Establishing a Fablab or an innovation lab can seem to be an easy task: some couches, bright colors on the wall, a funny atmosphere and some tools like Business model canvas and a 3D printer.
Of course setting a disruptive work environment is important to establish the good state of mind for your visitors and users. Once you focused on the « Why » and have a clear view of your objectives, limiting a Lab as this very narrow definition is a major mistake. Doing so one will miss some of the most important characteristics that will make a Lab a successful innovation and empowerment tool.
The Lab is not only defined by the tools and the furniture you put in. It is also a question of philosophy and atmosphere in the meaning that people should understand immediately that this place is not just a funny meeting room or another “management puppet”. So what is the main point that will consciously or unconsciously convert people from the natural passive attitude to the desired active behavior leading to prototyping, experimentation and learning which are key for the Lab’s success?
Appropriation is the keyword. People coming in your lab should feel empower. They should feel that everything is here for their use and purpose. Nothing should impose them any choices and everything should be adaptable to their needs and their way of feeling the work they have to do.
That’s the key.
However it is not an easy task to achieve such an atmosphere. I would say that there is two major factors that will definitely help to establish this strong relationship between a location and its users.
Of course your lab is built around areas that are defined according to your culture, your need, your budget and your goals. But all the tools, equipment and furniture should be modular. One should be able to redesign the space according to its needs and feelings. Modular couches can be found on most of the furniture shops, invest in foam seats that can be easily repositioned around the space, set movable separation walls, put workbenches and tools on wheels, have your tables movables by sizing them properly.
Modularity is very important to avoid a too standing area and having people arriving in a known environment. Surprise regarding the place is as important as the fact to come in. setting a new workplace every time is very good for creativity, challenging the status quo and at the end, for innovation.
However, be sure that your Lab will have some anchor points to avoid teams to spend too much time looking for basic needs. Coffee machine. Coffee machine should be one of this anchor point. Look trivial but coffee machine is one of the places where most of the team will go on pause and thus it is one of the most social points of your Lab. Having people looking around to find it is both time consuming and stress generating. The second most important anchor place should be the printer. No one wants to run around the place looking for his/her last printing. Having the printer set in one place will provide the necessary structure to the Lab and help people to organize the space around.
Be sure that your team can appropriate the area of your lab and rearrange it the way they want. It is key for the success of your innovation lab.
Provide the necessary support
One anchor point that I have seen lately is the manager desk. Not really a desk in most of the cases, just an area with the necessary equipment. It help people who seek assistance not to search for a while and head directly to the right place.
However this introduces the necessary support you should plan for the users of your Lab. Not intrusive, not mandatory, this support can be a full time manager or a trained professional available on the phone. This support must exist.
Using a lab is not straightforward. Using tools, setting a prototype, defining a MVP, working on a business model are tasks that may require help, from advices to leading workshops. Making it available to users, project managers, intrapreneurs and innovators is a good way to have people involved in your lab and most important, having projects and initiatives delivering the awaited results. Using a Lab is not a goal by itself and must be seen as a spark that will enlighten a project and making it delivering faster. Having the needed supports both on methodologies and on uses of tools will ease these results and will allow people to be more and more independent when using the Lab.
As a conclusion, paint the wall in Orange, buy a 3D printer, put nice coaches and carpets but most important, don’t fix your Lab and help people to use it.
If you need help to define your innovation space, contact us!