From Panic to Power Platform: How We Built !nnovate Fest 2020
- Posted on July 6, 2020
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
At Avanade, our mission to be the leading digital innovator requires us to understand client challenges of today and envision (and bring to life) possibilities for their tomorrow. That’s why the ! program is so crucial to our work and our culture – it provides a forum for our employees to get hands-on experience to tackle our clients' most significant challenges and learn the tools and methods for bringing innovative ideas to life. After a series of regional events,this internal program always culminates with our live !nnovate Summit in June. It’s an incredible event that brings Avanade people together from all over the globe; this year’s summit was set to take place in Toronto.
As you might have already guessed, that didn’t happen. In early spring, as COVID-19 spread across the world and ballooned into a pandemic, we turned a worried eye to our approaching summit date. Our team had spent months organizing the !nnovate Summit, lining up speakers, booking the venue, planning the program, and selecting ambassadors to travel from near and far. So much was at stake and up in the air – it was a confusing few weeks as no one could quite predict when or how the virus would hit North America. Here’s our story, and a few things we’ve learned over the past (fast) few weeks.
With a North Star, the rest is just tactics
With some disappointment, we took our cues from other major events being canceled or postponed and agreed that a live ! Summit could not happen in June 2020. But there wasn’t time to dwell on our disappointment. We had to keep the spirit of innovation top of mind at Avanade, even if it meant completely rethinking a we’d worked on for six months and delivering a new one in about a month. Without a platform, template, or a precedent to fall back on, we were in completely uncharted territory and had to move forward, fast.
We took a deep breath, and we took a risk. We knew whatever we did would be an experiment of global proportions. But we never strayed from our North Star: to make innovation accessible and achievable by all.
Don’t be afraid to rethink big
Our team started with design thinking sessions to bring out ideas, looking for inspiration from within Avanade as well as other events that were going virtual.Whatever we came up with had to be inclusive and global, which ruled out live webcasts and time-specific presentations. We asked “how might we” questions to get more creative: How might we make this truly a global experience? How might we engage every level of our organization? How might we make this fun? How might we make this interactive?”What emerged was a vision of a month-long, engaging, and educational journey through the four pillars of our Innovation Architecture: Dig Deep, Show Courage & Imagination, Make Innovation Real and Get Future Ready, all delivered through bite-sized micro-learning modules and activities.
It takes a village
With a lean, multidisciplinary team working across time zones from Seattle to Singapore, ! Fest 2020 began to take shape, drawing inspiration from summer music festivals. We organized the daily content into festival program segments like Opening Act, Main Stage, Jam Sessions, Backstage Pass and Encores. We developed and launched a brand-new innovation podcast series called The Next Thing Now, created video modules, harvested inspirational TED talks, and came up with a variety of hands-on, interactive exercises. And to bring this program of content and activities together, we gamified the whole experience, awarding points for every module and stoking a little friendly competition among our employees through leader boards.
At the same time, we connected with Ramon Miranda, Executive, Tech Innovation Officer, who had recently led a month-long in Iberia utilizing the full Microsoft ecosystem including Power Platform (PowerApps, Power BI and Microsoft Flow). This framework, plus the development team’s expertise, was the accelerator we needed to build out the ! Fest 2020 experience in just four weeks!
Break through the noise in the system
It’s natural to get completely caught up in the tech, design and the million little details of the experience you’re building—and easy to forget you need to get people to the party. Aside from the time constraints and heavy content production, we also had to pique people’s interest and drive registrations to an unfamiliar event during an extremely hectic time in our business: the rapid global response to support clients and employees through COVID-19.
Why should employees care? What will they get out of the experience? What will they learn? These were just some of the questions we wanted to incorporate into our communications, which targeted all talent communities at all job levels. And once employees joined us on the journey, we wanted to define new ways to bring the micro-learning to life by reinforcing the content through quizzes and points boosters.
Embrace the constraints
It’s clear to me now, looking at the arc of the challenge, that canceling the Toronto Summit and launching a global virtual event created the perfect opportunity to put our innovation practices into action.
Within a short window of time, we pivoted, experimented, embraced the constraints and got creative to make it work. We got hands-on with technology and tools and navigated new learning curves.
Innovation almost always comes from friction points and constraints. It’s imperfect, uncomfortable and messy. Sometimes you must place your faith in something you don’t fully understand and can’t see. You need to be willing to learn, flex and adapt in real-time.
It’s gratifying to hear feedback from Avanade employees at every level and all over the world– from how much they enjoyed the program and the festival theme, to suggestions for making the content more accessible. People are also reaching out to ask about how we can bring this unique platform to their teams and clients; it’s exciting to know our little global experiment has inspired others this way.
If you’d like to talk about how we built it or ways you can apply the same experience and technology, please reach out to me!