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Future Forward: iD8 Lessons Learned & Advice to Others (Part 3/3)

By Otto the Octopus

January 10, 2019

The iD8 cohort after their final pitches at the Innovation Showcase

This year, Store No. 8, Walmart People and Technology launched iD8, an internal Associate incubation bootcamp in partnership with Techstars. The pilot program took place in Bentonville, AR over the last several months and was a success for both Walmart and Techstars. In this 3-part interview series, we’ll cover what iD8 is and how we got it off the ground; the challenges, successes, and day-to-day of the program; and finally, a retrospective with advice for other companies who also want to inspire entrepreneurship and innovation internally. First, be sure to readPart 1 and Part 2.

What was the result? Who won?

Laura Sanders (LS): Remember that team that had to pivot in Week 6? Well, that all-female team was both the judges’ and the audience’s favorite! Their idea adds convenience to online grocery.


How are you working with the teams, and the judges, to help get these projects implemented?

Sharat Alankar (SA): Fortunately, because the right stakeholders have been involved throughout the evolution of each idea, follow-ups and next steps have been moving along smoothly. In order to maintain visibility and address any potential roadblocks, the Store No. 8 team has been in weekly contact with each iD8 team.

Looking back, what would you have done differently to make the program even more successful?

SA: I would have given ourselves more time to plan. From initial idea to launching the application process was less than 3 months, which was especially short considering the sheer number of stakeholders that needed to be brought in for various decisions and the amount of event planning needed. My colleague Molly MacKenzie (Program & Project Manager, Store No. 8) joined the team just as we started planning all the logistics, and I would definitely recommend having someone dedicated to that piece on your team — she was essential to the success of the program, and I wish we’d had her on board sooner.

I wouldn’t have handled the program structure, content, or scope any differently, though, because most of the decisions made were suitable for a pilot. For future programs I would expand in terms of geography and business scope. To expand geographically, we’ve discussed running multiple cohorts in various locations simultaneously and bringing all of the teams together for final Innovation Showcase. In terms of business scope, we scoped out key business problems and application prompts with 3 business units (Central Operations, Supply Chain, Services) for the pilot, but would expand to other business units for future program.

LS: I think the program was set up very well. One thing that stood out was the physical space that the participants got to work in. I’m not sure we understood how important that would be, but I really appreciated the space made available to us and that teams had their own rooms. Consistency, availability, and privacy of a separate location was really vital to the program.

What advice do you have for other companies/communities that want to implement something like this?

SA: My advice to others who are thinking about doing this would be to think about the program holistically:

  1. From the beginning, it’s most important to remember why you’re doing it. Have high-level goals that will drive the program and get stakeholder buy-in. Our goals, as mentioned in Part 1, helped us get involvement from executives, business leaders, and various levels of management -- all of which were crucial to the program’s success.

  2. During the program, be sure to communicate to external stakeholders and involve the community. We sent all the stakeholders bi-weekly status updates, so they stayed informed and excited about what we were doing. We also made sure to bring in both internal and external speakers and mentors, as we mentioned in Part 2. These speakers helped keep programming fresh and interesting for the participants, but also exuded innovative spirit; had driven interesting projects both within and outside of Walmart; and had skills the participants were developing -- thereby exemplifying and reinforcing the goals of our program.

  3. Lastly, maintain momentum after the final pitches, because a program like this never really ends. For the participants, we are still helping them pursue their projects, while encouraging them to stay in touch and maintain a community. For the Store No. 8 team, we are already thinking about next year and starting to plan! Doing a program like this is a big commitment, but it’s incredibly rewarding and I could not recommend it more.

What do you hope the participants take away from this experience?

SA: I hope the participants take the approaches they learned, in particular how to break down a complicated problem and iterate solutions for it, then apply them to their day jobs, because a major goal of this program was to develop Associates’ skills. I would also hope that, in addition to applying these skills themselves, they spread it to their teams and colleagues, and in a way, become ‘ambassadors’ for iD8. Beyond skill-building, I hope they maintain relationships develop more of a community with their teammates, the other members of the cohort and the mentors.

LS: At the Innovation Showcase, when they finally received executive feedback on their ideas, it solidified that this type of thinking really works. I hope each team gets to move forward with their projects and that they have made a connection with people who can help them throughout the remainder of their career.

I also hope they remember the encouragement of the mentors and speakers. Partway through the program, one comment was, “you are all operating at the level of any great Silicon Valley entrepreneur.” It was the first time I had seen their full pitches, and this was the feedback they got. I feel so proud of the teams and I hope they do as well.

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