A commentry on process, agility and innovation.

The most common thread of thoughts that I’ve encountered out in Corporate space are the same three I have been hearing for the last six years. Admittedly, the taxonomy changes, the spotlight moves and the motivation may differ but it’s always the same three.

I’ve discovered that in the outsource market, you hear them more often and generally… louder.

No, I’m not talking about cost reduction, centralisation, rationalisation or any of the obvious overtones. I’m talking about the underlying enablers that provide efficiency to carry out those overtones.

The undertones I am highlighting are those of processes, innovation and agility.

PROCESSES

It’s big business these days. Process management has become the golden child of business efficiency and the underlying basis for all of those wonderful catchphrases I mentioned earlier.

The market is saturated with different flavours too. From BPM to CMM to Six Sigma.

While each method has it’s own pros and cons, they maintain a common theme – map a defined, repeatable, controlled and auditable way to complete the “job” each and every time.

I must admit, I am a fan of processes. However, here’s the catch – processes have their place and purpose. If they begin to interfere with your business in any way then they can be your downfall.

As an example, I’ve seen dozens of examples where a process system has been implemented to improve quality or standards or productivity or whatever. It’s worked a treat, but the timelines for projects have been blown by a factor of “X”.

So, we now have a new problem. While processes have improved our quality of work, the “customer” now perceives you as a lumbering sloth too cumbersome to respond to their requirements in a timely fashion …

AGILITY

I have been keeping an eye out on the slowly growing movement of “agilists”.

These practitioners (primarily in the software development arena) are strong believers of an agile approach. From their website is their statement:

“Through this work we have come to value:

* Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
* Working software over comprehensive documentation
* Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
* Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. ”

Now, while I agree with the sentiment and philosophy of the group … the cynic in me sees this as a dangerous path if implemented as the governing framework for your enterprise.

Why? basic human nature. If you show the agilists statement to your Line of Service staff you’ll find overwhelming support. However, If you dare to dig deeper you’ll hear statements like “yeah, I agree, I could get a lot more done faster if I didn’t have to follow all those bloody procs or write all that documentation”.

Furthermore I am yet to see a single significant case study that shows an enterprise that has embraced Agility as a framework – let alone any outstanding success stories in relation to this movement.

I would love to be proven wrong by the way – if you have such a case study or know of success stories – or better still, an account of the implementation, the horrors and the lessons learnt – let me know!!

INNOVATION

Oh, to have a dollar for everytime I heard this word!

Innovation today is such an overused word, and often ill-defined. As a result, innovation today is more about perception than reality.

It’s amazing really, that many “customers” will state they are seeking “innovation” from their IT department … yet no one has been able to define what they mean by this “simple” request.

I’ve discovered (by trial and error) that the definition in the corporate world is slightly different to that seen in the Oxford dictionary.

This definition would read something like this:

A new solution (idea, method or product) to bring into final form an attribute that compels or draws an end-user toward the solution and allows ‘The Enterprise’ to build and maintain a competitive advantage through the quick introduction of attractive and cost-effective solutions through functional or end-user emotional benefit.

In the outsourcing world, an additional sentence is added to the above definition – “that also provides the ability of ‘The Outsource Organisation’ to respond quickly to the demands or opportunities of ‘The Enterprise'”

So – reading between the lines, in the corporate world the singular word INNOVATION implies that a solution should be creative, agile, cost effective and provides a competitive advantage.

So, I thought, time to look out on the great fount of knowledge (or at least the internet and bloggiverse) and see if I could find anything of further clarity.

Firstly, under Google, I discovered that the same few companies get an overwhelming amount of mentions as being innovative are generally the same companies who are the poster children for innovation in the press.

Then I discovered futurethink and they have recently released their “futurethink 2006 Innovation Tracker Survey

What did they discover? Well, first and foremost that more than creativity, the number one thing that makes a company innovative is a climate that continuously fosters innovation.

Quoted from the survey results “While most people view innovation predominantly as a creative exercise, results from the Tracker show that in order to be creative you have to have the right environment to do it. “Just tasking a team to ‘be creative’ won’t get you to be innovative,” says Steve Brown, Director of Marketing for KitchenAid. “It’s having a corporate climate that gives people the space to experiment and take risks, and it’s about making innovation an expected part of everyone’s daily job. Only then can you truly sustain it.””

So what were the top ten items perceived by the respondents that makes a company innovative?
1. Ability to create a climate that continuously fosters innovation
2. Creative thinkers
3. Excellent products/services design
4. Strong leadership
5. Breakthrough ideas
6. Ability to generate business building ideas
7. Constant product/service improvement
8. Ability to define process that helps identify the most innovation ideas
9. Having a clear innovation strategy that generates real results
10. A perceived WOW factor

So as a solution provider, you have to be seen as innovative to be able to provide innovative solutions.

Given all of that, it is no small ask. So how do we deliver on that? Anyone?

WRAPPING IT ALL UP

So, what’s my take on all of this? As much as it sounds like a cop-out I think they are all valid, required and should be implemented within your organisations. However, the way I see this is that they are aspects of a solution and if quantified between some guiding rails will do wonders for your organisation.

I’m aware that this is in no way complete, and with any luck, I’ll follow up on this in greater detail in future posts. I guess I wanted to drop my thoughts out there and perhaps garner some discussion among the community.

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