(Photo by Margaret Roth)
Just over two years ago, Anna Goodridge was in her senior year as the first female captain of the Johns Hopkins University’s BAJA team, a student group that is challenged to design and build a one-seat off-road vehicle, then test it, race it and pitch it.
The competition, run by the Society of Automotive Engineers International, requires students to push the mechanical abilities of the vehicle to the limit through an intense series of racing and maneuverability events and test their business skills through design and sales pitches, competing against hundreds of other entries from across the United States and the globe. It was through this team, and building four different race cars, that she found her passion for design, engineering, and collaborating with others to make.
Now in her first role as a mechanical engineer for the agile innovation group at Stanley Black and Decker, Goodridge helps teams across the company source and prototype innovations.
“I really enjoy having a problem that I work all the way through, from the very early sketch on a napkin stage to a physical prototype, I like that process,” she said. “But it’s the collaboration that our teams have on the day to day that motivates us to keep our products rolling.”
We met up with Goodridge and got the full tour of Stanley Black and Decker’s Makerspace, located just off the engineering campus in Towson, to learn how the innovation team works with groups across the company’s Craftsman, Black & Decker, and Dewalt brands to help fuel ideas, remove barriers, and test whether or not a new innovation should make its way into the product roadmap and eventually to the shelf. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does innovation look like in your organization? How does your team help make it happen?
At Stanley Black and Decker, we have different innovation groups for our different teams. Most innovation teams work on projects that are specific to their group or specific to different product lines. For example, our infrastructure business has an infrastructure innovation group and our power tool group has their own innovation group. I work for the agile innovation group that works for all of these different groups — we’re the innovation team’s innovation team.
In the core of Stanley Black and Decker, the main focus is to work on bringing products to market and doing that with incremental changes along the way. The teams are really focused on the objectives they have on getting product on the shelves and to market. So our team helps make the space for further idea generation and innovation. When a group has a really innovative idea, but maybe it doesn’t fit into the product road map right then, they can submit the idea as a challenge to our Drawing Board, our internal crowdsourcing platform. There, different groups host design challenges and open them up to the whole company for ideas and input.
The Drawing Board platform has been really instrumental in helping get ideas elevated. It’s great because people from all across the world in all different functions participate. You could be a finance person working in Germany and submit an idea about an off-lighting tool. It’s really interesting to see all of that collaboration and really interesting to see ideas come from all different parts of the company.
Once the challenge-hosting team selects a winner, the idea gets turned over to our team. Usually there is about one to three months of work on my end to prototype the idea. We go through brainstorming around the idea to see if there is something else that might work better. Sometimes the ideas aren’t totally fleshed out but the idea of the idea is a good one or the general concept of the idea is a good one.
So we flesh it out, I’ll prototype it, and we’ll go back and forth with the team about how our team is designing the prototype. In a couple of months, we’ll have something to take to the product team to review. They’ll then decide how and if it will go into the product road map. Our product road is about three years, so by the time my job is done there’s still a ton of time before you will see it on the shelf.
This whole process though, it breaks down the barriers. We provide the team who runs the challenge support and they give a prize for the top three winners. Sometimes it’s an iPad or Alexa, but we give an incentive to people, and that makes them more likely to submit their ideas. When they win, it’s great, because they see our team actually working on their ideas, and they can see how they have an impact on the company.
The other big thing that our team does is run our makerspace. It started a few years ago, and is a resource for employees to come in and work on prototypes. There’s a few things that are really great about it.
We host classes here. Employees can come and learn how to use all of the different equipment we have. They can use those skills to build their prototypes but in coming here they will also meet other people in different functions and in different groups. It’s a great bonding activity and if you’re here working on a prototype, building, or taking a class with people you don’t know, it’s a great internal networking opportunity.
Innovation comes from that type of networking that you don’t get sitting in your cube all day. This space has been really instrumental in helping with innovation, and just by using tools you get ideas of what else you could do with them. Our tool library is a great benefit for employees, but it also gets your hands on the tools and gets you thinking about stuff and talking to others.
What are the things that make people successful here? What are the skills that help people good at working on innovation?
It’s really important for our team to have a very diverse set of skills. If everyone is very good at two or three different things but have a broad range of knowledge, we can overlap in different areas, and that’s very useful. I’m not a master of electrical engineering but other people on my team are. So I can go to them for help and they can always provide really good insights when we are having a brainstorm. It’s also obviously important to have a diverse team of people from all different backgrounds — people who can provide a different set of perspectives.
Being collaborative and being able to work with anyone is also so important. No one wants to be in a brainstorm where someone shoots down ideas and tells people why your idea doesn’t work. That’s not good for generating more ideas. It’s really important to be a person who can build off of other’s ideas and interact in ways that are not negative. Our values at the makerspace are to collaborate, create, and accelerate. We can’t create and we can’t accelerate if we don’t collaborate first.
This team used to be branded as special forces and it was very secretive and not collaborative with the rest of the organization. Our new team that sort of grew out of that is much more open, and I think that it’s been very widely accepted throughout the company. Other groups know that we want to work with them and that we all have the same goal and the same purpose. It’s all about collaboration when we’re all trying to make the same bottomline.
How has your thinking changed from when you first graduated and the environment you were in then? How has this role changed how you approach engineering challenges?
Although I would collaborate with team members on the Hopkins Baja team and on project team members in my classes, Stanley Black and Decker is such a huge organization that you really have to do a lot of work to find out who’s worked on what, how can that benefit the team now and how can you learn from those things that came before you. I’ve learned that it’s really important to navigate through all of the different groups and through managers and through people because everybody has really good insights into different challenges that we are working on.
At Stanley Black and Decker, we have so many resources — there’s a model shop on campus, there’s a prototyping 3D printing shop. There are all these different groups that have all of these different functions and all of the people that work in them have good experience and good ideas that often relate to what I’m working on.
It’s important in my role in innovation that instead of just trying to figure it out myself — which you do in school and you do earlier in your career because you just feel like you have to get it done — it’s important to know that there are resources beyond just you and beyond your immediate team. You have to be active about going out and working with them.
What’s your advice to companies that want to create space for the ingenuity of millennial engineers? What should they be doing?
I think it’s important to give younger employees resources and sort of let them have the space to go and think outside the box because millennials and younger generations tend to naturally approach things differently.
Providing an environment with that openness and making sure they have room to know that their voice is heard puts people in an environment where they know it’s okay to take a risk. If you fail, it just adds to the creativity.
I think that’s a benefit of the innovation team here. We know that not every idea that we come up with is going to be a success, and so when we do have these failures and projects get killed it’s not put on any one person. If my prototype does not move on and a core team does not take it and move it forward — it’s no failure of mine.
It’s good to get feedback and advice from people who have been here for a really long time to know why things fail and to know why they don’t move on. I like being able to ask teams and people who have been here longer than me, “Why?” What did something never make it into production, what was the problem with it? Where did it go wrong? What happened to the idea? It’s not a failure and it’s nothing to be mad or sad about.
You get really good insights from asking why did something not move on and you generate good ideas that way. Asking people about things makes everyone feel that their ideas are still valued. And being reflective about things allows it to still be a win. We can always learn something from something that didn’t move forward because there’s always knowledge that’s attached to that.
What is the one something that you do every month to make time for yourself?
Our makerspace is great as an employee resource not just for prototyping for our jobs but also for making things for personal projects as well. It’s great for me because I’m learning to use different tools and I’m being creative in ways that are not part of my everyday role. I get excited to put a plan together and then execute that plan and see a finished product. I’ve been interested in woodworking lately so I’ve been making wedding presents for my friends.
I recently made a cribbage board and it was made out of a piece of cocobolo, just a beautiful wood, but I’d never worked with a piece of live edge wood before, so this was a new experience. And I got to use the ShopBot! I’m more frequently a metal worker, and when you work with metal everything comes out exactly, there’s less variation in the end result than in what I envision to begin with. Whereas with wood, I have to go with the flow because it doesn’t always machine the way you want it to.
It teaches me to let it go a little bit, which is always a good lesson to keep in mind.
Connect with Goodridge on Linkedin.
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