Five Technology Innovation Traps To Avoid

Five Technology Innovation Traps To Avoid

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.

  1. 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.  
  2. “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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

An Agile Origin Story

An Agile Origin Story

Agile

Adjective   ag·ile | \ ˈa-jəl  

Definition of agile:

1: marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace

2: having a quick resourceful and adaptable character

Antonyms: awkward, clumsy, gawky, graceless, klutzy, lumbering, ungainly, ungraceful

Noun   ag·ile

Definition of Agile: 1: relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

Which side of this definition appeals to you?  Which side characterizes the way your company or team generally feels in the midst of a data system upgrade or business acquisition?  If your answer to those questions isn’t the same, it’s OK. And it’s typical. But it doesn’t have to be.

One of my first major projects at a large bank was to plan a large, multi-department conversion estimated to take place over the span of 30 months. From experience, I knew the kinds of theater that went into budgeting and planning, and I wanted to do it differently. So I started with the target completion date and worked back with my own timeline and budget estimates for each respective team to complete their piece.  My VP glared at me. “How on earth could you know all of these dates and the timing without working with each respective department to develop requirements?” I explained that no one was willing to spend time planning if the project wasn’t approved yet and there was no other way to get started (not yet knowing there was a methodology called Agile that would help crack this conundrum) and she got it.  She championed the process for pulling together all of the relevant stakeholders and we put together a very real (and eventually very successful) waterfall project. However, it only really worked because she was very dedicated to the project and wielded a lot of power.

Fast forward to the world of start-ups, faster moving digital economies and greater competition, and the Agile approach has become commonplace in the tech development world.  But as I learned how to apply it to software development in a tech startup, I realized it’s also incredibly applicable to all aspects of business. Agile opened my eyes to the idea that if the right case is built, individuals can take ownership themselves, collectively architect solutions and take near-term steps to advance toward the target goal.  Because we weren’t placing big bets (and thus big risk) it was easy to get consensus, because we were willing to go back and shift based on successes or failures we observed, we were willing to stick our necks out. Communication was better, outcomes were better, and satisfaction was through the roof.  This was a whole new revelation.

We use Agile methods here at 7SM, and we also love to teach about them so you can apply this approach in your own work.  Agile approaches empower changemakers and intrapreneurs. It reduces the burden of layers of management to support personal autonomy and increased communication to achieve shared goals with more grace and ease. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

Want to learn more? Tell us what you’re thinking about or want to accomplish.  We’d love to chat.

We are 7 Simple Machines

We are 7 Simple Machines

Greetings!

Welcome to our brand new blog.  For over 15 years we’ve been here building tools and systems for companies with aspirational goals, acquiring other companies, and innovating.  We’ve been the “behind-the-scenes” magic sauce for leaders and innovators who are making change from the inside of their companies.

Here’s what we learned: there are a lot ofintrapreneursout there.  Who are intrapreneurs? The people INSIDE companies and organizations that have an entrepreneurial mindset, are creative problem solvers, and have a lot of integrity. (Learn more about the classic intrapreneur characteristics in this Harvard Business Review article.)  We love intrapreneurs. They are the people who see opportunities, want to make their work efficient and effective, and want to provide value to the company. But, they don’t always have the experience, authority or budget to make their vision a reality.

But it may be possible, even if it doesn’t look that way on the surface.  And that’s what we love to do. And we can only do it if we are talking to the intrapreneurs! Which is why we started a blog.

Through this blog we hope to accomplish 5 things:

  1. Communicate a framework for anyone to understand how to digest and approach technology, especially those that are seeking to bring innovation into their company.
  2. Help decision makers see where they need to invest now in order to position their companies for the next phase of innovation and market shift, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain tokens. [Hint: your data foundation better be rock solid.]
  3. Share stories of those who are doing it in their own work, from the CEO to the HR manager to the entry-level IT person, working on projects that update legacy systems or incorporate new technologies, or simply build tools that make for simpler workflows.  Intrapreneurs come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. Teach about the value of Agile methodologies, and how they apply not only to tech, but to all aspects of your work and company growth to reduce risk provide the biggest bang for the buck.
  5. Support you by answering your questions and curating the most important lessons you need to know to stay on top of your rapidly changing business world.

Got an idea? See a problem you want to fix or an opportunity you want to take advantage of?  Let us know! We want to hear what you’re thinking about, and to support your intrapreneurship. Comment on this blog, drop us a lineor you can book a 15 minute chat with me.

Every business needs smart, creative intrapreneurs.  If not you, who?

Jen, Karim and the 7SM Team

 

Recent Blog

Five Technology Innovation Traps To Avoid

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...

read more

An Agile Origin Story

Agile Adjective   ag·ile | \ ˈa-jəl   Definition of agile: 1: marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace 2: having a quick resourceful and adaptable character Antonyms: awkward, clumsy, gawky, graceless, klutzy, lumbering, ungainly, ungraceful Noun   ag·ile...

read more

We are 7 Simple Machines

Greetings! Welcome to our brand new blog.  For over 15 years we’ve been here building tools and systems for companies with aspirational goals, acquiring other companies, and innovating.  We’ve been the “behind-the-scenes” magic sauce for leaders and innovators who are...

read more