Find out what the TomTom Lab is and why it works from Alex Kröller, Head of the TomTom Lab.
The TomTom Lab has evolved from a mixture of previous hackathons and other innovation programs. In the innovation portfolio, it covers the exploratory bottom-up quadrant. That's corporate lingo for "let people do whatever they want and hope something good comes out of it".
And good things are coming out of it: our recently released developer toolkit for electric mobility came out of an earlier program. As did the IFTTT integration for the TomTom GO Premium. In the first year, we invited engineers from a prospective customer, a German automaker, to join us. In just 24 hours of collaboration with TomTom'ers, they were able to integrate our solution with their vehicle — dissolving any doubt about our product and paving the way to one of TomTom's biggest deals.
How has the TomTom Lab achieved this? Let’s have a look at the recipe for success.
The TomTom Lab recipe
Slack time for employees
Nobody can think clearly while keeping too many balls in the air at the same time. TomTom decided to set aside nine days, organized as three separate events, throughout 2019 in which employees could stop working on their day jobs, and focus on specific innovations instead.
There were no approvals or checks on how employees were using the time. We deviated from swim lane formats ("spend x% of your time whenever"), because in a B2B context everyone's calendars are filled with their customers’ deadlines. That makes collaboration difficult, and having the same days everywhere overcomes it.
A structured program
It is not advisable to control the content of ideas — after all, it's about leveraging the creativity of participants. Having said that, imposing an activity structure is fruitful, especially when 700 people are involved.
In the TomTom Lab, teams are iterating through two fast feedback cycles. They are free to spend their three days however they want, and by the end of the third day they can submit a documentation of their results.
Then, senior leaders, product managers, and other experts provide written feedback with numeric scores, so the outcome can be ranked. While taking this feedback into consideration is not a must, it is always helpful – especially when that feedback is positive and proves encouraging to the teams.
This sequence establishes an innovation funnel — great ideas survive, lesser ideas are either improved or abandoned. The best ideas are then invited to the annual finale – What the Hack – for a 24-hour hackathon ending with pitches and demonstrations in front of executives and product managers.