The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Has the agile caused a reduction in critical thinking?

 

thinking.pngLately, I’ve been talk to some folks about problems they are having in their production environments. As I talk with them about the issues they encounter it seems clear they don’t even know their environment well enough to ask the right questions, let alone answer them.

 

Critical thinking skills were something where a great deal of work was focused on when computing resources were scarce and thinking time was relatively abundant (because you were sitting around waiting for code to compile). Now those forced breaks are rare, so people spend their time iterating through the coding process without having a chance to take a step back.

 

I don’t think agile techniques should cause a reduction in critical thinking, but I just see the potential is there to not really understand the architecture, the business rational… - since most developers are now so enamored with having working code. If you’re properly doing code reviews/walkthroughs you can outsource some of that big picture work to someone else and you’re forced to think it through.

 

Lately I’ve been looking at Lean Six-sigma techniques and applying them to operations management. This view is not anything new, but the abundance of computing capabilities should allow us to drive the costs out of its application. This technique usually involves asking these same kind of big picture questions although operations is a bit late in the process for that.

 

Do you see these issues too? What do you do about them?

 

New retail e-zine

 

retail e-zine.jpgHP Enterprise Services continues to create e-zines on a number of industries like banking, automotive, … We just released a new e-zine focused on consumer/retail. The topics being covered are:

  • The future of consumer industries: agility in a fast-paced world
  • Grow globally and profitably in a consumer-centric world
  • Coca-Cola® gets personal with HP Indigo digital technology
  • Increase speed, productivity and agility through transformation
  • Mary Kay successfully builds a mobility platform in China
  • Create, manage, and expand thriving brand categories
  • Avon Cycles Ltd. improves supplier management with SAP HANA
  • Regulatory compliance and overcoming risks
  • Brady Corporation helps stop the spread of counterfeit products

Also included is a 'meet the experts' (Lawrence Guevel, Tony Galli, Michael Donovan) to provide a little context for some of those focused on this space.

 

The need for an innovative look at innovation efforts

innovation unlock.pngI’ve been in a number of discussion lately looking at innovation activities. In today’s dynamic business environment, the status quo is riskier than changing – sometimes it may not matter which direction you move, as long as you’re not standing still.

 

I am a big advocate for gamification, but most of these efforts are based on a bottoms-up approach that tries to leverage the ‘intelligence of the crowd’. Some interesting things definitely do come out of these efforts, but rarely are they directed on what is really needed. If 5% can be implemented, you’re doing great with these approaches.

 

That is where top down approaches to innovation come into play. They try to focus the innovation flow around a specific concern or issue. I used the term flow, because it’s happening, whether we tap into it or not – innovation is just part of being human. Top down in combination with a bottoms-up approach are more effective. Yet – they’re not effective enough.

 

I have figured out a few things (that are probably obvious to most):

  • Innovation needs a strategic focus. At the same time, the chance of getting it right the first time is slim, so an approach needs to be both strategic and agile (at the same time).
  • Innovation needs to be part of the mindset of the people involved. For many organizations, innovation doesn't feature anywhere in their plans and that’s a shame. This can be true for entrepreneurial organizations as well as large corporations. I mentioned strategic importance of innovation, yet culture eats strategy for lunch.
  • If you want to grow, you need to find a way of embedding innovation in your strategic priorities – and that means investment. It also needs to be focused on what you do and how you do it. This is one of the most frustration parts of working in the IT space. We think that being innovative in IT is something that should be recognized by the rest of the business. In many ways, they pay us (particularly service organizations) so they don’t need to see it at all – let alone view it as innovative.
  • Innovation efforts need to be measurable. Just because ideas are new, doesn’t mean there won’t be a ruler to measure progress. There will be one, why not plan on it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the first laws of technical leadership is “don’t discourage them”. The same can be true about the approach to innovation. At the same time, innovation efforts need to be focused on outcomes -- we actually need to do something and not just think about it.

 

I have come to the conclusion that we need a more innovative approach to innovation, since the whole concept is full of conflicts. One of the first things that is probably always true though is the need to develop a common understanding and definition of innovation, since it can mean so much to so many .

Metrics usage in an agile approach

change.pngA couple of months ago, I did a post on: The supply and demand issues of governance, including issues that cause organizations to be blindsided by events.

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this a bit more but from the metrics side -- defining and collecting the leading and lagging indicators of change associated with governance. There is quite a bit of material on this concept, but this link to a definition on leading indicators is focused on economic leading indicators. The concepts for business processes are similar.

 

Leading indicators show progress, lagging indicators confirm completion (examples on this perspective made me dig up a post I did in 2009 about measuring cloud adoption). Most organization’s processes only have lagging indicators. These are metrics that identify we’ve hit milestones… This can allow efforts to get fairly far down a path before they can do course corrections. More predictive approaches are possible and needed to adapt to this changing approach to business.

 

When I look at applying gamification, I usually come up with numerous leading indicators since gamification is about influencing the work in progress. When approaching change, look for items that show improvement or change and not just validation of achievement.

Start small but think big, when transforming

StartSmallThinkBig.jpgYesterday, I posted about how we’re half-way through the current stage of IT and mentioned how IT needs to change. Today, I saw an interesting post from McKinsey & Company that has some similar views: Reinventing IT to support digitization.

 

They have identified seven elements critical to IT performance improvement:

1)      Clear, central business leadership on digital

2)      Elite IT talent

3)      Sourcing arrangements to scale the workforce rapidly

4)      Agile development and rapid releases

5)      Rapid innovation architecture supported by stable services

6)      Scalable cloud-based infrastructure

7)      High-quality integrated data

 

I agree with all those points, although I’d have dropped off the ‘on digital’ from the first point. I think all too often we continue to unnecessarily isolate the information technology goals and efforts from the business.

 

The article went on to describe a two-speed approach to transformation. This is one area that is as much about risk control as providing new capabilities. Start small but think big – is probably the rule. We can’t change everything at once and when making this kind of change, you need to develop experience.

This was driven home to me the other day when I was talking with my son (who teaches on-line). He was looking for a way to contact his students in a flexible, yet automated fashion. I said “Oh, no problem. I’ll just write an app for your phone.” I’ve written apps for a number of different mobile platforms over the years, so I thought it would be easy. I laid out a storyboard of the various screens. I bounced requirements off him. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, to make it look professional.

 

I dug into coding the first prototype. It seemed everywhere I turned, the Android environment didn’t want to support me in my efforts. It just didn’t have the fundamentals in the OS that I needed (or maybe the way I wanted them). So, I started to break the application down into various components that I could understand, validate and execute. Eventually, I will stitch them all together into a final application, but my first goal now is to get something dumb and functional that he can play with – without all the bells and whistles that were in the early design. A page out of any Agile Development handbook.

 

The same approach is needed as an organization starts to tackle its larger business support role and reinvention of its application portfolio.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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