Is #Innovation an Empty Word?

Many times on projects and presentations I hear both the empty words and principles and also the full words. I’ve always struggled to determine the difference between the two. I’ve listened to people state that their success is all about ‘their people’ and I’ve come away on one occasion believing them and on another occasion feeling that they didn’t believe their own words.

So what is the difference?

A phrase used by Ed Catmull in his book “Creativity, Inc.” defines the issue perfectly.

The Handle and the Suitcase

It is up to the individual to remember that it’s okay to use the handle, just as long as you don’t forget the suitcase.”  -Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.

Ed Catmull shares a visual in his new book, Creativity Inc. where he asks us to imagine an old, heavy suitcase whose well-worn handles are hanging by a few threads. He describes the handle of that suitcase as those defining principles and phrases we use and promote.  He then shares how, the suitcase represents all that has gone into the formation of the phrase: the experience, the deep wisdom, the truths that emerge from the struggle.

To me this affirms that one cannot promote and encourage without context. And that context can really only be gathered through experience and commitment. In a sense the person needs to be a practitioner and supporter. In many cases I was probably sensing that people I didn’t believe didn’t have the context or the suitcase in what they were presenting.

Catmull shows the disconnect that can happen.  Too often, we grab the handle and – without realizing it – walk off without the suitcase.  What’s more we don’t even think about what we’ve left behind.  After all, the handle is so much easier to carry around than the suitcase.

This is key. If you aren’t committed to the entire principle, the suitcase is the first to go. As Catmull says, the handle is easy to carry by itself. This is happening recently with Innovation. People promote Innovation and then discuss how organizations can inject structure into the Innovation process. These methods or structures most of the time are the antithesis of Innovation. Methods and structures can go against an Innovation Mindset.

Catmull then continues to what I think is a brilliant way to restate the issue: “I often say that managers of creative enterprises must hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. What does this mean? It means that we must be open to having our goals change as we learn new information or are surprised by things we thought we knew but didn’t. As long as our intentions – our values – remain constant, our goals can shift as needed”

So saying we are committed to Innovation is hollow. Saying we are committed to the values of creativity and growth and empowerment and having a culture that encourages those will generate many more Innovations than an Innovation framework. Our commitment to values is critical, not a commitment to a framework.

 

Or as Catmull adds, words like quality and excellence are misapplied so relentlessly that they border on meaningless.  Managers scour books and magazines looking for greater understanding but settle instead for adopting a new terminology, thinking that using fresh words will bring them closer to their goals.”

 

 

 

 

Creativity, Inc. and #1 reason why projects struggle

I just recently finished reading Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull. It is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. The book provides a history of how Pixar came about and how Pixar has managed to maintain their culture of creativity and innovation. There are many poignant lessons that I took away from the book, but perhaps the one that resounded the most was the use of what they termed the ‘braintrust’ team.

BTW, I hate the term Braintrust – I would rather just use a term without any implied hierarchy.

Braintrust

The concept behind the Braintrust team is that it is a team made up of their most senior writers and creative minds that can help to review the status of the movies on a regular basis. The objective behind these meetings are that these senior team members have a wealth of experience they can pass on to the team currently working on the movie on how the movie might be missing the mark.

There are a couple of simple rules:

  1. The feedback is not personal and it given in the spirit of making the movie the best in can possibly be.
  2. The feedback does not include the solution to the perceived issues and the Braintrust team has no authority to get the team to implement a certain solution.

The goal of the Braintrust is to highlight opportunities and then let the movie team determine the best solution. Questions may be raised in the next Braintrust review if nothing has been done since the last meeting, but there is no direction that they give the team on how problems should be solved.

Why?

Why do I like this model? On many projects I have been on we have tried to have some level of review and governance to help the project teams. But like many other people I know we have always struggled to get to the real issues that the project is encountering. Our checkpoints just didn’t highlight the areas of concern. So what was Pixar doing that we weren’t?

One thing I thought initially was that Pixar had their Braintrust be a team of 4-5 people. This is ideal as it brings a wealth of experience and also balances the project team and Braintrust out in terms of numbers. I think when an entire project team reviews their project with one person, the difference in numbers could allow for a pro-project point of view. This is not done intentionally, but could lead to the dismissal of ideas just due to the difference in numbers.

Culture

The project culture at Pixar is profoundly grounded in their culture. It can be summed up simply as:

“Projects are expected to struggle, a project running smoothly is not a goal”

Let’s think about that for a second. Management’s job is not to limit risk but to build the ability to recover. Management is doing their job when their teams are able to solve problems. I haven’t found this perspective in many software shops. In Software Development companies the goal is to have a smoothly running project.

This is quite different that the traditional approach where we have project checkpoints and see our role as management to try to solve the problems the team have and get the project to run smoothly again.

This approach frees the team up to be creative and try new approaches knowing management doesn’t view problems as some fault of the team. Pixar understands that the project team must become the ‘project’ they are working on to be able to achieve the objectives of the project. The downside of this is that the project team then loses some of their objectivity to be able to achieve the objectives of the project. The Braintrust can then assist in that regard to provide an unbiased view to help the project achieve all of the project’s objectives.

Summary

I think the Braintrust model has a lot of promise. I hope to try something similar in the future. If you haven’t yet read Creativity, Inc, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Oh yeah and what is the #1 reason project struggle? They struggle because they are supposed to. Having a project without struggles means the project probably didn’t do much that was new or different or complex. Have a lot of those projects and your company isn’t moving forward any more.

Stop just #Innovating , start #Empathizing

innovative

There I said it.

Everywhere you go today, the focus is on Innovation as a verb. You must Innovate. There are Innovation Frameworks out there that define a framework on how you can generate Innovations at your work and personal life if you follow a process. Some of these frameworks are openly available while some are proprietary. There are even geographical areas that are designated with the Innovation titles to hopefully instill the belief that Innovation happens there before anywhere else. And then there are the individuals that have Innovation in their titles and seem to be somewhat responsible for Innovation at their companies.

Are we Innovation-ed out?

While the focus on Innovation and those Innovation Frameworks are valuable and can produce ideas and innovations, you shouldn’t stop there. The additional focus needs to be on why you are innovating. What pain or gain are you trying to achieve. Traditionally if your gain is just to make more money, then the life of your Innovation will be short lived. How do we then generate long lived Innovations?

Outcome

Innovation is an outcome rather than an action. I’m not sure how we got to the place where Innovation became an action and not an outcome. In some ways that is tantamount to changing for the sake of change. Let’s look at the definition of Innovation:

: a new idea, device, or method

: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

So what is missing? Well it seems like all I need to do is introduce anything new or different and I’ll be innovating. It could even be something worse.

The traditional definition of Innovation does not have any focus on value of the Innovation. This is a problem.

Action

OK Terry, well if Innovation is an outcome and not the action, what is the action that creates Innovation?

I’m glad you asked. 🙂

First off the actions that create Innovative outcomes need to be client value based and not company based. If those actions are based on value, then the Innovations will also be based on value. If we don’t base Innovations on value we really will be changing for the sake of change. Some of these changes may be home runs, but others might be duds.

In business, value is defined and determined by the client. As much as we think some product or service has value, it only really has value when the client agrees to pay something for it.

So really the only methods that can result in Innovative outcomes are those that maximize client empathy and client understanding. Only with that understanding can we understand what changes will be innovative and result in more value for your client. At the core the Innovation needs to take away a client pain or provide a client gain.

If you need to be Innovative, seek to understand your client better.

Turns out those guys like Luke Hohmann, Clay Christensen, and Alex Osterwaldner were onto something.

But please stop only using Innovation frameworks to be innovative and generate innovations. Throwing a bunch of ideas at the wall to see if some stick is time-consuming and wasteful. If you focus on understanding your clients the Innovations will follow.

If you want to be Innovative, gather true Client Insight and Empathy.

My new favourite #InnovationGame – #Agile Science Fair

IG

I was asked to do a session for the Agile Winnipeg User Group and the first thing that popped into my mind was Innovation Games. Innovation Games are a critical piece in Protegra’s offering to gain Customer Insight on all projects. Recently we have used Innovation Games to assist the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in creating their strategy. It really confirmed in my head that Innovation Games are the best way to gain Customer Insight no matter what the ultimate end product of the project is.

Agile Winnipeg Users Group

So I was very excited to be able to talk about Innovation Games and try one or two games in the session.  But it many cases, Agile teams have used Silent Brainstorming and parts of Innovation Games already even if they didn’t call  them Innovation Games. I wasn’t sure they would get the maximum value out of the event if I just did the SpeedBoat Innovation Game.

So I thought it would be the most impactful and fun to do the Product Box game. The idea was to do a Product Box on Agile. The objective was to create a Product Box that would let you communicate what Agile is and then try to sell Agile to their imaginary manager who has never used Agile. Fair enough. Seemed like fun

Staples

Ultimately though, Staples would not comply with our devious plans. This had happened once before when Luke Hohmann had presented at SDEC in 2012. Luke had graciously offered to also do a workshop the following day and one of the games we were playing was product box. But when I was looking for the plain white cereal sized boxes that we would use for our game, they were nowhere to be found. Eventually we found some mailing boxes that we could use for the game, but it wasn’t optimal.

So I was hoping that the lack of white cereal sized was only temporary at Staples. Nope. They were nowhere to be found.

They had the same inventory they had before… 😦

Science Fair

With one huge addition. They had in stock tri-fold cardboard boards like the ones used for science fairs.

This, I thought, is freaking perfect!

The Game

We started off the session with a few slides on Innovation Games and then got into the Science Fair game. I had purchased stickers, colorful sharpies, and colorful 4″ letters. (Which I thought were stickers. They were merely punch-out letters. But our ingenuous teams managed in spite of me) 🙂

I posed to them the situation.

“Your manager knows nothing about Agile, but you know it is the only way to develop software. Use all the supplies to create a poster board to communicate what Agile is and to try to convince your manager choose Agile for the next project”

I then also had purposely bought some animals stickers. I wanted them to use the stickers as Metaphors for Agile. I would ask why they choose a certain animal and what the animal represented about Agile. By doing this, I was using additional metaphors to gain insight into additional aspects of Agile they may not have communicated elsewhere.

The Results

Like all Innovation Games, we had fun and the teams produced projects that were awesome and I had greater insight into what each team thought about Agile.

But I really liked two aspects of the Science Fair game as compared to Product Box.

1) Real Estate – The teams had much more space to use to communicate. This allowed for more messaging and content then I would have had on Product Box. It particularly gave them room to draw.

2) Animal Metaphor – This was a neat twist I thought, but the insight gathered was truly great. Some teams used all the animals to show how teams had to be diverse, some teams used Giraffes to show how visibility was crucial to Agile, and then two teams used multiple reptiles to show how the Minimum Viable Product would be created and enhanced in each iteration.

Summary

It was a fantastic event and I think I’ll try Science Fair again when we need to do Product Box. The additional space allows for additional creative elements in the game. I think I’ll also keep the additional metaphor I used. That provided additional context and insight.

Stanford Design School’s Design Methods #WpgIIBA #InnovationGames #Empathy

I attended the Winnipeg IIBA chapter meeting where we reviewed the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods. The presentation itself was quite well done. We ended up splitting into pairs and went through the nine steps in the process. For our session we used the ‘gift-giving’ experience as a situation we could explore with the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods.

The Nine Steps

The Nine Steps in the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods are:

1) Interview – Use your interview skills to discover information about last gift giving experience

2) Dig Deeper – Dig Deeper in your second interview and try to focus on motivations for the gift giving experience

3) Capture Findings – Review the Finding and try to document the needs and insights discovered

4) Define Problem Statement – Define the problem statement discovered

5) Sketch – Draw at least 5 radical ways to meet the user’s need and address problem statement.

6) Share – Share your radical solutions and gather feedback from the user

7) Reflect – Reflect based on the feedback gathered and generate a new solution

8) Build – Build a prototype of your solution physically that the user can interact with

9) Review – Learn from your user playing with the prototype. What worked? What should be changed?

Review

I liked the process. In many ways the process reinforces the principles of short feedback loops in Agile and working in iterations. I have seen similar methods being used in Paper Prototyping and UX Design Studio. These hands on design methods work and engage the user.

Empathy?

I’m not sure if having a separate step to focus on Empathy and motivations result in greater client empathy though. Empathy is a personal relationship. Sometimes a 1-1 interview is a hard place to build empathy. Some users may not feel comfortable sharing their motivations face to face. Some users may not even be aware of all their motivations. Just telling people to interview to determine motivations probably won’t be successful.

So what to do?

Luckily we have the methods of Silent Brainstorming and Innovation Games to help uncover empathy and motivations. Unlike interviewing, these are different methods that allow lateral thinking to get to the motivations easier. I like to say they get you to the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’

Innovation Games does this by the use of different metaphors. The metaphors use the psychological concept of projection. Projection is the process of people finding it easier to transfer their thoughts and feelings to another object instead of talking about themselves. This was typically done for the first time in Kindergarten when we had Show and Tell. Show and Tell is a great method to learn more about kids and their thoughts and feelings. With Show and Tell, kids will share how the toys makes them feel and not just describe the toy. This helps us get to the ‘Why?’

It is also a great exercise to get kids comfortable with talking in front of other kids as well. 🙂

Designing too early?

In fact you may say that by asking what people want without asking them why we may be jumping to solution mode. If we know why, the what could be changed. Maybe the what they asked for is just one possibility.

Next Steps

Shameless Plug – I will be presenting on Innovation Games at the next Agile Winnipeg User’s Group on May 14th. Register and come check out other methods to discover Empathy. We will play 2-3 Innovation Games and hopefully learn about each other. 🙂

When #Lean isn’t enough – #novel

We all know about Lean. At least most of us do. We need to Lean our processes and organizations. We need to make them more efficient and less wasteful. But the problem is that Lean is only for incremental improvements. Given an existing process, how can we make it 5%, 10% more efficient? But the problem is that many opportunities for business aren’t just about incremental improvements in processes, we need to develop the new opportunities and products. Does Lean help with this? Absolutely not.

So what are we to do?

Novel Innovations

It is all about Innovation Games and Empathy Maps. With these tools and methods we can actually build customer engagement and try to develop Novel Innovations. With Novel Innovation we can discover new innovation that deliver new markets and services. No longer are we talking about 5%-10%. Now we are taking with total green-field opportunities that can offer 100%-200% growth. We are suddenly moved from a discussion of cost cutting to growth.

So how do we move from Lean to Novel? By changing our focus from internal to external. Instead of looking internally on how we can help to improve the internal working, lets look externally and see what the clients actually want and will pay for. No longer can we just look internally, incremental improvements are not enough.

If you aren’t looking at your customers. your competitors are.

I can’t stress this enough. Innovation is not an internal exercise. Many innovation frameworks look internally and discuss how to propose and gather innovation feedback internally. Without the involvement of the client and the building of client empathy, it is an unfocused effort that is not likely to succeed.

Summary

Read Innovation Games. Learn how to build Customer Engagement and Empathy.These methods will highlighted Novel approaches that will change your business and create the next generation of the business.

Four Information Technology Roles over time #agile #innovation

As I was evaluating the current role of Information Technology in our Industry I looked back and it seemed to be that there have been four distinct roles that Information Technology has played with business over the years

    1) Recording and Reporting 

This role focused mainly on Risk Mitigation. In the early years of computing, there was great value to be gleaned by entering data in a consistent way and minimizing errors. There was also great value realized by then having all the data in one location that could then be reported on to provide key indicators for the health of the business.

Information Technology implemented systems to record the current state or what ‘IS’.

    2) Automation

Soon after Information Technology had implemented solutions to help in Recording and Reporting, focus turned to larger problems like:

1) Automation of workflows/larger processes

2) Scalability

3) Efficiency

4) Availability

I often refer to this as the golden age of computing as we turned the power of the computer to problems that were much easier to scale and make more efficient using a computer rather than adding more people. The benefits were also realized in many workflow projects where Information Technology assisted people in guiding what they were supposed to do in the workflow process. In this phase, the increased computing power was also brought to the forefront to provide processing power that was only dreamed about 5 years ago.

In this phase, Information Technology implemented systems to take business beyond ‘IS’ and towards what business ‘COULD’ do with automation.

    3) Agile

With the Agile Manifesto, Information Technology ushered in the new phase of Agile projects. Now we were focusing not only on the outcomes of the projects, but also HOW the projects were being executed to maximize value. This was done through reducing Cycle Time, Maximizing Client Engagement, and through Visual Project Management.

In this phase, Information Technology implemented project processes that showed how projects should be run.

These first three phases focused on improvement, refinement, assisting the business to get better. We are now on the cusp of the fourth phase where Information Technology helps the business grow.

    4) Innovation

There is much talk about Innovation and how people must innovate, but it remains somewhat elusive. What is clear is that Information Technology has a role to play in helping clients Innovate.

Information Technology is uniquely position to leverage visual tools like Innovation Games, Empathy Maps, Business Model Canvas to provide business the brutal visibility that Information Technology provided previously about the projects in the Agile phase. What is clear is that the trend that Agile started toward visual requirements must continue. Specifications have improved from Specification documents to Use Cases to User Stories to A Business Model Canvas. Each one more visual that the prior.

What is also clear is that asking people what they want and documenting the response in words is a very risky endeavor.

For the first time, Business Models can be captured on one sheet and what-if-analysis can be done like in the first spreadsheet programs to evaluate options and alternatives.

In this phase, Information Technology is analyzing and recommending business processes that show how business can grow.

We won’t just be helping companies to get better, but to be different.

Hang on… This should be fun…