiate, [projects that] differentiate us from another airport…; rapid learning, which is “let’s go play with the purpose of learning about this.”
I have a target balance of the number of projects in my portfolio. At any point in time, we want a mix of those things. Some of the evolutionary things…take longer because you’re doing them in the mindset of, “Okay, this is going to have to go to scale.” So it’s much, much slower than our rapid learning, for example, which we can pick up and run pretty quickly with.
What tools are you using to track these metrics?
We are not there yet. We started with a homegrown system that our IT group was using. It didn’t meet our needs at all. We moved to a Google spreadsheet that we had someone who was pretty adept modify for us. We are in the process of moving to an innovation platform, but it’s been extremely difficult. We’re months into trying to get our reporting done, and we’ve just not been able to get there.
We want to look at [metrics], by portfolio: How long are things taking to get through our system? And also by department. Do we move faster with certain departments? Depending upon what stage, can we go in and reinvent the way we work in that particular stage so that we can move faster? We’re so hungry for all that data, but we don’t have it yet.
How do you report metrics to senior leadership?
I publish a monthly report, and it is done painstakingly by the team. I am fully transparent and I send it out to all of our senior staff. Our CEO is one of the first people to read it every single month. On the first page, we have highlights, we have a pie chart that shows who we’re working with, what types of projects we have active, and how many ideas are in our pipeline, and how many have gone through the number of stages. …
On the next page, I show a graphical representation of our pipeline and the stages of all the projects that are in there with a quick summary. Subsequent to that, I have one summary slide for every one of my projects. Then, I have a summary page that shows all of the stakeholders that we are engaged with. … What that does is it says: “This is the project. These are the departments that we’re working with, and these are the people that we’re working with, and also outside partners.” So that if any one executive says, “Oh, I’m not involved in that,” or “I should be involved in that,”…they can call me and say, “I’d like to put someone into your team to represent my department.”
That monthly report goes out no later than the 7th every month. I’ve started to put in some storytelling. I try to use pictures of us out on campus or working with other teams, just to remind people that we are partners. We are collaborative, we are available. … I do report on my budget because I have a project budget. I report on any upcoming training opportunities or thought leadership opportunities that we’re bringing to the table.
It’s a great tool because no one can say “I didn’t know you were doing that.” While everyone doesn’t look at it every month, if they ever needed to know where we were on something, they can pull it up, reference it, and get in touch with the people that are associated with that project.
After gathering data, do you have a rule of thumb for deciding when to push a project forward or kill it?
I like to sit there and say that our preliminary phases should take about a month… But…on some of the things where we’re helping the core business, they take longer, they have more people involved. Just to get a meeting on the calendar takes a little bit longer. We have a mechanism by which we can leave things in-stage, or we can put them on hold, or we can transition them to the business early in the process. It doesn’t have to go all the way through the process. I’m happy dropping stuff out at any stage.
But I don’t like putting things on hold for more than three months. It can hold for three months, but then we’re going to be having a really, really tough conversation… And that’s okay. My whole thing is, “Let’s move it forward or move it out.” … With airports, [we have] all hands on deck related to COVID, all hands on deck related to this freeze.
Anything that’s future-looking tends to get deprioritized anytime there’s a flare. … But I still need to move the ball forward. We try to be very accommodating, and we try to get short meetings. We try to push as far as we can without involving people if we don’t have to.