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What is TWN Labs, and what does Chief Innovation Officer do?

Sigrid Viikmaa

In the past, we have talked about Trinidad Wiseman's (TWN) culture and values, introduced our exciting work projects and our awesome new green office. You also learned how our hybrid work and salary structure work and how you can learn and develop at TWN. Since no software development can be done without innovation, we will make a detour to the innovation laboratory and talk to Hegle Sarapuu-Johanson, TWN's Chief Innovation Officer.



What is an innovation from TWN's point of view?

If you look at the bigger picture, TWN's vision is to be an innovative partner for its customers, which helps to find a balance between the task setting and realization of innovative ideas in the context of 3 essential criteria - desirability, viability, and feasibility.


3 essential criteria - desirability, viability, and feasibility

"At TWN Labs, or the innovation laboratory, we operate with all 3 criteria or their interactions, and all TWN Labs activities support our company's daily work processes in finding the right balance," explains Hegle.


How do we know that we have found a balance? We can test desirability with, for example, Neuro UX, usability tests and customer surveys. However, viability has a lot to do with service design and business analysis, and business design methodologies and metrics help to assess it.


At Labs, we also test how we handle things ourselves in the role of technical executor and how we can do things better. TWN's goal is to keep up with new technological solutions and try different things.


"At TWN, we prefer to make small changes on an ongoing basis, rather than make rare big and drastic changes," Hegle describes the company's operating principle. She explains that innovation is an unconventional change or solution for a specific purpose. At TWN, we divide our innovation projects into 3 layers according to the time perspective (we will discuss these layers in more detail below).


Why is innovation important to TWN? According to Chief Innovation Officer, there are several reasons here, but the main one to point out is sustainability. There are a lot of design companies and software developers in Estonia (as in other parts of the world), so there is a lot of pressure on salaries and service prices in the market.


We look for ways to develop our company further and increase its value through innovation. According to Hegle, it is also essential to stand out from competitors and take advantage of new opportunities and automation created by technology (efficiency in production and consulting work).

We have learned many lessons as TWN is working on around 150 client projects simultaneously. One of TWN Labs's essential tasks is sharing valuable lessons and expertise within the organization.



What is TWN Labs and how does it work?

"Of course, we did innovation activities in TWN before, but in 2021 we officially launched it in the form of TWN Labs - with our strategy, methodologies and processes," says Hegle. She explains that in addition to contributing to TWN's business growth, Labs' goal is to always provide our customers with fresh ideas and opportunities to achieve their goals.


"During the creation of the labs - mapping and analysis - we realized that we have a lot of valuable in-house knowledge. Meaning, we have the know-how of all key roles (designers, business and system analysts, developers) to create broad innovation in processes and methodologies," says Hegle.


So, what exactly is done in TWN Labs? We deal with development initiatives or (small) projects to solve a company's problem or pain points, mitigate a risk or develop and implement the methods and tools necessary for more efficient delivery in the future. To do this, we conduct (tiny) tests, experiments, and research.


TWN people in innovation laboratory


Each innovation project has its rules and management model, and in TWN, anyone who wants can participate in them and initiate them, regardless of their role. Our internal projects are paid through a salary model, and specialists receive a monthly salary supplement or bonus for this.


„60% of TWN's employees have contributed to the company's development.“


"This is 1.8% or 2865 of all our hours worked," Hegle summarizes last year's statistics and is happy that our employees are motivated to carry out internal projects as soon as there is even a short break in the client's work.


She points out that some factors holding back innovation activities are that employees are occupied with customer projects and that we currently lack several specialist roles. If you are looking for new challenges and feel that working at TWN could be for you, check out our job advertisements and feel free to contact us.



How are innovation projects divided in TWN and how are they implemented?

We use a three-layer innovation framework. All innovation activities belong to one of these layers according to the benefit perspective and are in turn divided into smaller projects with a "tangible" result and tangible scope, i.e., development initiatives.


3 innovation layers


1. The first layer of innovation - priority directions (short-term 0-2 years)
Making the provision of existing technologies and services more efficient. Activities aimed at increasing quality and volume affect more than one project.


Our activities in the year 2021: we updated our analysis methodology. We created 12 new document bases and introduced our own reference base. We were engaged in the creation of TWN business analytics visualizations.


2. The second layer of innovation - is priority new services and technology trends that can be transformed into services (with an average length of 2-5 years)

Activities are related to creating a new service, value or technology available to customers.


Our activities in 2021: We partially automated the Neuro UX test data analysis and created marketing materials and work results bases for Neuro UX. We trained and supported specialists in metrics related to web usability. We used TWN's design system Starter KIT in the projects and made ongoing improvements to it.


3. The third layer of innovation – priority business needs, problems, services and technology directions (long-term 5+ years)

Researching and testing new technologies, business needs, problems and solutions and looking for opportunities.


Our activities in 2021: We organized a hardware-game hackathon to bring the physical and virtual world closer together and develop our skills, applied methodologies and cross-role collaboration for such projects. We explored the possibilities of creating the standard functionality of a recommendation engine for Drupal websites. We developed additional metrics based on users' online behaviour.



What are the duties of the Chief Innovation Officer at TWN?

Last year's most important tasks of the Chief Innovation Officer were related to the launch of TWN Labs in a managed form: developing an innovation strategy, searching for efficiency, harmonizing methodologies and starting practices.

"We have a lot of ideas to develop further, and the task of the innovation manager is to combine and keep together the innovation steps or development initiatives so that they produce the expected result," Hegle describes her work. "At the same time, it must be clear what the expected end result is: its achievement must be objectively assessed," she explains.


The Chief Innovation Officer helps to expand the knowledge gained in Labs within the organization so that new knowledge and experience can be immediately applied (e.g. through internal training). She also helps organize in-house hackathons and workshops and supports participating teams.


Not all development initiatives are necessarily in the hands of the innovation manager. For example, area managers, team leaders and specialists manage short-term innovations and changes.



According to Hegle, in the case of a new topic, it is tough, if not impossible, to predict our ability and how long the project will take because there is no previous experience with new technologies and methodologies. Sometimes, the innovation gap can turn out to be larger than initially estimated and therefore requires more time.


Whatever help is needed, the task of the innovation manager is to support the teams implementing innovation projects by redefining the result, drawing up a plan, getting funding and everything else.



What's next for TWN Labs?

Currently, we are doing a lot of short-term innovation projects, and we don't immediately see the need for it, but within this year, we want to get to the creation of our Innovation Council. The Council helps to decide and evaluate long-term innovation activities (e.g. whether it is worthy of investment or the project's current state).




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