The Innovation Challenge at Turner. How to Prioritize Business Problems?

DSA Team

In an ever-evolving business landscape, the balance between bottom-up and top-down innovation strategies is crucial. This case study of Turner Construction Company exemplifies how a focused approach, combining grassroots creativity with strategic direction, can lead to groundbreaking enhancements in organizational innovation processes.

Our collaboration with Turner Construction Company began in 2021, marking the start of an exciting venture into innovation. At that time, Turner's innovation team was effectively driving their "Innovation Challenge Program", achieving notable success. They sought our expertise at Design Sprint Academy to further refine and enhance the aspect of problem prioritization within their program. But let's take a step back and explore the essence of their Innovation Challenge Program.

1. Ideation Phase:

  • The program begins with a company-wide call for ideas .
  • Employees at all levels contribute, offering everything from high-concept innovations to trial-phase practical solutions.

2. Development Phase:

  • In this phase, employees join structured creative workshops like Design Sprints to shape ideas into workable solutions.

3. Evaluation and Selection:

  • This step involves a collaborative effort between the innovation team and other key stakeholders.
  • Ideas undergo thorough evaluation, scrutinized for impact, feasibility, and alignment with the company's goals.

4. Implementation:

  • Chosen ideas progress to implementation, transforming into projects or new processes within the company's operations.
  • This crucial stage includes piloting, scaling, and integration into the business operations.


Despite the robust phases of Turner Construction's innovation program, it faced challenges in maintaining focus. While the ideation phase was a resounding success, yielding a wide array of ideas, the sheer volume of ideas presented a significant hurdle. The innovation team was faced with the complex task of sifting through this multitude of solutions to identify and select those that were not only urgent but also of crucial strategic importance.

This selection process was further complicated by the inherent limitations of organizational resources. In any company, resources such as time, money, and personnel are finite and valuable. The innovation team needed a methodical approach to ensure that these limited resources were invested in ideas that offered the most substantial potential impact and alignment with the company’s long-term strategic goals.

In essence, the challenge was:

How can we efficiently filter, prioritize, and progress ideas to best meet our company's strategic objectives while making optimal use of our resources?


We proposed a tailored approach - a Problem Framing Workshop right after the Ideation Phase (the global ideas submission phase). This workshop serves two primary purposes. Firstly, it concentrates on identifying key problem areas within the organization, targeting specific challenges or opportunities that need attention. Secondly, it involves developing clear and concise problem statements. This approach transforms complex issues into manageable and actionable items, that could actually be solved in the next phase: Design Sprints.


We collaborated closely with Turner's innovation team and we shaped the Problem Framing workshop to focus on participants and outcomes. Here's the breakdown:

  • Decision-makers: A mix of department heads and project executives, well-versed in both company strategy and day-to-day operations.
  • Innovation Team Members: Facilitators who guide the workshop.

Key elements included a structured format, online multi-session workshops, and thorough pre-workshop preparation.

The Problem Framing workshops - a Closer Look

Session 1

In the first session of the Problem Framing workshop, the decision-makers engage with process maps. They're analyzing them, digging deep to unearth opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed. The outcome? A thorough understanding of the opportunity landscape. It's like having a bird's eye view of the terrain, knowing exactly where the potential lies.

Session 2

Decision-makers take the opportunities they've identified and craft them into actionable problem statements. This isn't just about recognizing issues; it's about defining them in a way that they can be tackled head-on. The result is a clear and focused direction for their innovation efforts. It's like turning a vague idea into a roadmap for success.

Session 3

In the final session, the decision-makers take on the critical task of evaluating ideas submitted by employees from across the company. This stage goes beyond mere assessment; it's a strategic alignment exercise. Here, they're not just looking for good ideas – they're searching for those that perfectly mesh with the problem areas they've outlined earlier. It's a meticulous process of finding and fostering ideas that show the most promise, both in terms of innovation and strategic fit. Moreover, this session is key in identifying the standout individuals – those with a knack for problem-solving and a flair for innovative thinking. The outcome of this session is more than just a list of selected ideas; it's a carefully curated set of solutions and talents that are aligned with Turner Construction's strategic objectives. This careful curation is essential as it lays a solid foundation for the upcoming Design Sprint workshops, ensuring that the innovation path they embark on is not only inventive but also in lockstep with the company’s broader goals.

Learn more about embedding Problem Framing into the Innovation Program from Jennifer Downey, Director of Innovation at Turner Construction Company


Turner Construction's integration of Problem Framing into their Innovation Challenge Program has been a game-changer, and we see it as a smart strategic move. Here's how it's making a real difference:

  • Getting the Priorities Straight: It's all about zeroing in on what really matters. This approach has brought a sharp focus on tackling key organizational issues and ensuring these efforts line up with the company's bigger goals. Think of it as making sure every move counts and aligns with where the company wants to go.
  • Quality Ideas, Smart Selection: We've seen a noticeable uptick in the quality of ideas, and the way they're picked has gotten way smarter. This means that when it comes to moving to the design sprint phase, they're not just throwing darts in the dark. They're choosing ideas that have real legs.
  • Staying Nimble and Planning Ahead: This isn't just about reacting fast; it's about being ready for tomorrow. Problem Framing keeps Turner Construction on its toes, helping them adapt quickly to changes. Plus, it's a big help in planning for the future, addressing both current challenges and the ones just around the corner.
  • Boosting Teamwork and Innovation: This is where the magic of collaboration comes in. By bringing different minds together and empowering employees, there's a stronger sense of teamwork and a surge in innovative thinking. It's like opening the floodgates to new, diverse ideas and solutions.

In short, Turner Construction's move to include Problem Framing is a solid commitment to evolving their innovation game. It's a testament to the power of aligning strategy with a deep understanding of what the company truly needs to tackle.