Innovation needs process change

change aheadJeffrey Philips currently wrote a nice piece titled “Innovate your processes before innovating your products” over on his excellent Innovate on Purpose blog. In that article, Jeffrey argues that before a company can innovate its products/services, it must innovate its processes if it hopes to build a sustainable edge via innovation over its competition.

When I read Jeffrey’s post, I found myself nodding at everything he wrote. While the need to focus on innovation in your product / service line is a real one, many organizations completely miss the need to look at process change to support these innovations.

Jeffrey provides a good example in his article on why process change is needed. He writes:

..most product development processes do a poor job allocating resources and establishing priorities, and are bogged down with poorly defined projects and inadequate staffing levels.  It’s exceptionally rare for products to exit the process on time and on budget.

Anyone that has been involved in an type of project management or product management role will immediately agree with the above statement. Heck..anyone in IT will immediately agree with this statement.   There’s never enough people or resources to do everything, yet it feels like everyone is asked to do everything…and do it now.

In addition to the resource issue, there are many organizations with outdated and ill-informed processes for getting things done.

I recall an IT group in the not too distant past (we are talking 2008-2009 time-frame) that required a change request to be manually filled out with pen/paper and then handed to a secretary. This secretary would then take the change request form around to get signatures from the necessary people and then FAX the change request to the change management team.  Mind you…this team was located in the same building, yet they required a faxed copy of the change request.

The above example might seem like an outlier (and maybe it is) but I’ve run across many outliers like this in my career. Companies are so focused on the new and innovative that they forget to look internally at their own processes.

In order to truly innovate your product and/or service line, you need to look at your own processes first. It may not be as ‘sexy’ as building that new product, but its just as important (or maybe even more important) than that new product.

Back to the example I provided earlier. That company could not have delivered an innovative product or service and sustained that product/service.. In fact, they tried a few different things and even started an ‘innovation group’ to focus on innovation but the majority of ideas that came from this group where stonewalled by the arcane processes found within the company. It wasn’t just the IT group that had out of date processes…every part of the organization needed to have some process re-engineering done. Ultimately, this organization had to step back and rethink many of their internal and back-end processes before they could focus on innovation.

Processes are the lifeblood of an organization. If you don’t step back and take a look at your processes, your innovative ideas might just suffer.

“Digital” Transformation

transformationMany folks are talking about the ‘digital’ transformation that is happening across many industries and businesses today.  These folks mention digital transformation as if its something new or different than any other transformation project that companies have had to undergo through their lifetimes.

Last week I read a post titled “Why most digital transformation projects will fail (and how to make sure yours doesn’t)” written by Martin Gill, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.   Martin provides a very good overview of why he believes most digital transformations will fail (and I agree wholeheartedly with everything he writes).

The interesting thing about Martin’s article is that he doesn’t focus on the ‘digital’ aspect of the transformation. This is significant because transformation isn’t really anything new. Companies have had to transform their business models or they’ve died.  Digital transformation is nothing special olr new…its just another change that companies have to undergo to remain competitive.

They key for ensuring a successful transformation of any kind is proper change management. Whether that transformation is a digital transformation or the ‘next’ transformation to come along, if you can’t implement a well managed and properly planned change management project, your transformation project will fail.

At the end of his article, Martin gives his advice for ensuring your digital transformation project succeeds. He writes:

The way organizations have been planning and managing large-scale change is no longer fit for purpose.

We need a new approach. An iterative, customer-centric, and agile approach. One in which your digital strategy is engaging, easily consumable by all your key stakeholders, compelling, and, above all, responsive to the inevitable change we all face.

Notice that he leads off by stating that the key priority for ensuring success is a quality change management approach.  He doesn’t talk about getting buy-in for ‘digital’ or some other topic…he talks about the importance of change management.

If you want to ensure your digital transformation project (or any other transformation project) succeeds, make sure you have a good idea in how to enact change within your organization. Without proper change management, any transformation you undertake is doomed to failure.

Innovation and the IT Group

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

picture1I just ran across Martin Davis’ article titled Who is IT’s Most Important Customer? What role does this play in Innovation? Its a good discussion starter…jump over and read it.

Martin starts off by asking a lot of question…namely:

Who should IT focus on as it’s customer? The internal customer within a business unit? An external business the company sells to? Or the end consumer of your product or service? Is this a question of governance, focus or requirements? What does this have to do with innovation?

Excellent questions…and none of these questions are a surprise to anyone in IT…they are asked daily (or should be).

Is there a “most important” customer of IT?  If so, who is it?  Is it the business or is it the businesses’ customers?

There are three main “customers” from my experience…the end-consumer, the organization and the organization’s partners. Identifying these three main customers is the easy part. Servicing them is the hard part….and servicing all customers well is extremely tough.

In order to meet the needs of all of these customers, the IT Group must go behind the basics of what these and look for ways to help all customers regardless of which category they land in.   Martin writes:

Only by truly understanding the needs of all customers involved will IT be able to identify opportunities and game changers that will lead to new innovations and drive new revenue streams into the business.

True. But difficult to do…can you truly understand the needs of your partners and or end-consumers?   That question aside, there’s a ton of value to trying to understand all your customers.

Your internal customers are going to have different needs than external…how will you deal with these differences?

The point of Martin’s article is to start a discussion around Innovation and the IT group.   Only by looking past the customer ‘needs’ and finding their ‘wants’ and finding ways to fill both their needs and wants will IT drive  efficiencies,  innovation and revenue.

Easier said than do though…right?

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Gamification as a Rewards Systems (?)

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

I’ve not really been following the whole “gamification” topic over the last few years but perhaps I should have been.   There are some interesting things happening in the space right now.

John Dodge points to the use of a gamification program at Fedex called the “Fedex Badge”. This program is a rewards program that is defined by John as the following:

The gamification program rewards and reinforces sharing through The Fedex Badge program. Ideally, it starts with engagement, moves to adoption and then goes viral. The benefits are:

— Identifies key knowledge holders and encourages sharing.

— Applies and grows relevance to subject matters.

— Facilitates adoption of new features and user experience elements.

— Motivates individuals to complete training and enhanced skill building programs.

— Promotes appreciation and pride in one’s accomplishments.

— Allows for tracking and analytics of compliance and usage.

Interesting. The Fedex Badge gamification program rewards people for sharing knowledge and collaborating.

Interesting concept for sure. One of the key failures in most knowledge management systems is that people must share knowledge for that KM system to work as it should.  Perhaps a gamification approach might help.

This got me thinking….would a rewards system built around sharing information / knowledge work in IT?  Think about IT professionals…many are gamers. Many are into the rewards from achieving too.

So…if you could build a gamification platform as a rewards platform for IT professionals to share knowledge within IT and outside of IT, do you think it would work?

I think it would. Granted, it would depend on the culture of the organization and IT group, but if designed correctly, there might be  some real value here. By delivering some tangible rewards to your staff for sharing knowledge and building knowledge, you just might find you no longer have a knowledge vacuum around certain parts of the IT organization. Expand this idea throughout the rest of the organization and that knowledge vacuum might go away completely.

What do you think?

Image Credit: New Game 🙂 What does a Scrabble game you played in tell about yourself? By garlandcannon on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Rescued by the Fosbury Flop?

In 1968, Dick Fosbury won the Olympic Gold Medal for the High Jump. While winning the gold, Fosbury popularized the “Fosbury Flop“….a style of approaching and clearing the high jump bar that hadn’t been used previously.

Prior to the ’68 Olympic games, most high jumpers used ‘the straddle’, the ‘western roll‘ or some other style of high jump approach. Heck…some people just stood there by the high jump bar and tried to jump over the bar.

When Fosbury began competing in the High Jump, he realized the existing jumping styles weren’t suited to him so he began to experiment.  And experiment he did…he came up with a new approach to the high jump.  That new approach allowed him to win Olympic gold.  This new approach also turned out to be the dominant high jump style to be used throughout the next 40+ years.

Why all this talk of the Fosbury Flop and the high jump?

Well…for one…I like to say ‘fosbury flop’. Repeat with me. Fosbury Flop.  Fosbury Flop. Fosbury Flop.  It’s a fun to say, right? 🙂

On the serious side, the story of the Fosbury Flop provides us with a nice little tale for those of us in IT.  Why?

Well…IT has been doing the sane things the same way for a long time.  During my career, I’ve constantly heard people talk about changing IT, making IT more efficient, making IT more like ‘the business’, make IT more innovative, etc etc etc.

Have we made any progress in IT? Sure we have…there are some IT groups that can be held up as shining examples of the ‘new’ IT…look at Amazon, Google and others.  The Amazon technology infrastructure is more than just an investment to be managed by IT Operations…its a revenue generating juggernaut for Amazon with some people estimate the Amazon cloud services being a $10 billion business in five years.  Now…you probably won’t turn your IT infrastructure into a billion dollar business, but what if you can add 1% to revenue for your business just from existing IT infrastructure?

So…its time for most of us in IT to come up with our own ‘fosbury flop’.

Its time for us to stop doing things the old way. Stop doing the ‘western roll’ or the ‘straddle’.  Stop standing there looking at the bar.

Start looking for an approach that lets your IT group perform better.  Start looking for ways to improve your processes and your capabilities. Start looking for ways to help the business.

Start working on your Fosbury Flop today…who knows…maybe it’ll be the next big thing for you, your company and IT in general.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

On Change

I’ve been reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (amazon affiliate link).   If you haven’t read the book…check it out…some good insight into why people change…and why they don’t.

The basic premise of the book is that most change efforts fail. Change efforts don’t fail just because the change wasn’t the ‘right’ change.  They don’t fail because the change management principles weren’t followed correctly or that leadership wasn’t driving change.

Change efforts fail…and they succeed.  No amount of academic thought, leadership or management principles will create successful change 100% of the time.

That said….there are a few things that can be done to help any change effort get started down the right path.

In their book, the Heath’s provide a fairly simple framework for change.  That framework is:

  • Direct the rider – What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
  • Motivate the elephant –  What looks like laziness is often exhaustion
  • Shape the path – What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

Now…let me say this right up front…I hate the names given to these three ‘steps’ in the change framework.  Hate them.  Without understanding the context of their use, they make no sense at all.  Much like Jim Collins ‘get the right people on the bus’ analogy….what bus or we getting on?

Again…without context, this framework make no sense.

In essence…the framework is attempting to highlight that every person has two sides: a logical side (the rider) and an emotional side (the elephant)…without having a change plan in place that addresses both, that change might not succeed.

Once you read the book…it makes more sense.

Why Change?

I’m not a change management expert but I have worked on many projects that were driving major change within organizations.

I’m thinking (and writing) about change today because its something that many organizations and people are looking for today.

Organizations are looking for ways to cut costs, improve productivity, reach more customers, increase revenue, etc etc.

People are looking for changes of their own. Many are looking for a way to be happier.  Many are looking for a job.  Many are struggling to keeping their home…and many have lost their homes.  Heck..there are some folks in this world looking for change that will allow them to live a life free from violence and war.

Change is real…and required; especially for IT

Change has come before…and it will come again.

You’ll find it in your personal life and you’ll find it in your professional life.

If you’re like me and have come up in the world of IT and Technology, you’ve seen your share of change.  You’ll continue to see change too…the future of IT isn’t what we thought it would be.

Five years from now, will IT be the main technology driver / owner it once was…or will IT be more like the ‘facilities’ group within most organizations like Nicholas Carr has argued in Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage (amazon affiliate link).

Will IT matter in the future? I think so…there will always be a need for strong technical people within organizations…but will the IT group remain the central technology authority and technology management arm of organizations? Not sure about that.  Should it remain that way? Probably not for most organizations.

Like I said…change is real and change is required. And its coming.

Whether you are directing the rider, motivating the elephant, riding the elephant or watching that elephant do circus tricks…change within IT is coming.  The Heath’s book can help you understand how to manage and prepare for that change…or you can pick up one of the many hundreds of books on the subject…but don’t forget to do something once you’ve read the books.

For the CIO’s, IT Managers and IT professionals out there – what are you doing to prepare for the coming change?  Are you driving that change or waiting for it to drive you?

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