Intrapreneurs are people with vision, and they also need to have skills to bring that vision to fruition. But you don’t have to go it alone. Knowing what you don’t know, studying up on it, and bringing in those with a deeper knowledge of the subject area will help you create the innovation you have in mind. Here are 5 technology traps we often see enthusiastic intrapreneurs fall into. Spoiler alert: these are all about planning. Whether you use a waterfall or agile project methodology, having some structure around planning will insulate you from the frustrations and inefficiencies that can make tech projects aggravating. Without good planning, the last 20% of your project will cost three times as much as the first 80% (yikes!) and in some cases, the whole thing can fall apart without reaching the finish line.
- Objective Soup … or Mush. Technology is a tool. But you need the right tool for the job. A pulley won’t help you change a flat tire, and a screwdriver wouldn’t be helpful in building the pyramids. Thus, you must know your business objective and have a clear problem statement before you can start to develop the right innovation hypothesis, design a technology tool and achieve your goals. Here’s a great piece about asking the right questions to get to a good problem statement.
- “I have no idea how to measure that.” You can measure everything, but you might have to work at how to measure things meaningfully. It’s easy to be precise in your application of performance analytics and measurement tools, but in other places where you can’t be perfectly scientific (or the timelines for meaningful data might be too long to be useful here), agree on some proxy measurements and then use them. State your assumptions, and why these proxy measurements will be meaningful in the development and evaluation of your project. For example, if your objective is to increase employee retention and you’re working on a new benefits program, it’s going to take years to measure success. So, measure what you can – current and projected online engagement of the benefits plan, increased enrollment and utilization of the plan, and some reasonable assumption that increased benefit utilization will make your team more sticky over time!
- Bright! Shiny! Objects! Some leaders and teams implement new technologies like they are collecting Pokemon. Shiny objects are new things that are getting all the attention, but may not necessarily be the thing that helps you achieve your real goals. If you fall for a shiny object, you often waste time, money and patience. Some of the most meaningful technology investments you can make aren’t particularly sexy, but they are highly functional, make everyone’s job easier, establish good data hygiene, develop a sound data architecture, replace complex excel spreadsheets with dashboards and analytics tools build a solid foundation on top of which you can do more innovation over time, like AI and automation. If you’re really clear about your objectives (see #1 above) you’ll be ready to choose the right tools and avoid falling into the Bright Shiny Object trap.
- Prisoner to the Budget Cycle. It’s quite common for teams to wait until they have money available before they start planning a project in earnest. However, I believe it’s critical to initiate the planning process with operational budgets so that you have a firm foundation in place when your project is actually funded. Planning is the most important part of any project, and you don’t want compromise planning diligence. Get creative if you have to, but get all of the measurement, support, and project validation in place first so getting your project funding is just another step in the process. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create a prototype. That sounds way more sophisticated than it actually needs to be. You can mock up a visual of what a new screen or application might look like using your favorite presentation software as a way to more fully illustrate how your new project will elevate your business without spending anything. A picture is worth a thousand words and a couple of prototype slides are worth thousands of pre-budget dollars.
- Leaving Your Stakeholders on the Sidelines. This one can get really ugly, but for reasons you don’t necessarily expect. Of course you’re going to line up a project champion that will support and drive your initiative to completion, but you are also want to pitch to and rally representation from all groups that have a vested interest in the outcome of your project. A great example of this is being sure to include service teams and service representatives that often carry the burden of poorly executed technology projects. We have one client that now includes representation from their service center for their product development and while they may not drive the product enhancements, their ability to communicate the voice of the customer has steered the business away from making potentially disastrous changes.
As wise as you think you may be reading this post, these 5 traps are ever-present! Avoiding these traps takes intention, consistent attention, and discipline! And doing it well is critical to building a culture of innovation within your organization. You can be the change that you want to see. Thinking through these 5 things in advance will help you plan and lead a successful project. Chances are at least a couple of them will show up in the midst of your project — that’s to be expected. But you’ll be aware, minimize risk, and be prepared to course correct as needed to meet your goals.
As always, we love to talk about this stuff, so reach out if we can help you think through how to avoid these common traps as you’re planning your next project.