Saturday, March 14, 2009

Innovation in the work place

Innovation is the driver for future revenue generation, without it all organizations will become stagnant and not be able to adapt quickly to a changing environment. We need to recognize that the world is changing and if we don't, we will end up in the same situation as the auto industry. Innovation is the key to our success, and in order for innovation to be successful in an organization, we need the support of that organization. Everyone needs to be on board!!

Cheap, cheap, cheap!!!!

A common argument against innovation is that it is expensive, that we will have to invest a lot in R&D and we won't realize the benefits for years to come. Innovation is not expensive, not long term and it can highly engage employees!!! An example of a cheap, quick innovation strategy to increase employee engagement and encourage groups to cross collaborate is the creation of a rubber stamp. Something that can be custom designed by a team and purchased online for less than $20. If every employee is given a passport of sorts and and every team designed a stamp, when they contribute to a project or a team, that team can then recognize the employee by stamping their passport. Employees can recognize other employees and there is an implicit motivator to collect as many stamps as possible, all for $20. Another key item to keeping innovation low cost is to rapidly prototype for customers and present to them early and often.

Rapid prototyping

Continuing on with a focus on cost, organizations need to get away from expecting perfect prototypes. The longer we spend on a prototype to demo a customer, the more we've invested in the creation. If we spend months creating a prototype that doesn't meet our customer's needs then we have spent a lot of money that did not need to be spent. If we create a culture of innovation where good is good enough (The key being that the prototype is good enough to communicate the idea or message), then we can save money and succeed sooner. "Fail faster, to succeed sooner," is a motto that I love. The faster we get a prototype out the door, the faster we can respond to our customer's demands.

If we shorten the delivery of a prototype, it also opens up the possibility to deliver more than one prototype to a customer. Why would we deliver more than one prototype you ask? Well, let's start off by looking at a common situation: I come home from work and my wife is standing in front of me with a new dress. She asks the question that every husband dreads: "What do you think of my new dress?" ... What's the response most every man going to give? Of course it looks good... We have no other choice. Our wives have put all their eggs into one basket. If we give negative feedback, our wives are crushed and we've hurt their feelings. Now how about if they've taken us to the store and presented the same dress along with six other dresses. We have the chance here to give honest feedback without the potential hurt feelings. People feel more comfortable with giving honest feedback when presented with multiple options and our customers are no different. We haven't put anyone in the awkward position of having to tell us the dress we've selected doesn't flatter us or suit their needs.

Rapid prototyping is an area to really get creative!! Don't think that these rapid prototypes need to be done in the medium of final delivery. I'll explain what I mean by giving an example. We are currently developing a new piece of software at work called SDPNet. Rather than have our software developers mock up two interfaces for our customers to review (The medium of delivery), I asked the project team to come up with two prototypes (In one week), the first done on a computer, but without a single line of code written and the second done without any computer intervention what so ever. Both of these prototypes were not to be done in the medium of final delivery. The project team decided to model the UI for this new piece of software using Connectix!! What an awesome idea and it actually opened up new ways of looking at user interaction!! Imagine a 3D UI! Not only creative but time efficient!! The project team was able to bring it together in a matter of hours!! We could present many different versions for a customer to look at and interact with and the cost was right!!

Not just products

Innovation is not limited to the realm of physical product development. We can innovate with service delivery and even process definition.

Let's take an example from the work place that those of us working in large companies are probably familiar with: Department transitions or hand offs. We have three teams within our Information Technology department at work and we are required to hand off development, sustainment and support between these three teams all the time. These transitions tend to be high stress and typically involve a lot of conflict and negotiation and someone is always unhappy with the way things are transitioned. Why would we continue to do this? Why not innovate? Why not look for a different way to transition between these teams that will de-risk and at the same time make people happier? While looking at this area for improvement the analogy came to light that this is really like a relay race. We need to transition from one team member to another team member at top flight, just like the 4x100 relay! Our Olympic team certainly wouldn't show up to the relay final without every having practiced, so why should we?

The solution was abundantly simple: practice the hand offs!

We follow an Agile software development methodology and we decided to hand off at iteration end (Usually a 2 to 6 week period). This allows us to identify problems early and correct mid project, while at the same time really creating a team atmosphere. Because the hand offs are smaller, there is less risk and less anxiety. By the time the project is ready to go into our production environment, the support teams are ready to go and we've practiced the hand offs many times! Sure there are still bumps in the road, but we correct them early and with less conflict.


No matter what you are going to innovate, you need basic tools! For our organization, we found that we need a collaboration platform to help distribute information across our distributed teams. This collaboration in turn helps us produce more innovation ideas, which fuels future growth and collaboration. You might need slightly different tools than I will, but don't forget about having the basics for creativity!


As I mentioned at the start, innovation will be the key to future growth! No one wants to end up in a company that's being left behind. Start small, be a champion for your company and seek out resources (Books, mentors, etc) that can help spur your innovation on!

Do you have any innovation success stories? We'd love to hear about them!


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