How to scale an intrapreneurship program globally with DHL Start-up Lab
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From 2019 to 2021, we worked with the team of DHL Start-up Lab to scale DHL Group’s intrapreneurship program globally. We are thrilled to be able to share some of that work in a very public way: DHL Start-up Lab is releasing the DHL Start-up Lab Playbook: How to turn ideas into innovation within a large organization.
DHL Start-up Lab was the intrapreneurship program of Deutsche Post DHL Group, enabling employees of the Group from all around the world to leverage new technologies and incubate new products, services, and business models. Between 2018 and 2021, DHL Start-up Lab incubated 46 projects, of which 23 have been successfully implemented long-term inside or outside of the Group so far.Johannes Naumann, Head of DHL Start-up Lab
When we started working together, DHL Startup Lab was already supporting innovation projects worldwide. DHL Startup Lab was looking for ways to make its intrapreneurship program scalable and to give many more teams a chance to validate their ideas, we helped them do this using Lean Innovation.
The main elements of scaling the intrapreneurship program consisted of creating:
- a physical Playbook,
- a stage-gated funding approach
- a structured way of working for both the team members and the coaches
- innovation boxes to go fully remote
- GroundControl to help intrapreneurs with the new way-of-working
In this blog post, we’d like to dive a little bit deeper into each of the elements and how they helped DHL Start-up Lab scale.
The Playbook is the result of our joint efforts to scale the intrapreneurship program and make it fully remote. The playbook is the foundation on which the rest of the program is built. It helps intrapreneurs to start working on their ideas on their own and use the playbook as a guide to go from a great idea to a successful innovation project.
The Playbook describes step-by-step what intrapreneurs can do to test their most risky assumptions at each stage of the program, starting with the Problem, all the way to Scale. It explains what experiments could be helpful to test that assumption and how to execute them properly, from doing customer interviews to setting up proper POCs and even starting with Growth Hacking to scale their ideas. It explains concepts like validated learning, evidence-driven innovation, and the importance of stakeholder management.
It is truly a practical guide how to turn ideas into innovation within large organisations.
Stage-gated funding approach
Although the playbook is the end result, we started smaller. Together with DHL Start-up Lab we first defined a clear innovation framework to support the intrapreneurs in the right way at every step of their journey.
We split up the program into three phases and created a customized NEXT Canvas to help the intrapreneurs better understand what to focus on and when.
We refined the key questions and graduation criteria, so the decisions to continue to the next phase of the program could be made more data-driven, instead of looking at qualitative indications and the quality of the pitch.
By running experiments, the intrapreneurs were working to answer the following key questions:
- Is there a Problem worth solving?
- Do customers want your Solution?
- Can you build your Solution?
- Can you build a Business out of your Solution?
- Can you Grow your business?
Structured way of working
To be able to help a bigger group of intrapreneurs, located on five continents across many time zones, we also needed to structure the way DHL Start-up Labs coaches supported their teams and train them in doing so.
We set up a rhythm of two-week sprints and started to ask the same questions to each team at each session:
- What stage are you currently in with your project?
- What is currently most risky?
- How can you test that?
- What have you learned from that experiment?
- What are your next steps?
By having this structure in place, innovation teams were able to work in a more structured way, and it was easier to share information about projects between coaches, which also made it possible to interchange coaches every once in a while to keep a fresh perspective, without losing a lot of time onboarding. Every week, the coaches would discuss the projects and help each other improve how they helped the intrapreneurs.
To help all the intrapreneurs work in the same structure, and document the learnings in a central place, we implemented GroundControl. The intrapreneurs had access to their customized NEXT Canvas with all their assumptions, including a way to determine which assumptions were most risky. They used custom test cards to create good experiments, and within their kanban board, the intrapreneurs could divide the work amongst team members to execute the experiments. The learnings from the experiments could then be used to answer the key questions to go to the next stage. They could even generate a pitch straight from GroundControl with all information necessary to present to the Innovation Board.
Going fully remote
When Covid-19 hit the world hard in early 2020, we were surprisingly well equipped to continue our work with the intrapreneurs, since most of the work was already done via video calls and our online environment, due to the large distances involved. We had already experimented with online workshops earlier that year and decided to move everything we still had planned online as well.
The Playbook was essential to teach and explain the way of working and the experiments to the intrapreneurs. We decided to create physical books and not just an online version, so the intrapreneurs could make notes and work together when they had the chance to be in the same office. We also shipped hundreds of “Innovation boxes”, containing the playbooks, the customized NEXT Canvas, and other tools needed to complete the program.
One of the biggest lessons from DHL Start-up Lab was to walk the talk. Just like any innovation project, start small and iterate fast. Understand what is currently most risky for your innovation program and what you can do to de-risk.
Innovation programs need to act upon the same principles which they teach to the teams they support. You need to focus on what your customers (the teams and/or your management) need, run experiments and iteratively learn from them, constantly improving your program and maximizing your speed of learning so that in the end you are creating real value. Only this way the teams you support will take you seriously. And only this way your management will continue to pay your bills. One way we used to get started quickly and then learn along the way was to use an off-the-shelf structure for the first batches of our program and then subsequently build a completely individual setup from scratch for later batches.Johannes Naumann, Head of DHL Start-up Lab
If you’d like to read more about the learnings from DHL Start-up Lab, they wrote a great article about the Learnings from running an Intrapreneurship Program at Deutsche Post DHL Group.
Download your copy of the Playbook
To help more intrapreneurs than just the DHL employees, DHL Start-up Lab and NEXT Amsterdam are releasing the full Playbook to the public. We hope it can help you on your journey and give you the same support as the dozens of teams we have helped in the past two years.
Timan Rebel has over 20 years of experience as a startup founder and helps both independent and corporate startups find product/market fit. He has coached over 250+ startups in the past 12 years and is an expert in Lean Innovation and experiment design.