We know that we need to innovate in order to meet the future. At Aller Media, we believe that a lean methodology is one way of getting there. So, we have sent lots of employees from all departments to Lean Startup and Design Thinking workshops and courses. And the response has been very positive. Even people who attended dutifully but with lots of scepticism came back satisfied and motivated.

And then the recurrent problem arose: When people left the workshop bubble and came back to work, they returned to their existing responsibilities and habits.

This left us with hard questions to answer: How can we break the existing patterns? What needs to be done to make an agile and experimental approach to product development and innovation a part of Aller’s DNA?

One hypothesis seemed obvious: People need to work lean with actual problems while at work. And they have to want to do it.

This is why we made Aller Debut, a four-week programme that aims to reach and create internal innovators from all potential corners of the company — and to give them time and space to investigate their own ideas within the safe boundaries of their regular job.

Contents of the Aller Debut box given to participants at the beginning of the programme.
Contents of the Aller Debut box given to participants at the beginning of the programme.

Aller Debut arms the chosen participants with a physical box of assets that can be utilised to turn ideas into experiments. It includes a five-step programme going from idea to hypothesis, defining target groups, empathising with the users, setting up MVPs, and attracting the first actual users or customers. The final goal is to present the findings to the top management with a clear recommendation: either to continue the project and take the next steps or abandon the project after outlining the key lessons learned from the exploration.

There are also five cards included in each box that ensures inductees are given the time, space, and resources needed. The most important asset is probably the free card, which gives participants 30 hours away from their daily routine to focus on exploring their idea, as well as a card that includes access to a technical developer (because the vast majority of the ideas put forward are for digital products).

A mentor is assigned to each project as a resource that is available throughout the whole programme. The mentor’s role is not to kill ideas, but to guide the inductee through the programme.

For the programme to work, it was important that people believed in what we were doing and that the top-level management was behind us. We spent a great deal of time convincing the organisation that the programme would add value to Aller.

We needed our colleagues to step forward with their ideas and bring their energy to the project. So we used every channel available to reach the creative souls in the company. As a general rule, finding the right person is more important than a good idea. In addition, the person who has the idea should also be the one who wants to pursue it. 

Two Aller Media employees created kode24, a news Web site for developers, one of three Aller Debut ideas that has already come to fruition.
Two Aller Media employees created kode24, a news Web site for developers, one of three Aller Debut ideas that has already come to fruition.

We kickstarted the programme at a house meeting before Christmas 2017. On two occasions, we invited employees from the entire company to sign up for a full-day ideation workshop. The response was overwhelming. Roughly 45 people attended and 15 ideas were put forward. The workshops ended with a “dragon’s den” idea pitch session in front of a multidisciplinary jury.

Three ideas and a total of five people (or internal entrepreneurs) have completed the full programme so far. One of these, kode24.no, a news Web site run by developers for developers, proved to be a keeper! Through the programme, the two participants were able to show the idea had a solid and valuable user group, that it could fit strategically into Aller's portfolio, and that it had a well-defined plan for making money. Their execution taught us about bootstrapping a new product quickly with minimal resources. It is now one of Aller's brands.

By creating an arena and training our staff to have an entrepreneurial mindset, we’re bringing innovation into the deep, operative corners of our company culture. If we get everything right, there will be no need for Aller Debut in the future. Until then, we will keep evolving the programme.

In what used to be a storage room, now you’ll find two guys and kode24 in a space designed to fit their taste. Two guys with an idea that might have been lost, or brought to life elsewhere, were it not for us allowing ideas to flourish and be put to work within the boundaries of our company. 

Numerous lessons learned, 45 active participants, 15 ideas, three programmes completed, and one idea in production has shown us that Aller Debut is pushing us in the right direction.