Have you ever had a cracking idea? The sort of idea that just sits and simmers in your brain. Here at Atlassian, we have a team of awesome technical writers, full of ideas like these. However, keeping up with the dev teams and juggling documentation deadlines doesn’t leave much time to try new things.

The solution?

An innovation sprint!

An innovation sprint is a day set aside for the technical writers to explore new ideas related to the documentation. Giving everybody an outlet to explore these ideas is a win-win situation. As Thomas Edison once said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” We’ve implemented a number of ideas from past innovation sprints, such as “flowcharts in key guides” and “Tips via Twitter pages

How did it work?

A technical writer innovating looks surprisingly unassuming. You’d never know that they were turning brilliant ideas into awesome innovations. In fact, here are some examples of technical writers participating in an innovation sprint:

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A few weeks ahead of time, we agreed to reserve the 20th of September for the innovation sprint. Closer to the date, we nominated the ideas that we’d be working on. These ideas were discussed at our team meeting just prior to the sprint for peer feedback.

During the day, each tech writer explored an idea that they had nominated at the previous team meeting. Some of us paired on a task, while others worked solo. Our team standup was cancelled and we only attended essential dev meetings.
We wore hats. We ate chocolate. We innovated.

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What did we achieve?

We have a retrospective planned for our innovation sprint in two weeks time. However, the early results look promising. I’ve seen new conceptual diagrams, improved flowcharts, style investigations, scripts for finding broken links and conditional publishing prototypes. I’m sure that many of these ideas will find their way into our documentation.

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 Why hats? Everybody knows that a good hat is essential for innovation. Hats also help ward off pesky interruptions.

What could we have done better?

In hindsight, we should have dedicated more time to peer review of our ideas prior to the innovation sprint. Getting the perspective of other people can help you refine your idea earlier, making the sprint itself much more productive.

Guidelines for running your own innovation sprint

An innovation sprint doesn’t require a lot of structure. However, it is important that everybody has a clear idea of what they want to work on. This prevents people from unknowingly working on the same idea or turning up on the day without anything to work on.
It’s also helpful for participants to have as few interruptions as possible. A distraction can totally derail your train of thought. I posted an internal blog post a week ahead of time letting everyone in the company know that we would be unavailable on the day, except for urgent issues.
Finally, you want to make sure that your ideas are implemented. There’s no point in dedicating a day to innovation when the results of everyone’s work gets put on the backburner for the next year. Note, you don’t want to deter people from aiming high and failing. However, participants should be planning out the next steps for their innovation work, regardless of how well the sprint went.
Best of luck running your own sprint!

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