Tom Peruzzi's thoughts on digital, innovation, IT and operations

From innovation to execution and back again

Posted in development, general, startup failures by opstakes on June 21, 2016

Innovation is creativity plus production. Simply said. Said so, what happens if your organisation learned to execute and driven by the successful delivery lost to innovate? What can and should you do as a CTO if your company still is innovative but Technology stuck in execution and delivery only, so likely missing opportunities offered by the ongoing innovation in the tech space?

Most firms don’t succeed as they cannot deliver, there are more ideas out there than executed ones so it seems like execution is a very important skill. But a skill alone isn’t enough, there isn’t just execution or just creativity. So how do you get back a good balance without risking your delivery performance? Several ways can be figured out like

  • an R&D department
  • external innovation
  • rotate innovation team

While R&D is the “old” way with lots of books you can read about it and good measures like the ratio between R&D expenses and overall revenue it may not work with every organisation. The more agile you are, the more self organized teams you support, the less you want to have a department being responsible for the cool new stuff. If we believe in stuff like self organizing teams, Daniel Pinks’s Drive and lean management potentially we will not go forward building a separate department with different rules, procedures, budget and team.

Getting in external innovation seems to be the easy way as it primarily needs money first but be aware, integration is king, otherwise the effect is zero. I’ve seen too many companies failing in integration and making use of the innovation potential. There are some out there managing it really good and absorbing new ideas, it’s in their DNA to get external people and ideas in on a permanent basis and adopt quickly. In order to do so you have to prepare culture and team to manage it properly. That may take some time and effort, not only money.

The rotate team is slightly different. Bring in another PO with a high level of freedom and start 1 or 2 innovation projects outside the ongoing product development cycle. Build a rough backlog and promote it to your dev team. Allow 2 or 3 of your devs to jump in (auction it) and work on it for 2-6 sprints up to prototype and promotion to your organization. If your ideas succeed and survive corporate review, integrate it in your daily routines and start another cool idea. If they don’t survive, conserve findings and learnings and start another cool idea. Whatever happens you havn’t spent too much money and effort but learned a lot and 1 or 2 ideas a year minimum should be worth going further.

Development should never take over product management but there are plenty of ways to influence, inspire and challenge your corporate product development. It is our job as developers to make the products happen. Developers are the one understanding and adopting new technology. The rotate team approach is one which helps your developers stay up-to-date, inspire the organisation and support your company in showing new ways to progress without the need of a separate R&D department.

Rotate teams work with 2 devs and a PO and they work with 5 or more teams too. It’s a question of how (lean) to organize and how to avoid a distraction of the execution chain. Eg. you may have to make sure that the developers joining the team will have to spend some extra time in coaching their former team to get their stories done. If you havn’t spent too much attention on shared knowledge before, for sure you would have after your rotate team journey. And it’s a great way for your developers to step up and show their passion and love of technology. An extreme version I have seen is that the guys working on the PoC were later named in the release documents. A great way of contribution and appraisal.

I hope you like the rotate team approach. Please share your stories, would love hearing more about the different approaches out there and how to manage agile, lean and innovation without managing different teams.

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