How do you make innovation everyone’s day job? Teresa Giuffrida, Mirvac’s group general manager of innovation, spills the tea.
Mirvac was already on a steep innovation trajectory before COVID-19, but the pandemic created the conditions for fast and furious innovation and has “supercharged” people’s desire to think differently, Giuffrida says.
“The rapid of rate of change in 2020 gave us that capability lift and new insights into our customers.”
Giuffrida leads Hatch, a team established in 2016 to drive a culture of innovation throughout Mirvac. While many innovation teams are established as standalone business units, Hatch partners with Mirvac teams to identify and solve customers’ problems. While developing disruptive innovations will always be a part of Hatch’s mandate, “we balance this with a strong focus on embedding innovation so that it’s part of Mirvac’s DNA,” Giuffrida explains.
Hatch’s approach to innovation has broken down the perception that innovation is an elitist or enigmatic activity reserved for a select few. Anyone can approach Hatch with a challenge, problem or opportunity. The Hatch team then helps to identify a creative solution using a proven innovation methodology.
Hatch also recruits innovation champions who receive intensive training to understand the end-to-end innovation process. So far, a quarter of Mirvac’s workforce has been trained in Hatch’s innovation methodology, and more than 100 business projects have applied Hatch’s innovation methodology.
Mirvac’s approach to innovation has already delivered dividends. The Australian Financial Review has recognised Mirvac as the most innovative property and construction company for the last two years, applauding two game-changing projects, Cultivate and BuildAI.
Cultivate converts unused urban spaces, like carparks and basements, into food-producing ecosystems. Urban farms at two Sydney offices, 200 George Street and 275 Kent Street, were used to grow a range of produce. Office workers in both buildings learnt about sustainable food while local cafés harvested the mushrooms, leafy greens and microgreens, cutting down food miles and packaging.
BuildAI, meanwhile, uses live data from cameras to monitor activity, make building sites safer, and to reduce the risk of workers falling from a height. What started as a Hatch project has since spun out into its own start-up, led by Mirvac’s former senior project engineer Kristian Butcher.
School to supercharge innovation
With more than 100 projects applying Hatch methodology, Mirvac has established the Hatch Innovation Capability Accelerator, or HICA – essentially a “school for innovation” that teaches people the theory and skills they need to run their own innovation projects.
“Anyone can teach innovation theory. It’s another thing to apply it – and apply it where it matters,” Giuffrida explains.
“But since HICA, we’ve seen a ripple effect run through our organisation as people start to apply innovation theory to something that matters to them. They are running experiments using our lean start-up methodology and hosting their own ideation sessions.”
This takes us back to COVID-19. As pandemic panic was growing, Mirvac’s response was to conduct a scan of every customer segment “to understand how COVID-19 would create long-term change to customer preferences and behaviours”.
This gave Hatch a baseline to track shifts over time. “We can’t put a dollar value on these insights,” Giuffrida says. A company-wide portal was established to share the challenges facing retail centres and “crowdsource” solutions from across the business.
This led to a range of smart and swift innovations. Drive-thru facilities at shopping centres ensured food tenants could continue to service their customers. Retail space was repurposed to help community groups distribute food hampers and care packages to vulnerable community members. Both low-tech solutions illustrate Mirvac’s attitude to innovation. “We define innovation as ‘change that adds value’,” Giuffrida explains.
Teams are now working on missions that cut across the whole organisation, from new services for customers to new asset uses to new ways to collaborate with suppliers.
Fail fast, succeed faster
Giuffrida emphasises that good ideas are only just part of the success story. “We have a graveyard of failed ideas that perished because they weren’t desirable to our customers. And I think that's the point. You have to be willing to fail and fail fast.”
The tech sector has mastered this ‘fail fast’ attitude by removing the stigma associated with failure and focusing instead on how the knowledge gained increases the probability of future success. Giuffrida agrees.
“You can’t focus on always getting it right. There's a lot of ambiguity in innovation. You have to place a lot of bets – and they have to be lean bets so you don’t spend a lot of money on something that no one wants.”
So, it’s ‘test early, fail cheaply, succeed faster’?
Giuffrida says Hatch is focused on learnings rather than failures, with innovators encouraged to share across the business. This supports further experimentation and boundary pushing.
Giuffrida says one of her biggest rewards is seeing her colleagues take back Hatch’s methods to their own teams.
“Just recently, I was excited to see a facilities manager fleshing out his idea on a lean canvas, using the methodology he had learnt through HICA. Once upon a time he probably thought innovation was this ‘fluffy’ thing, but since learning skills through Hatch, he’s found a new way to test his ideas. That’s how we create an innovation culture.”