How to #Innovate – an Example

How to Innovate

In my last post, I was stressing how encouraging Innovation is not simply about layering Innovation over existing processes and culture, but how it really is a change management project about changing the culture of an organization. If you missed it, you can read it here.

Reading through the Winnipeg Free Press today, I was provided with an example of how Winnipeg is not really committed to Innovation, but only interested in it.

The Example

So it turns out that the city of Winnipeg, is building a new library named in honour of former Mayor Bill Norrie and his wife Helen. This is a good announcement for something that is really needed. You can read the story here. I listed the CBC link instead of the Winnipeg Free Press because the Winnipeg Free Press has a pay wall. (but that lack of Innovation is for a later post at another time)

I say this is only a good announcement because libraries are always good things and the library will be addressing some shortcomings in other libraries in regards to accessibility, natural light, and outdoor spaces. And it is also beneficial that it will be connected to other facilities and public transportation. But it could have been so much more if Winnipeg’s leaders were committed to Innovation.

I’m reminded of the old joke about how the chicken is only interested about breakfast while the pig is committed to breakfast. Winnipeg is definitely interested in Innovation in Libraries as they have created Maker Spaces among other Innovations at some libraries.

How could they be committed to Innovation you ask? Well I’m glad you asked.

Empowerment

A key factor in Innovation is breaking down the hierarchy of control and empowering others – changing the culture. This involves those in control letting go of their authority. They no longer ‘approve’ the Innovations recommended by others and plan and design in isolation.

How would this look?

  1. Libraries are a key service provided by the municipality and would be an area where the city can control Innovation if it was interested. So it seems like a very good example.
  2. Define a Library Strategy of what Winnipeg wants to achieve with their libraries. Start with the mandatory items that are legislated like accessibility so it is clear what is non-negotiable.
  3. Create working sessions and involve City of Winnipeg Council, City of Winnipeg Administration, Citizens, Universities, Educational Professionals, and children to help to define the Strategy. The only existing Library Strategy I could find was one to discuss whether we should build or lease libraries. That just made me sad. 😦
  4. Once we have the Strategy, have the same group define what the short-term and long-term objectives are and how we will measure if we are successful.
  5. Once we have the Strategy, Objectives, and Success Factors we can innovate and discuss the features that satisfy the Strategy best. A Library has to be more that just building with books inside. For example:
    1. What is the content we should provide?
    2. Ask the current administration how libraries can be improved?
    3. Ask City Council what their constituents are asking for?
    4. Ask the Teachers what is lacking in the libraries currently?
    5. Ask the students why they study at a Starbucks instead of a Library?
    6. How does the Library change with e-readers? Do we rent e-readers with content? Could we offer books in multi-languages easier this way?
    7. There is a movement to more group spaces in other libraries. Should we dedicate more group spaces?
    8. What other services could be partnered with Libraries?
    9. How do libraries change with Social Media? Do they?
    10. Are libraries next on the cusp of a Blockbuster/Netflix moment? Should we investigate streaming content?

These are just a few ideas. The key is to communicate what you want to achieve and then listen to your clients.

And here is the scary part, implement what they recommend. Majority rules!

That is the scariest part of Innovation. Executives still want to ‘approve’ innovations. A culture of Innovation believes that everyone has great ideas and majority rules. There is no knowing where the great ideas come from, but it is likely to come from those closest to the value.

Usually announcements like this are made once all those things are decided.  Getting everyone involved early and empowering them with real decision making would make these announcements great.

 

How to hire a Chief #Innovation Officer #FTW

Innovation

Innovation. We want to innovate. Everyone tells us we need to innovate. Everyone else is innovating and we need to keep up to them. If we don’t innovate we will be left behind. To this end, many companies are hiring Innovation Officers, Innovation Directors, or God forbid a Chief Innovation Officer. Some companies include Innovation in their name hoping to imply they are innovative just by having that name. Governments are adding Innovation to a Ministers Portfolio name in the hopes that they may generate Innovation. Even in my own city, Winnipeg, they hired a Chief Innovation Officer and are trying to innovate.

Problem

So what is the problem? Surely it is a laudable goal to innovate, improve, and excel? Absolutely it is. The unfortunate fact is that the way people are addressing innovation has very little chance for success.

Why

Innovation processes can’t simply be overlaid on a corporate structure that wasn’t innovative in the past and Innovation will occur. In the case of the City of Winnipeg, a call went out for people to submit their ideas and those ideas would be reviewed by the Chief Innovation Officer, the Chef Administration Officer, Chief Corporate Services Officer and Chief Transportation and Utilities Officer.

Oh boy, where do I start on this one? Lets use bullet points:

  • The people at the highest level are talented individuals but probably are not aware of Innovations required throughout the corporation. They are going to miss a ton of great ideas.
  • What is the Strategy that Innovation is required to address? What are the objectives? A general call for Innovation will probably generate a lot of wasted time as Innovations are submitted that aren’t a priority and people will wonder why their submissions weren’t chosen. (Unless a meeting is held to do a retrospective on every submission, but my experience is that doesn’t happen in these Innovation Beauty Contests)
  • If the Culture of the corporation was not open to ideas in the past, people may be hesitant to submit ideas formally via email. Some ideas may highlight inefficient processes that could implicate co-workers. So people are likely to just not respond. (especially if they would implicate supervisors and managers who hold power over them)

How to Innovate

So how would I create an Innovation Culture?

  1. Just that. Realize that it isn’t about generating Innovations in your current corporate structure. Innovation is about a change project to change culture profoundly.
  2. Invite people from across the corporation to participate in the Strategy Creation. If that isn’t feasible, at least communicate the Strategy in a meaningful way after it is decided. (i.e. a face to face meetings and not just sending a Strategy document out for people to read)
  3. Engage the people who are interested in face to face Innovation meetings where groups can submit, discuss, and shape Innovation ideas with their co-workers. These sessions need representation from front-line staff, supervisors, managers, and executives.
  4. Ongoing efforts to create a culture that is a safe culture for new ideas and suggestions. This is important. You can’t have Innovation if you don’t have a culture of Safety. You can’t have an open door for Innovation and a closed-door for everything else.

This would be a start, but it isn’t guarantee. It takes hard work and lots of communication between people and time. But there is no shortcut to Innovation.

Especially hiring a Chief Innovation Officer.

 

 

Why Customer #Empathy ?

Why should we bother with Customer Empathy? Many time we have seen the results. Either you deal with Customer Empathy or you deal with Customer Anger. It is much more efficient to deal with Customer Empathy when you define an offering than dealing with Customer Anger to fix the offering.

Sadly, most the time Information Technology initiatives are based in what we as Information Technology professionals think the customers want. At best, we have Information Technology empathy – we understand what Information Technology values.

Information Technology Empathy

So what happens when we have Information Technology Empathy? One might suggest that we can improve the cost side of the equation. Perhaps if we have Information Technology Empathy, we can reduce cost and become more efficient. Sadly, many times having Information Technology Empathy may not reduce costs. We may pursue Information Technology goals that may increase costs. And then the customers doubly suffer – we expend budget that makes their lives worse. 😦

Many times this happens with Package Implementations. Software Packages are chosen to reduce risk from the Information Technology point of view. (Information Technology Empathy) Frequently the new Software Package reduces the value delivered to customers. Very rarely do you hear about customers extolling the virtues of the new Software Package – at best you hope the Customers don’t lose functionality.

Customer Empathy

Only with Customer Empathy can we improve the revenue side of the equation. If we truly understand what the customer values, we can design new products and services that they are willing to pay more for. Strangely enough, Customer Empathy will also allow us to improve the cost side of the equation. By knowing what the customer values, we can also understand what costs the clients will accept and potentially which areas could be trimmed without affecting customer value.

Summary

Many times we see plans being put in place assuming we know what the customer values. There almost seems to be a hesitation to ask the customers what they want. In this fast-paced world with so many options, be warned. If you aren’t going to ask your customers what they want, someone else will.

How do I encourage #innovation on my projects?

I actually think about this topic quite a bit. There is mention of innovation in almost every job ad and project charter I see. But really what is innovation? How do we innovate? How do we encourage innovation?

I think we frequently believe that innovations are large changes rather than small incremental improvements. When we think about how to innovate we get stuck on trying to find that next big idea. Or else we try to find the software tool or process no one has heard of so we can present a significant change from the current status. So we try to come up with the new idea and then revert back to the current status when the next big thing can’t be found.

Then we hear from management and others that we need to be innovative. Like we aren’t trying. 😦

I have found that two concepts help out greatly in helping to make projects more innovative.

1) Encourage the small innovations

If you encourage the small innovations in people, process, and technology, I have found that the large innovations will follow. If you analyze what is perceived as large innovations, you will actually find that they were made up of a lot of small innovations along the way. How do we encourage the small innovations? Recently I’ve reviewed incremental improvement statements with my teams to get them thinking about small improvements. The small improvement statements I reviewed on my last project were:

  1. I will strive to be a better team member tomorrow than I am today
  2. I will strive to be a better [BA/PM/DBA/Developer] tomorrow than I am today
  3. I will strive to help to make the solution better tomorrow than it was today
  4. I will strive to help to make problems, issues, and risks less tomorrow than they were today
  5. I will strive to help to provide more value to the client tomorrow than they had today
  6. I will strive to help to create better processes tomorrow than we have today

These statements have helped the team focus on continuous improvement and innovation.

2) Build a team culture of safety and confidence

If you can build a culture where people feel safe in making suggestions or recommendations and where people are confident their ideas will be heard and truly considered, I firmly believe you will get more ideas and ultimately more innovation. I think frequently people limit the innovations they bring forward because they feel they might be blamed if the innovation has unintended consequences. (or they may be criticized for an incomplete idea) In addition, people want to be sure that the idea will be seriously considered if they are going to put the time in to develop the idea or innovation.

To accomplish this, I try to do two distinct things:

I) Abide by the Agile Prime Directive

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

–Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews

I absolutely love the Agile Prime Directive as it removes blame and us versus them thinking from the project. It sets the stage for people to feel comfortable in raising ideas and suggestions without the fear of initial criticism and blame somewhere down the road. It also places the onus on the individuals to hear their team mate’s ideas without being critical off the bat. It places the emphasis on “seek to understand” rather than “seek to find fault”.

II) Let the team innovate

This sounds like obvious common sense not worth mentioning. Let me explain. Many teams that have a perceived lack of innovation share the same structure. There are a few leaders that ‘approve’ the innovations that will be implemented and they expect their team members to submit their innovations for approval. This very structure stifles the innovative process. How can the few leaders at the top have the same wealth of ideas and domain knowledge as all the members of the team to evaluate what is a good innovation? Anytime there is an approval process, you can be sure there is not going to be much innovation.

“As a leader, you don’t need to be convinced or believe in every innovation, you just need to believe in your team.”

Many times, you may believe that the innovation may not work. But you again need to trust your team. Otherwise, the team will get a sense of what ideas you are likely to approve and only raise those ideas to your attention. And before you know it you are only getting one person’s idea of innovation from a team of many. And then in the Project Retrospective we will bemoan the lack of innovation.

The team doesn’t submit ideas or innovations for approval, they just inform as to what innovations or ideas they are currently implementing.

But won’t you have constant change? Yes and No. Yes, you will have a lot of change and change that you could not have foreseen. But isn’t that the point of innovation? But if you set expectation and the entire team has a shared vision of success and the ultimate solution, the team itself will determine when it can innovate and when it should not.

The team understands that the project still needs to live up to the client expectations, but how the team meets the expectations should be up to the team to decide. We need to manage by destination rather than by route. The team will determine the best route to take.

Summary

I have combined the small improvement statements and Agile Prime Directive into something I have termed the Team Member Manifesto on my recent team. So far the amount of ideas and innovations have been very high.

#Innovation Debt and the Four Fences of Software Development

I was looking for a new picture for the Blog and I thought about an interesting Blog post. As you can see now, I chose the image of a gate after much searching on various image search engines. (let me tell you there are some very interesting people out there with cameras.) 🙂

Gates and Fences

I chose a gate as I think it is a very interesting analogy that can be used in the Software Development industry. In the Agile community we are so focused on tearing down fences that we have to be careful we don’t use the remnants of the Waterfall Fence to build the Agile Methodology fence. I loved the analogy of a gate in conjunction with the fences. We need to ensure that every fence we build also has at least one gate. The fences exist for the purpose of providing structure and restrictions for predictability, but there always needs to at least one way to break free when the situation calls for it.  (hopefully multiple gates)

I thought of 4 separate fences that are quite common in the Software Development industry. They are:

1. Process Fence : Gate leads to greater value

I’ve alluded to this fence already. As I have mentioned, we in the Agile space need to be extremely careful that we don’t construct an Agile fence out of the broken boards of the Waterfall fence. If we start being equally as stringent and demanding, we are equally doomed to failure. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Agile practices are a great fit for the vast majority of projects and an improved over the Waterfall methodology. But we need to be careful that we don’t start to be overly prescriptive and cookie-cutter. It would be incorrect to say all Software Development projects require pair-programming, two-week iterations, and daily stand ups. Just like it was incorrect to say all Software Development Projects required Functional Specifications, Work Breakdown Structures, and Use Cases. Do these Agile practices fit better than Waterfall practices? Usually. But the team still needs to determine what practices best apply and to what extent.

Sometimes you have to open the gate and incorporate all the different practices that deliver the most value to your client. It is likely that these practices will be from many different methodologies. Can an Agile project benefit from a Work Breakdown Structure? It is possible.

2. Technology/Vendor Fence : Gate leads to better solutions

A second fence we can find ourselves in is this Technology or Vendor fence. This is the fence that we typically build around the technology we use and the vendor for that technology. We typically built these fences for very good reasons. Simply put we are more familiar with the technology we use the most and we there just isn’t enough time to learn all of the technologies that are out there. There are just simply too many. So what can we do?

I think similar to the Agile principle about trying one new thing every iteration, Software Development technical professionals should try one new technology every project. (preferably from different vendors) If the project doesn’t allow for this, then we should as Software Development professionals commit to reading one new book and playing with one new technology in our own time for every new project.

If we don’t do this continuous learning and strive to open the gate in the technology fence, how do we know we are providing the client the best solution? Of course we can’t know all technologies, but isn’t it our professional responsibility to know more than one group of them?

3. People/Employer : Gate leads to enhanced knowledge and competencies

The third fence is the people or employer fence. This fence is very similar to the last fence except that it deals with people instead of technology. It is very natural to again build a natural affinity to the people we primarily work with. But it is also important to realize that one company can’t be perfect in everything. (just like one person can’t be the best at everything) We all have our strengths and weaknesses both individually and corporate-wide.

Some of the most valuable lessons learned I have had over the years has been when I have worked with people from other companies and they have shared with me their practices and methods. Now those of us who have worked for a company for a longer duration obviously believe our company has more strengths than weaknesses. (I know this is something I believe 100% about Protegra.)

That said, I look forward to being able to work with new Protegrans and with new partners and clients because I know I am going to learn new things and be the better for it. Opening the gate in the People and Employee fence is one of the most rewarding.

4. Experience/Safety : Gate leads to innovation

The fourth fence is one we build ourselves and it is something I’ve noticed more in myself as I’ve gained experience. I think sometimes when we have gathered more experience, it is easier to just do what we have done before. Developing using a known process, technology or team is the safe route and something we feel more comfortable with. The decision between introducing new items and doing what has been done before is a fine line as we can’t take on too many new things and risk the project, but if we don’t take on any new items we are building what I like to term Innovation Debt.

Like Technical Debt, it is sitting there and charging interest. Innovation Debt will also needs to be paid sooner or later and it is better to pay it off bit by bit on projects rather that having a large payment at the end. The real problem is that too much Innovation Debt can result in a compromised company that is passed by their competitors. Too much innovation on projects can result in compromised projects. It is a very fine line to walk.

But not opening the Experience gate is actually more damaging that opening it. It is just a little unnerving at first and requires an atmosphere at work that encourages innovation and rewards fast failure.

Summary

Those are the four fences and gates that I try to keep in mind as I go about my projects. Does anyone know of any more?