Even at the best of times, coordinating the launch of an innovation lab can be challenging. Throw a global crisis into the mix, alongside stakeholders from ten reputed housing organisations and the complexity of regulatory compliance. It might seem impossible. Here's how we pulled it off.

Rising to the challenge.

It helped that the foundation for Plentific's PropertyLab programme was set before news of a lockdown became widespread. It didn't help that we had many collaborative sessions planned - post-its, cross-functional discussions (and breakout sessions) were going to fuel a lot of learnings between like-minded organisations. 

So how do you create a digital forum for compliance best practices in the sector? And ensure innovation concepts translate well outside of a physical space? 

With Zoom, Mural (and a transcription service like Otter) on our side, we were able to get our cohort stuck into the right frameworks, gather important insights and prioritise them alongside. Here’s a timeline.

Documenting with Zoom, collaborating with Mural.

Phase I of PropertyLab (the research phase) was structured around documenting our cohort’s motivations, challenges and frustrations on fire and gas safety compliance. Like many others, we love Zoom; this enabled us to record our conversations with the cohort, gather meeting analytics and share screens during calls. Wherever possible, we made interviewees have their videos turned on, to ensure any non-verbal cues could also be picked up.

Using the JTBD framework was instrumental in collecting our cohort's thoughts - their responses became more cogent when they were asked "What job are you trying to do and what's in the way?" rather than the usual "How would you improve this process?"


Source: My Product Management Toolkit, MAA1, Medium

It might seem a simple distinction, but it's far more effective at highlighting specific issues that are making it difficult for the job to be completed to the right standard. The four themes emerging from this phase were: 1) delivering great customer service 2) ensuring properties stay compliant 3) showcasing value for money and 4) an emphasis on better data/reporting. 

Prioritising them in a collaborative environment over just a couple days was the next challenge. Here’s where we twinned our Zoom sessions with an interactive, virtual collaboration board, like Mural.


Keeping the discussion alive and dynamic.

To help with discussion points, we built a series of cluster ideas in Mural that were central pillars to our research. Then, using Mural’s intuitive boards and digital post-its, we were able to accurately simulate an environment where our cohort could gather, communicate and cluster insights based on importance and feasibility. We wanted an even mix of operational & strategic minds for a balanced perspective (and to prevent brainstorming from feeling homogenous). Zoom made this easy - its handy breakout room feature allowed us to pre-select groups so we could dive into the detail on more topic-specific conversations. 

To make sure every detail was captured, virtual transcription by Otter proved invaluable.

Here's something we pulled from our cluster on customer satisfaction - specifically based around the cohort's emphasis on increasing touch points along a customer's journey.


A consensus on key issues

A lack of common truth, disconnected compliance dashboards, one-too-many a spreadsheet that won’t sync up. There was ultimately lots of agreement about the key issues in ensuring and automating key aspects of compliance. Even with variations on how far along certain organisations may be with implementing new processes or systems, the priorities remained consistent. To prevent the workshop feeling exhaustive, we dotted our prioritisation phase up with crucial tea breaks - which we find go a long way in keeping the momentum going (even virtually). 

Next steps

Now that the cohort has reached agreement on the key priorities for the Plentific team to focus on, as a Product and Design team we’re able to begin building prototype designs to begin solving some of the key challenges faced across compliance. In the next workshop, we’ll be presenting key wireframes, customer journeys and design screens, actively taking on feedback in terms of logic and user interface/experience.

The right mindset makes all the difference.

We hope you found this insight into our virtual lab helpful, and somewhat of a guide on how you can run a workshop even with odds stacked against you. When bringing our cohort and facilitators together for our workshops, we quickly realised that all the tools to innovate in a goal-oriented (and virtual) fashion are readily available today - what can often make all the difference is getting the right group of blue-sky thinkers and innovation leaders together. If you build a safe, structured space for them to tackle major issues head on, great change can happen in a short span of time. 

If you found these insights useful and want to learn more about the exciting innovation coming out of PropertyLab, join our mailing list below.