I ended my Starter blog with a quote which summarized tells us: "imagination is more important than knowledge, knowledge is limited". I thought that this lead very nicely into a discussion about how to manage innovation, a very important topic for Program Managers, especially in big organizations.
I will start by saying that innovation is not only about features, or at least is not viewed that way by many of us. If you really think about it, innovation can also be applied to processes, tools, thinking, and culture. All of these areas can be impacted by innovation and in fact successful businesses make it a commitment to innovate constantly in areas outside of product features in order to be ready for change and keep their organizations invigorated. So then why is it that if we are challenged to innovate on some many fronts and has some many good ideas we struggle to succeed at innovating?
Many experts have written chapters on what some call "the corporate immune system". This immune system is usually composed of conservative managers that are adverse to risks and immediately attack innovative and radical strategies that are labeled as viruses to the current corporate ecosystem and priorities. Although I will not negate that some type of corporate immune system exists, it alone is not the reason why some companies seem to struggle with innovation.
This brings me to the next point: How do we incorporate and manage innovation? From my experience so far in my career and after reading several books on this subject this is what I have to share with you:
Although I am not going to dive deep on all of these I will share some additional notes on a few of them.
Do not take in too much innovation … there is a lot of risk involved
This is a classy mistake that I have seen a lot of teams make, and almost every time I have seen it, the project has slipped. A classic mistake is to not only take on your own innovation but also take dependency on other team’s innovation. When looking at innovation, more does not mean a better solution to the customer so be really careful when looking at your innovation pipeline/adoption for a particular area, product or release.
Now, there are times that strategically you have to take these innovation dependencies and the best advice is to keep very close communication between the respective teams and hold risk review meetings frequently with your management team early and when appropriate.
Give yourself time to think
With everything that is happening at work and with all the priorities and deadlines it is very hard for us to concentrate and think hard and deep about an area, resulting in limited ideas or forward looking visions. The two top things that I have seen work very effectively to enable innovation are:
I encourage that if innovation is important to your team to talk to you manager about implementing any of the above within your team.
Create a Visual prototype of your idea for sharing with others
There are two important concepts when presenting your ideas to upper management. 1) Visualization is incredibly powerful and 2) a trusted party is sometimes crucial. Visualization is so important because it lets your audience not only know some of the low level of detail of the implementation but it also allows you to tackle misunderstandings, biases, and vision all at the same time. I can’t count how many times explaining an idea has failed due to misunderstandings and disbelieve but showing an actual prototype of it has cleared the air and got everyone excited and bought off.
In addition, when presenting to peers and upper management make sure you have established some level of trust. You must understand that it is extremely hard for someone to support your thinking and ideas when you have not established a level of trust that allows risk taking and priority changing- this fact is critical.
My last advice brings me back to the beginning of this post. It does not matter where you work or what project you are part of, there is always the opportunity to INNOVATE EVERYDAY … and that fact my friends is incredibly powerful.
Following Buck Hodges advice that ending with quotes will get very hard due to its sometimes high maintenance cost I have decided to facilitate the process by me creating some of the quotes. Here is the first one: "If you can't resolve a check in conflict blame me, but here is something that might help it".