Urban Development

Scaling up innovation:
Using design practices to build organizational capability and effectiveness

Dream, an award winning Canadian real estate company with $15 billion of assets under management in North America and Europe, engaged us to help their urban development team address changes (and challenges) resulting from rapid growth. Together with their 44-person internal team, we were tasked with surfacing internal and customer-facing challenges, and developing a prototype playbook for the team to engage with each other and the market in new and dynamic ways.

We kicked off this program with a set of team interviews that we used to begin to surface some themes for what was working, and what wasn’t. What emerged was a set of wicked questions — questions which seemed paradoxical or contrary: e.g. How might we gain more structure in how we do things, while still remaining nimble? How might we build competitive advantage, while remaining opportunistic? Teams were organized around 7 of these wicked questions.

The program followed the flow of our Innovation Project Framework (Discover, Diverge, Develop, Deploy), and so began with a phase of design research on each topic. Teams set out to interview each other, the executive, partners, and customers to fully explore the topics, and try to uncover specific problems to solve. From there, teams defined the problems to be solved by developing requests for solutions: (e.g., We need a solution for A, because of B, C, and D). This was followed by a phase of rapid ideation and the development of concept prototypes that were ready to test, and the “bones” of a playbook for their path forward.

This project activated a number of new team dynamics and capabilities:

  • Approaching large-scale and complex problem solving using our an innovation framework: Discover, Diverge, Develop, Deploy
  • Working in cross-functional teams to incorporate alternate perspectives and challenge current mindsets
  • Practicing the art of creating well-designed prototypes, and executing low-fidelity tests to “fail fast”

Through this work, the team put aside their assumptions and mental models, and allowed current thinking to be challenged — two key hallmarks of highly innovative cultures.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this project was the size of the team, and the scope of the innovation work that Dream is undertaking here. They are applying innovation project practices to address all aspects of how they work together, and deliver value to partners and customers. This first phase of work challenged the notions that an innovation team must always be small, and that getting everyone involved would get messy and scattered. Their project outputs are concise, well-researched, and testable, and the team is well on it’s way to re-imagining how they build their future success.