Sparks and Experiments: The Right Way to Manage and Execute Side Projects

As individuals, there is little stopping us from picking up a hobby or creating a project just for ourselves. But when it comes to an entire organization, it’s a bit harder to work on something “for fun.” There are clients to serve, deadlines to make. One ad agency has come up with a clever process to capture ideas, identify the best ones and conduct creative experiments.

Advertising agency B-Reel became concerned when it noticed that interesting internal ideas were being squashed by the steady stream of client work. The creative restraints of contract deadlines can lead to additional innovation and can certainly pay the bills, but can also suffocate other ideas.

So the company wondered: what would happen if they made themselves the client? What if they created an entire product division, meant to execute internal “what if…” and “wouldn’t it be cool…” ideas? – a take on Google’s “20 percent” time, but fit within an agency. In other words, a structure fluid enough to foster free-flowing collaboration and a model that nearly any organization can adopt.

Though the structure is always changing, there is a simple 5-step process B-Reel uses to make internal ideas into full-fledged projects (e.g. mind-control cars or a video game that prevents players from sitting still):

  1. Capture loose ideas as “sparks”
  2. Improve the idea
  3. Suggest a short experiment
  4. Execute a limited test of the idea
  5. Analyze the results and measure success

Side projects have side benefits: they maximize the existing team’s talent and ideas. At best, the team creates a product that can be shown to the world. At worst, they have reinvigorated the team’s creativity.

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