how to do scrappy innovation right

How To Move Ideas Forward Through Scrappy Innovation

No matter the industry, marketing and innovation has played a large role in the advancement of products and the fulfilment of consumer needs. From packaging designs for consumer packaged goods to retail store redesigns, and from new tech offerings to medical positioning, it’s always necessary to keep evolving according to consumer preferences.

In recent years we’ve seen the innovation industry trending toward the “scrappy” innovation project design—a shift from the 4-day project through focus groups to the quick-hitting, grassroots approach and getting things done as quickly as possible.

The rise of this scrappy innovation design is largely due to tighter budgets. Whether it’s an innovation, marketing, or even travel budget, it’s becoming more and more difficult to commit to 2+ days of complete focus on innovation. Things are still rolling along back at the ranch, after all, and staying away from email for a full day can be nearly impossible.  

Another contributor to the fascination of scrappy innovation is the “fail fast” approach popularized by Silicon Valley. Pumping out iterations of a product—typically software—and continually improving upon the user experience creates a sense of nonstop innovation and improvement. While the focus on the consumer in this process is the perfect mindset, the fail fast approach is more difficult to implement when it comes to tangible, consumer facing products. Logistics, prototypes and getting product in front of consumers just isn’t as easy.

But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Concepts provide a great way to showcase new ideas and get fast and simple feedback from your target consumer. As more companies take the scrappy innovation approach, we want to make sure they are doing it right. So if you’re considering some quick-hitting, scrappy innovation within your company, here are some techniques to help you get the results you want.


Planning for an innovation sprint

Prior to jumping into the ideation process and generating new ideas, it’s important to figure out a few things ahead of time. If you want a single day to run smoothly and effectively, a bit of planning is required.

Establish The Purpose

Having a clear and concise project purpose is vital. It might seem like an obvious step in the process, but explicitly defining an objective gets everyone aligned and on the same page. Sometimes the smallest detail in a purpose statement can lead people in different directions. So figure out why everyone is meeting and what the output of the project will be.

Who’s in the room?

Once you have a purpose, figure out who should all be in the room together. This will vary greatly depending on the project (i.e. innovation vs. internal strategy), but either way, we recommend getting a good mix of folks. Diversity in thought is central to group creativity. The mix of perspectives brings the group’s unique knowledge together to create ideas that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. Creativity, after all, is taking dissonant concepts and bringing them together in unique ways—that process is easier when there is more knowledge to pull from.

If at all possible, it’s great getting consumers involved in the process too (if you are coming up with ideas for consumers). Every new idea should be grounded in a consumer need, and consumers know best what they need. If they are in the room with you and generating ideas, you are automatically incorporating the voice of the consumer into every idea. The mix of consumer perspective and the business expertise of everyone at your company combine for some really unique ideas at the end.

Co-Create with Creative  Consumers associates

Preparation Assignment

Getting people’s heads into the space of the project before they enter a room together inspires idea generation from the start. If the team is game for it, design a preparation assignment that gets them thinking about the project roughly a week in advance. The assignment shouldn’t be too long, just enough to get the gears spinning. The content should also be somewhat general—you want to get broad opportunities from the team members, not necessarily specific solutions for the project purpose (although those aren’t discouraged).

The assignment allows the mind to ruminate and not explicitly focus on new ideas as your team goes throughout their normal day, setting the environment for sudden epiphanies or bursts of creativity. It also helps get the day moving when the group convenes. Instead of everyone coming in cold, they’ve already done some thinking and can jump right into the content.


generating ideas during fail fast innovation


A lot of teams like presenting relevant information to the group at the onset of the meeting to get everyone grounded in the content. This isn’t necessary but can definitely be beneficial. When it comes to these presentations, there are two important things to remember:

    1. Tell a story. Don’t go overboard on data and statistics as it causes people to tune out or shut down. The whole innovation process should be as engaging as possible, so make sure you aren’t losing anyone.
    2. Don’t go overboard on restrictions and technical limitations with logistics. While these are important to consider from a business perspective, it’s disadvantageous in the divergence phase. When generating ideas, people will focus too much on what can’t be done, restricting the quantity and quality of ideas. The restrictions should come in during the convergence phase.

Make sure that people are coming in with a generative mindset and that they jot down any ideas that may arise as they’re listening to the presentations.

Preparation Assignment Debrief

If your team does complete a preparation assignment, dedicate time to debriefing it and talking it through. Each team member should talk about their experience, as well as any insights, broad wishes, or a-ha moments they had in the process. And of course, the purpose of the day is to generate ideas, so as the group discusses the assignment, they should also be using the material as creative sparks to come up with new ideas.

Recommended Reading: How to Run an Effective Meeting


When it comes to generating ideas, it’s important to get out of the same mindset we’re always in. Creative excursions are a means to push everyone outside of their day-to-day thinking to make connections that would otherwise never have been reached. They are also an exciting way to get people interacting. Instead of just sitting people down and telling them to generate ideas, you’re giving them stim that gets them at unique ideas based on divergent connections.

One of our favorite excursions—and one of the simplest to understand—is the takeover excursion. First, generate a list of brands. They can be brands that all have something in common, or just an overall list of brands in general. Once you have a decent list, break out into pairs. Each pair picks a brand and imagines how that brand might approach new ideas for the project you are working on. Takeover gets people into the mindset of that other brand, taking qualities and characteristics, and applies it to the new ideas for the project purpose.


scrappy innovation design selecting ideas


After divergence, you are left with a plethora of ideas—hundreds and maybe even thousands. Some of the ideas are likely building blocks—they aren’t complete on their own but can be combined with others to create the bigger picture. If this is your final output of the innovation session, it can be really difficult to move ideas up the ladder.

Good old-fashioned voting is a tried and true democratic process. It shows where the group has passion and eliminates conforming to what the boss—or other important personnel—wants in the end. Plus, it doesn’t have to take place in the same day. It can be a day—or even a week—after the actual ideation takes place.

All the ideas should be compiled into a ballot that the team can then vote on. A team of 8 or so people here will work well. Too much involvement in the convergence phase can drag the process on, and scrappy innovation is supposed to be quick, after all. After voting, you’ll be left with the top 75-100 ideas that the team has passion for.

Concept Outlining

The more you converge, the easier it is to move the ideas forward. It’s difficult to onboard people with one or two sentences describing something completely new. But if there is a concept outline, complete with a consumer insight, benefit and product description, the idea starts to come to life.

The outlines can be written up in whatever format works best for your company. We like to include a working name, insight, benefit and product description or reasons to believe, but other elements such as internal notes, timeline, brand fit, etc. fit right in. The outline adds some body to the idea, tying in the consumer story and need, as well as elaboration on the idea is itself.

Recommended Reading: How to Write Winning Concepts

Concept Development

Concept outlines are for internal use. If you plan on showing the concepts to consumers for feedback, you’ll need to flesh out each outline a little more so that they are consistent and have consumer-friendly language.

Nailing the consumer benefit, especially at the emotional level, can make a huge difference when it comes to consumer perception. Just make sure you back it up in the product description with the relevant info.

A great concept can carry a not-so-great idea through consumer testing. But a great idea likely won’t carry a not-so-great concept.


Bringing It Home

From here you can go into testing for targeted consumer reactions, prototyping for optimization, or even jump into positioning language for a top idea. But depending on how you divvy up the time and which pieces you include, the process detailed above should take between one and two days. It all depends on how many ideas are desired and what level of detail you need for those ideas.

Bottom line, approaching innovation with a scrappy project design should leave you with hundreds of ideas. Just make sure to keep everyone involved, engaged, and provide them with the stimulus they need to break out into new and creative territory. At the end of the day everyone should feel exhausted, but at the same time productive—nobody is accustomed to engaging a creative mindset for 6-8 hours straight. So aside from lots and lots of ideas, you’ll know you ran the innovation process right if everyone is worn-out by 5:00pm.

Have you participated in innovation projects at work? Let us know your thoughts on scrappy designs in the comments below. 

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.