This week’s post is by Tracey Amos
In early May, MITRE’s Health Leadership Development team partnered with the Innovation Toolkit (ITK) team to deliver a weeklong Innovation Toolkit training series focused on hands-on use of several of the most popular Innovation Toolkit tools – Lotus Blossom, Mission and Vision Canvas, Problem Framing and Premortem.
The series kicked-off with two 1-hour ITK overview sessions. The overview sessions drew over 200 participants and based on feedback, provided a valuable introduction and insights into how to use the Innovation Toolkit tools. In the words of one participant: “I had only heard about the ITK but didn’t really understand what it was. The session was a great introduction to the set of tools.”
The kick-off event was followed by five days of tool specific training. Two of the sessions were structured around use cases for current MITRE projects.
One session focused on the Premortem tool training: Project Leader Iris Sherman partnered with ITK facilitators Gabby Raymond and Jonathan Rotner to build a use case exploring possible impacts of not implementing a MITRE program recommendation in its final report. Using the Premortem tool, the training session framed and explored a worst-case scenario and used the input to define an updated goal and risk mitigation strategy. In the words of one participant: “Instead of waiting until the end of a project to find out what went wrong, and learn for the future, we can use this technique to go on an “imaginary time travel” to avert real failures.”
The other session focused on the Problem Framing Tool: Project Leader Audrey Winston partnered with ITK facilitators Tracey Amos and Tammy Freeman to build a use case to examine how Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) might be applied to increase the ability of Medicare website visitors to complete routine tasks or search information without costly human intervention and to understand how other organizations serving similar populations (e.g., senior citizens, disabled, caregivers) use RPA and AI. The training session provided an opportunity for the MITRE project team to engage in a collaborative conversation with others, broadening their perspective around areas where automating processes using RPA and AI could potentially be a “game changer.” The team is confident that a compelling case can be made for further exploration in this opportunity space.
The Innovation Toolkit Training week ended with a “Meet the Authors” Roundtable event where members of Team Toolkit engaged attendees in discussion about the inspirational journey to curate the ITK suite of tools and to discuss their recently published book, The Toolbox of Innovation, a lively, playful gamebook written in a’ choose your own adventure’ style.
The Innovation Toolkit Training week was part of a suite of FY21 leadership development and training opportunities sponsored by Health FFRDC leadership as part of their commitment to “building trusted and innovative leaders.”
Throughout the course of the week, participants expressed interest in learning more about the ITK tools and how to apply them to engage their teams and their sponsors. In response, several Health FFRDC “pop-up” ITK events are being planned for later this summer! Stay tuned.
Has your project also used the ITK? Please comment and share your story!
Can I tell you a secret? For every post I publish here, there’s at least half a dozen you’ll never see.
I’m not just talking false starts, where I have a stub of an idea that ends up not going anywhere. I’m talking about whole posts on topics that don’t quite land, don’t cohere, don’t resolve into anything worth sharing. Even though I am a pretty experience writer, the truth is I write a TON of worthless stuff that (appropriately!) never sees the light of day.
And it’s not just crummy first drafts. I actually spend a fair amount of time editing, revising, and reworking material, in the hopes of creating something useful… before quietly setting it aside and starting over with a blank page.
The thing is, I can never tell whether a post is going to be worth sharing until I write it. An idea might look promising at the start, but only reveal its true value (or lack thereof) once it’s gone through a few versions. For that matter, the idea itself might not be terrible, but my ability to express the idea comes up short. That probably means I don’t really understand the idea very well. Or maybe it means I need to more sleep, more coffee, or less screen time.
The funny thing is, this willingness to create bad work and then dispose of it seems to be the secret to doing things well. Not just in terms of blog posts, but all sorts of other endeavors. When I give myself permission to create badly – and permission to toss away the results of that work – I find myself in a more creative and productive mindscape. I am free to play, to noodle around, to explore and experiment, because the pressure is off. If the thing I’ve created isn’t very good, nobody ever has to know. I can just delete it and try again.
And yes, 6 times out of 7 the result is… pretty bad. Which is precisely as expected, and that’s ok. But every once in a while a flower grows in that pile of manure. Not in spite of the bad drafts – because of them. I’m sharing this story as an invitation to give yourself permission to play, to make bad art, to delete your disposable drafts… and to keep going. You may also want to get a Star Trek bathrobe, but that’s not required.
Today’s post is by Lynne Cuppernull, one of our new members of the ITK community, plus a brief interlude by Jim Jellison
Last September, about 80 MITRE leaders in the Health FFRDC participated in a two-hour introduction to the Innovation Toolkit (ITK)—a collection of methods and techniques curated by a team of cross-disciplinary MITRE experts to help teams work together to solve hard problems. A lot of leaders learned about the tools, but did anyone DO anything with them? You are about to find out!
Charity Begins at Home, With a Pre-Mortem!
I figured I’d better be able to do what we were asking our leaders to do. So I tested out a couple of tools with some internal teams. The leadership team in my department took the Pre-Mortem tool for a spin. Just like it sounds, the Pre-Mortem involves what may come before a “death” – in this case, our department utterly and totally failing. By imagining failure, we were able to effectively land on what success would look like for us a year from now and we actually had fun imagining the utter failure (once we were able to stop hyperventilating over the perceived failures, which were pretty epic).
We also tried using the Rose, Bud, Thorn tool as a quick way to assess our weekly division leadership team meetings and came up with good ideas about how we could use the time more effectively. I love the Rose, Bud, Thorn tool because it is so easy, and you can use it with anything or anyone (including kids). It’s a simple framework that helps a group conduct an analysis by visually categorizing the positive (Rose), potential (Bud), or negative (Thorn) aspects of a topic, such as a system, product, process, meeting – you name it.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road: ITK and Sponsor Conversations
The tools worked well for us internally – but would our sponsors appreciate them? We enlisted the help of Dan Ward, one of the ITK originals, to work with us to plan a conversation with our sponsor to ensure we really understood the problem the sponsor had. Enter Dan and the Problem Framing canvas to help us work with the sponsor to understand more about the most critical problems facing this agency. We knew our sponsor worked best with a few thoughtful questions, so we tuned the ITK tool to simplify it for our discussion with the sponsor. Some of the questions we asked, in addition to “What is the problem?” were:
- Who has this problem?
- When and where do they experience it?
- What are the elements of the problem (physical, social, emotional, professional)
- What is the scope (small to big, trivial to serious, static to dynamic)
- Who else has it? Who does not have it and why not?
- Why haven’t we solved it?
Not only did we come up with one problem statement in our one-hour meeting with the sponsor, we came up with two, which we then used to frame out a couple of discussion documents with approaches, that became our next conversation with the sponsor.
ITK in the Real World: CDC and CODI
Hoping I was not alone, in late October I put out a call to all the people who attended the two-hour ITK sessions in September to see if others had tried the tools yet. It turned out some people had – yay!
Jim Jellison was one of the few brave people who went right to using an ITK took on a health data project. In his words, here is how it went:
Program: We are integrating data from clinical electronic health record systems with data collected by community-based organizations that deliver programs and services for chronic disease management.
Goal: The idea is to improve data capabilities for both evaluating disease intervention programs and conducting public health surveillance. The work involves partnerships between healthcare providers, CBOs, national associations, and other stakeholders that have influence in the locations we are conducting pilot implementations.
Problem statement: It’s the first time these partners are coming together to create this type of data exchange and there are many ways things could go wrong.
ITK in action: To identify some of those risks and build trust among this nascent partnership, we worked with the ITK team to conduct a Pre-Mortem exercise. I was intrigued with the tool yet wary of making the sponsor nervous by discussing failure. We vetted the concept with them in advance and they were game. With the ITK team facilitating the exercise, the MITRE project team was able to participate as another member of the partnership.
Results: To my relief, the session was well received. Our partners’ concerns, or what they thought failure might look like, highlighted the prospect of implementing functional data exchange but not generating useful information or sustainable infrastructure for our partners. Perhaps more importantly, by giving colleagues (and ourselves) permission to be skeptical and candid we strengthened the collaborative relationships we’ll need for this project.
Back to Lynne Cuppernull…
My hope, as we head into 2021, is that we can expand our use of these simple and effective tools across the Health FFRDC, using them with each other and with our sponsors to solve hard problems.
I am finishing up being “certified” as an ITK user and coach for others and I would love for more people to become certified too. Just shoot an email to Team Toolkit at ITK@mitre.org if you are interested. But you do not have to be certified to use the tools! Just willing to experiment and be open to new ways of doing things, like brainstorming.
We would love to hear more examples of how people have used the ITK tools–what worked, what didn’t, what you modified. Please let us know in the comments – and we will keep the information flowing about the tools!
The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF)’s mission is to promote a culture of innovation in the national security community, and Project Agitare is a group of DEF Facilitators who are passionate about putting innovation, design, and discovery skills, tools & methods into the hands of individuals across the Defense community.
When their founder, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Hulter, invited Team Toolkit to present in a training workshop, it was a no brainer for Team Toolkit to connect with fellow co-conspirators for innovation! Jen Choi and Rachel Gregorio introduced two MITRE-unique tools, the Premortem and Culture Change Canvas, that every organization should keep in their back pocket. Check out the full recording here!
Project Agitare aims to further the vision to enable innovation in the Department of Defense, by introducing a type of social technology that they call facilitated discovery. If you’d like to learn more or get involved, check out Project Agitare’s page on the DEF site.
(PLAIN LANGUAGE DISCLAIMER: we’re providing the link so you can learn more about Agitare, but it’s not an official MITRE endorsement or anything like that)