By Sphero CTO Jon Carroll

Sphero Product Accelerator, also known as “SPA Week”, is an event that’s hosted twice a year at Sphero HQ. No, it’s not as glamorous as being at a Day Spa for a week, Zoolander style, contrary to how it sounds. Ideas are what SPA Week is all about. Everyone in the company sets their usual day-to-day aside for 1 week in order to form teams, ideate, and prototype future Sphero product ideas. At the end of the week, the groups pitch their ideas to the entire company, ranking the ideas we’re most pumped about and pursuing the concepts that have sparked the most interest. This gives everyone at Sphero, from our awesome interns to the CEO, a platform to pitch their ideas to the company.

While other companies have dedicated R&D resources, it doesn’t necessarily include the voices of the masses. We learned that we’re able to come up with more innovative products by getting everyone involved in the process. We believe that anyone can have a good idea, but that good idea also needs time for growth and exploration. SO, we dedicate an entire week to the pitch, giving the teams enough time to build prototypes, do some testing, come up with a business plan, work the financials, do market research, get creative, and get weird with it. This also allows everyone in the company to contribute (AND HAVE FUN), even if they don’t have an idea to pitch themselves.

There’s a reason Julie is our Associate Creative Director

With Sphero’s 4th SPA week in the can, we’ve tried a few different approaches on the concept. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Initially, we had asked participants to quick-pitch their idea to kick off the week, and recruit their own teams to help work on their project. Turns out this didn’t really work that well and had pretty low participation, even though we had some great ideas out of our first go.

Pretty self-explanatory.

As we were planning for our latest SPA week and thinking of how to solve this problem, we decided to assign everyone to several teams. When the suggestion of using a Harry Potter theme came up, it was a no brainer. Um, YES PLEASE! The Sphero crew is no stranger to wizardry, so we took it and ran with it. On the first day of SPA week, we held a “sorting ceremony” where everyone was sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses (Hufflepuff REPRESENT!) (ed note: He’s a Hufflepuff.)

J-Mac representing Gryffindor & his old stomping ground, Redmond High School

Each house was appointed a boy and girl prefect to lead the house, organize brainstorms, hold daily standups to share progress, and coordinate pitches from the team at the end of the week. There would be one daily “just for funzies” competition where houses competed in games like butterbeer flip cup, pop-a-shot contests, or giant connect four, for no reason other than classic team building and a brain break.

To cap off the week, Friday pitch day was a spirit day where everyone dressed up in their house colors and the true witches and wizards wore their robes. At the end of the week, the team with the most points accumulated in games and participation was awarded the House Cup. As you can see it ended up being a close competition between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but unlike in the books Slytherin barely pulled out ahead. And Ravenclaw really did give it their best.

At Sphero we’ve found SPA week to be very helpful in giving everyone a voice in our product roadmap. The Sphero Mini, one of our most successful products, was something that came out of the very first SPA Week and is available in the market as we speak. We can’t wait to share what else is in the pipeline thanks to SPA Week.

Sphero SPA Week has now become a fun tradition that the team looks forward to every year. If you’re interested in how to run your own product accelerator, here’s how our schedule for the week looks, plus some do’s and don’ts for good measure. Happy brainstorming, friends!

Schedule:

Friday

Afternoon — Assign teams, present focus categories, let teams meet and do brainstorming.

Monday — Thursday

Teams have daily standups to share ideas, progress, ask for help

Daily competition, unrelated to the ideas

  • Flip cup
  • Connect 4
  • Rock Paper Scissors (best of 3)
  • Basketball pop-a-shot
  • Sphero driving relay
  • Spirit day, best dressed team award.

Lunch and snacks brought in to give lots of opportunities for casual discussion and ideation at the office.

Office hours to get feedback on ideas and pitches

Friday

Teams each given a time block to pitch as many ideas as the team agrees on.

Survey sent out to company asking for their feedback and interest in the ideas.

Raffle small prizes between teams and pitches, raffle tickets given out based on number of points from competitions.

What we have learned:

Do

  • Give the company areas to focus their ideation around — it doesn’t just have to be products. Creativity loves constraints.
  • Have fun competitions and team building outside of it just being about ideas.
  • Bring in lunch and create lots of opportunity for casual social interaction.
  • Assign people to teams that have names and themes. This gives people a sense of community and responsibility.
  • Assign team leads and help define their responsibilities. Make sure the leads want this role and don’t surprise them.
  • Give teams resources to buy equipment and parts needed for their prototyping and exploration.

Don’t

  • Let people self select into teams or individual pitchers. This results in many people opting out.
  • Make it a competition around “the best idea”. The value of an idea is very subjective and the pressure of competition may hamper creativity. Make the competition around fun things un-related to pitching
  • Gate what ideas can be worked on during this week by having initial pitches. This can be intimidating and can hamper creativity.
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