Taco Bell Uses a Demo Day to Teach Innovation Internally

Taco Bell Uses a Demo Day to Teach Innovation Internally

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Many innovation teams struggle to integrate with the rest of the organization. Or as Avery Block from Taco Bell’s Digital On Demand Team puts it, “You can function like an island sometimes.” To keep other teams abreast of developments, On Demand holds "Demo Days" to show what ideas the team is working on, from prototype to launch. It's the first step to integrating with the rest of the organization, and a way to bring cross-functional partners along.

How Taco Bell Organized the Inaugural Demo Day

  1. They invited the organization to participate. Four weeks prior to the first Demo Day, “We opened up the Demo Day to everyone, and invited every department," noted Block. "We also leveraged our internal communications team and team portal to invite each department to our Demo Day.” In addition to reminders in internal email newsletters and calendar invites, executive leaders sent personal notes inviting each team to attend.
  2. They set up a dedicated space. Think about the experience from an outsider's perspective. For Taco Bell, that meant dividing up their room by project phase so that, Block explained, "when people walked through, they first went through the prototype section, then the MVP section, and finally the scale section.” The On Demand Team wanted the experience to walk people through each stage gate, and help people see how much changes from phase to phase.
  3. They told a story about each project. Surprisingly, “Each team lead was responsible for setting up their space. People created visuals, handouts, demos, or prepped walk-throughs in advance.” Block noted that it’s important to have a different narrative for executive leaders, as they’ll likely ask different questions for each project.

The response from the Demo Day was far greater than the On Demand Team even anticipated. In just two hours, over 100 people visited the space. Block further noted that “there was a lot of anticipation to get a glimpse into our team, and we were really fortunate that we got equal representation from each department.”

Teach Better Ways of Working

It's tempting for innovation teams to hide away from the organization and only emerge once they have a finished project—indeed, many of the most famous innovation teams got their start as "skunkworks" or in a separate location. But in order for innovation teams to truly succeed, they must ultimately integrate with the rest of the organization, infusing new ideas and better ways of working. At Taco Bell, “People definitely learned how we’re working differently, the work itself, and the structure and fluidity of our team,” said Block, “but now we have to address the follow-up questions, where people were asking ‘How does this apply to me and my team? And when can you share more of your process with us?’”

Takeaway: Innovation teams must be responsible for openly sharing what they're working on and how they work. The success of an innovation team should be measured not just by what they deliver, but also how they influence the rest of the organization's processes.

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