In a post last week, we described the idea and results of Slack’s Mission Control Day, based on Pixar’s brainstorm day experiment detailed in president & co-founder Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc. Catmull described the event in broad strokes, so when the big day was upon us, we were left to improvise.
Here’s how we went about planning our Mission Control Day, plus some insights peppered in to help you take the reins in planning your own.
Lead-up to the event: heaps of planning
- Pick a date. One not too far off into the future, but that gives planners enough time to prepare—most likely about a month. You want the day to feel like a spontaneous, creative event for participants but know that it takes tons of planning and organization for the team setting everything up, so it’s a delicate balance.
- Pick a theme to give the event focus. Pixar’s theme was about making their movie productions more efficient. Slack’s theme was to ‘operationalize everything’. How specific is up to you, but the output falls into predictable patterns: an open-ended, general themed event will get more wide-ranging solutions than an event with a more targeted or specific focus.
- Open up a discussion channel to let employees propose sessions and let it run for a week or two. Ask organizers for a title, description of the problem to be solved, and what they hope to gain out of the session. It’s ok if the last part is light on details; a lot of Slack’s brainstorm sessions only settled on takeaways after an hour of group discussion.
- Know your limits (literally). The number of conference and meeting rooms at your company will be your limiting factor on how many concurrent sessions you can schedule. Ask participants to vote for the specific sessions they want to attend, and schedule sessions as space allows. You’ll want to repeat very popular sessions that can’t fit in one room.
- Keep things moving and set firm time limits. Four hours total (10AM-2PM) worked great for us, and wasn’t as big of a disruption as the entire company missing a complete workday. The first 90 minute session began at 10am sharp, with lunch served 11:30am-12:30pm, finishing up with a 90 minute session that ended at 2pm. People will feel freer to join in in whole-brained fashion if they know when they’re going to be able to get back to their to-do list.
- Prepare session leaders before their big day. Have a meeting where organizers learn how to hold productive brainstorming sessions (stress a lot of “yes, and…” instead of shutting down ideas) and have a discussion channel dedicated to session organizers where managers can follow up after the event and check on progress.
During the event: ensuring success
- Provide pens, paper, whiteboards, markers, and projectors in each session space.
- Provide food on-site to keep teams together and their creative momentum going.
- Take photos of whiteboards, save URLs to presentations given, and designate a note taker in case everything isn’t captured by the person up at the whiteboard (session leaders will find it hard to facilitate conversation and get everything on the whiteboard at the same time). Have session leaders write detailed reports on the content covered immediately after each session.
After the event: capture, share, and track progress
- Ask session leaders to compile their reports into a public channel over the next 24 hours after the event. Organize all session output for attendees to read after.
- A day or two post-event, have an all-session-leaders meeting where leaders can propose plans to implement their group’s ideas and develop timelines and future deadlines.
- Use a project management app to track progress on ideas being built out and share it with attendees to keep tabs on the work being done.
- Finally, hold a recap a month or so after the event to get everyone on the same page and remind them how much good came out of the event. Doing this also lets everyone highlight the hard work of both the participants and the session leaders.
Mission Control Day required a great deal of planning and it was challenging to manage hundreds of people in dozens of rooms across offices. But the event produced lasting changes in our business processes.
Good luck, and if you decide to try this out at your own company, let us know. It’s good, you should.
Matt Haughey visits Disneyland each year in early Spring, like the swallows of Capistrano.