Let the Ideas Fly

The below post was printed with permission and written by David Moskal, Innovation Engineering Black Belt at inVision Edge in Winnipeg, Manitoba:

We’re using paper airplanes to unleash innovation.

Just like Ricky Bobby said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” If someone else beats you to the punch, you’ll be missing out on a huge opportunity.

So, how can we push for speed while innovating? The answer, PDSA cycles. During an innovation project, we push to run these cycles as quickly as possible to keep things moving forward and so that good ideas can become a reality.

What is a PDSA Cycle?

A Plan > Do > Study > Act cycle of learning is designed to help you identify and overcome ‘death threats’. Relax, it’s not what you think, but they are very real roadblocks that can potentially kill innovation projects.

Plan: What is the desired outcome?
Do: What will we do to achieve the desired outcome?
Study: What did we learn?
Act: Based on the learning, what’s our next move?

Death threats: What are the potential problems that can kill your idea? Through a cycle, we analyze these three aspects of each threat:

  1. Is the death threat real, or merely a perceived problem?
  2. How impactful is the problem?
  3. Can we solve the problem or pivot the idea to make it work? 

Getting started on your PDSA cycles

When listing potential death threats, prioritize them from biggest to smallest.

Let’s pause for a second. When a typical adult has a to-do list, what items do we naturally take care of first? The easiest of course! Well… when we are talking about death threats to a new idea, we should always take care the biggest problem first, then work our way down to the smallest.

Why do we do this? It saves time. If we can’t overcome the most significant threats (i.e. government regulations), then we won’t waste any time solving insignificant issues. Once we’ve removed all roadblocks, it’s full speed ahead into development. 

So why the paper airplanes?

During one of the exercises in our Innovation Engineering Quick Start Program, we build and fly paper airplanes to provide a framework for demonstration. It’s simple and fast, and it sparks creativity and collaboration. We task each team to create a new and innovative paper airplane and provide the top death threat to overcome.

The participants build and fly their paper airplanes while simultaneously performing this PDSA cycle to learn more about the potential death threat:

Plan: We are hoping to achieve ______ (metric) with our airplane which will address ______ (death threat).
Do: We will build and test different paper airplane models to hopefully achieve the Plan.
Study: Did we achieve the Plan? (Yes or no – why or why not?)
Act: What is our next step?

Some teams overcome the death threat, others pivot the idea to make the death threat irrelevant. It’s the perfect exercise where participants can experience this innovation process that takes an idea through to the execution phase, quickly and effectively—and of course, it’s a lot of fun!