People Innovation: A New Vision to Innovate

By Luigi Morsa, Ph.D. 

Nowadays, companies are very conscious that if they want to be competitive, they have to innovate. The conquered market shares can rapidly disappear or drastically be reduced. The only way is to keep pace, to be reactive and introduce new solutions, ideally before their competitors. It is worth quoting a sentence of the father of the Open Innovation concept, Henry Chesbrough: “Most innovation fails. And companies that don’t innovate die” [1].

In the complex companies’ world, as is well-known to the experts (contrary to what is broadly thought), innovation is not only linked to a new product; the innovation can be also relative to a new process, a new company asset, a new procedure, or a new business model. In a nutshell, we can agree that innovation is all about bringing improvement and efficiency; and affecting the development of a company in a positive manner.

It is also true that there are innovations with different importance, namely there exist innovations with different impacts on a company and on a market; for instance, the strongest innovations are the ones able to replace an existing market or create a new one. This leads to the fascinating economic concepts of “Creative Destruction Innovation” by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 [2] and “Disruptive Technologies” by Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen in 1995 [3].

On the other hand, a less important innovation does not really affect the old scenario but brings some benefit to the company. It is clear that a company has to focus on innovations at each level. In order to efficiently pursue this task, companies have adopted several tools, procedures and strategies that help the birth of new ideas – in addition to adopting the classical Research and Development department (especially if we are speaking about product innovation).

The ideas are clearly generated by people and therefore the companies realized that a secret to obtain as many new ideas as possible is to create the “ideal condition” to allow people to bring their contribution. One interesting way to accomplish the task is represented by the so-called “Innovation Management Software (IMS)”. This has been developing during the last two decades and it can be seen as the last evolution of the “suggestion box”, introduced more than 100 years ago and still present in some offices.

The Innovation software programs are usually conceived in a way that there is a common platform where all the users (basically employees of the company) have access and can freely leave their proposals or opinions about a possible new idea. Then, each new proposal generates an online debate or discussion with the effect to improve it. Once a certain number of ideas is reached, the selection phase starts. This is conducted by innovation project managers with the support of sector experts and business unit people. Their intent is to evaluate the feasibility from a technical and business point of view, respectively. Finally, this committee selects the ideas which are worthy of an investment [4].

In most cases, even though the IMS is very fascinating, a good percentage of employees are reluctant to contribute their ideas to the company. Possible reasons may be because they have not developed a sense of belonging, they simply do not believe in the company, or they think that an idea given to the company is a kind of gift without a sure repayment. In order to avoid such inefficiencies, the latest tools like IMS should be supported by an additional software that we could baptize “People Innovation (PI)”. The purpose of this article is not to give a detailed description about the software concept, but to discuss the main guidelines and benefits.

The starting point is the slight change in the philosophical approach between the IMS and People Innovation (PI). We can say that the innovation management software is based on the assumption that the main heritage of a company that wants to innovate lies on the ideas of the people of the company; therefore, the software “simply” helps the development of ideas. In the case of PI, the basis goes beyond: the main heritage of a company to innovate lies on the people of the company; therefore, the software helps people to innovate themselves and, consequently, also the company.

If the company believes in the employees, the employees feel more motivated to give their contribution to the company and, finally, to innovate.

The weak side of the IMS is, on one hand, it favors peoples’ connections and discussions to help generate ideas. On the other hand, it does not care about how an employee can develop himself or herself during this time. How can a sense of belonging or the desire to participate in the innovation process of a company be generated in employees? The answer is the following: through the idea that a company wants to take care of its employees, wants to bet on them, wants to donate a future vision and want to define professional development for them.

We can imagine that the PI software could have a special section where all the employees’ profiles are stored and for each of them, the possible career paths are shown, the courses needed to achieve some results are advised, as well as how their innovative ideas can be supported or promoted. 

The other important aspect is, who are the players that ensure PI works properly? In this regard, we are talking about people in Human Resources, the project innovation managers and the line managers. All these players have to have access to the PI shell, and they have to help employees in their development in the company. In general, HR could monitor if an employee is satisfied and understand all of his/her needs, the line manager could define what can be done for their professional development and the project innovation manager could stay alert in case of new potential ideas.

The software could definitely be a powerful tool to motivate employees. One of the biggest challenges in organizational management is how to provide recognition (and possibly rewards) to workers that make a significant contribution to the business. There are two critical issues with recognition systems.

  • First, not all employees are in a position where their performance can be directly related to business success. This can alienate workers who believe they are missing out on these opportunities because of their current work assignment or position.
  • Second, the company must decide if the recognition will be done monetarily or non-monetarily. Believe it or not, having a diagram with the visible professional development, with the past achievements and above all with the future targets for an employee is priceless. People could believe that regular meetings with HR and managers of various kinds are enough, but they are not. Software is needed since it is important to have a visible, professional situation and clear prospects.

In conclusion, we observe that PI’s purpose is not to replace traditional innovation software management. On the contrary, PI actually completes the IMS by enlarging potential. The IMS encourages cooperation for the development of an idea, creates the useful connections and improves the concepts promoting discussions. PI accompanies and drives the employees during their stay in the company in order to find out the best way to be motivated and to better express themselves, and it creates more suitable conditions to generate ideas. It is something that a company (devout to innovation) should have and develop according to its needs.

About the Author
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in Germany at the consultant company SII engineering & IT. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. More in detail, Luigi wrote the case study “The Airbus A380” and the chapter on “Innovation Management Software” for the books Project Management Case Studies, Fifth Edition (Wiley, 2017) and Innovation Project Management (Wiley, 2019), respectively. In 2018, he was a speaker at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® EMEA Congress to discuss the complexity of the aircraft-industry market, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the product and customer needs.


References: 

[1]. Henry W. Chesbrough, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology”, Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

[2]. Joseph A. Schumpeter, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, Harper & Brothers, 1942.

[3]. Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave”, Harvard Business Review, 1995.

[4]. Harold Kerzner, “Innovation Project Management”, John Wiley & Sons, 2019.


Transforming to an Agile Enterprise

By Sandeep Shouche

Most executives will hear the Agile buzzword and ask their teams to “do this agile thing.” For many executives, Agile only means: Do it even faster than before. Deliver whenever I want it. Don’t question when I want to change it.

True “Agility” is a much deeper change and most enterprises will underestimate the amount of change they will experience when they adopt Agile. There are several deep-rooted habits that have to be kicked and some new ones have to be embraced.

While there are many organizations that claim to be an Agile enterprise, very few actually behave like one. But what exactly goes into making an Agile enterprise? An Internet search reveals a lot of marketing pitches, but not a lot of guidance about how to become one.

In our observation, there are a number of characteristics that go into the successful making of an Agile enterprise. So here are some views about what an Agile enterprise looks like.

It all starts at the top. The senior executives understand what Agility means and lead by example.

Some of the ways in which this manifests itself are:

The portfolio of the organization is dynamic. They recognize that change is the only constant and there is no such thing as “certainty.”
They will not hesitate to make strategic decisions whenever the time is right and not just in “strategy summits” where a chosen few executives make plans for the rest of the organization for a year or more.
They make clear priority calls whenever required. They do not start several initiatives all at once, keeping the amount of work in the system at a reasonable level.
Prioritization is always based on potential to create customer value. Other considerations (like preferences of the team, opinions and political pulls) play second fiddle.
They understand that nothing is delivered perfectly the first time. They encourage teams to experiment. Rather than bully teams into building the perfect product with ridiculous deadlines, they encourage them to unlock value quickly by delivering incrementally.
They realize the final solution and product can only be arrived at through a process of experimentation and use of iterative methods. They encourage their teams to take risks and make it safe to fail sometimes.


The organization focuses on products rather than projects.

Instead of focusing on project-centric measures like schedule variance and cost variance, they focus on product-centric measures like “value delivered.”
They don’t try to optimize for project delivery. Instead, they focus on the product-related business case (because products will last several years, whereas projects are ephemeral).
They frequently question the business case of the product even during the projects that occur during its life-cycle. They will gracefully exit products which no longer make business sense.


The organization embraces a Lean culture.
They apply Lean principles and embody the philosophy of continuous improvement.

They frequently stop to fix problems, rather than quickly apply band-aid fixes.
They encourage the teams to look for improvement opportunities to reduce “waste”. Most of the incremental improvements come from the team, rather than top-down.
They work on a few things at a time and complete them, rather than leave too much work on the table.


Their teams are cross-functional, able to cut across silos and truly collaborate to unlock value for their customers through high quality products and services.

Disagreements and conflicts are always resolved by focusing on “how does this increase customer value?” rather than political positioning.
Before demanding something from other departments, each department first focuses inwards and comes up with constructive suggestions.
Everybody’s incentives are governed more by their contribution to overall customer value rather than their individual output.


They are completely transparent with their stakeholders, especially their employees who feel empowered and valued.

Across the organization, everybody is aware of what “customer value” really means and they strive to maximize it.
Their plans are realistic rather than aggressive. They know that keeping everybody busy is less important than ensuring that they all contribute to building value.
They do not lull the customer into false sense of security. They willingly share information about potential risk factors. They offer a high-level roadmap and a detailed, short-term plan to recognize the uncertain nature of the business.
They never hide bad news from their customers. They willingly admit mistakes or slippages and always offer a plan to make it better rather than blame others or the environment.

Many of the above might seem to be platitudes – “motherhood and apple pie” statements. To ensure that they do not just remain in policy documents or on the walls, it is important to develop indicators and measures for each statement that will prove that either you are meeting the requirements or that you are not.

What we are talking about is a “balanced scorecard” for an Agile enterprise. Of course, each organization is unique and the scorecards will be different for each organization.

For more information about how to build one for your organization, do get in touch with us.

About the Author
Sandeep Shouche (PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSP, [ASM.EN], ITIL Expert, PRINCE2) is an expert in the areas of project, program management, Agile methodologies and IT Service Management. He has over 24 years of project management experience in different industries and geographies. Sandeep has been on the Board of the Project Management Institute – Pune Chapter. He has authored and been featured in several articles and conferences related to project and program Management. Outside of work, Sandeep is deeply committed to voluntary work for social causes and has a profound love of the mountains.

 

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Riding the Agility Surfboard on the 3rd Wave of the Internet

By Tom Friend, FLEX Coach, CSP, ACP, AHF, PSM, CSM | Business Agility Consultant, IIL

Catch Tom’s presentation, “Collective Intelligence: Leveraging the ‘Swarm’ on your Teams,” at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference on May 4th.

Today, we are on the cusp of the third wave of the Internet. A vast ocean of opportunity lies before us.

The first wave was creating the cable and switches that became the backbone of the World Wide Web. The second wave was an increase of connections between people on social media and of business platforms.  Now, this third wave will leverage business services in conjunction with distributed cloud solutions that we are only beginning to imagine.

As the future emerges, attention is moving from an internally based analytical view of planning and delivery to a more outward emphasis of identifying and responding to threats and opportunities. Meaning that traditional project management methodologies and waterfall mindsets will not be able to keep up with the valuable products and services that customers are looking for in this new wave. As companies move away from old methods it is vital to select the right Agile frameworks and practices.

However, keep in mind that it’s not only the framework and practices that need to be addressed but the organizational decision-making process.

Many times this process will retain its hierarchical structure which short circuits fast Agile feedback loops. This legacy from old processes has led to the rise of “Water-Scrum-Fall”, where Agile practices are adopted mechanically but culture, habits, and values of the organization have not changed, resulting in a lot of frustration of doing something new, but not seeing positive results. Paddling the surfboard out to the waves is quite different than riding it in.

Organizations that successfully integrate Agile typically do not only focus on a process-led approach, but focus on creating a shift in culture. Processes and teams are temporary, whereas culture creates the default habits that persist in an organization. A positive culture requires commitment, leadership, and a willingness to follow. These qualities mean something different for every organization.

In this third wave, predictability is no longer a competitive advantage—adaptability is. The value of Agile is not in its practices or processes, but in the mindset shift. This shift helps develop individual core competencies to be adaptive, transparent, collaborative, and responsive. There is a difference in doing Agile and being Agile. When you become Agile, you have gained the associated competitive advantage over your competitors.

Agile is turning the traditional way of developing software upside down. The framework and practices help an organizations’ team visualize a solution, engage the right people, and deliver the highest business value. This is supported by the collaboration between the team and the customer on contracts, requirements, and dialogue.

By focusing on the people within your organization and leading them to be Agile, you can free your teams from a complex process and structure-led response to disruption. Your organization can develop a culture that thrives in complex, unpredictable, and rapidly changing environments.

Catch the wave and enjoy the ride. Surf’s up!

More insights await at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference, going live on May 4th. 5 keynotes and 20 sessions to choose from, plus networking and PDUs/SEU®s.

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About the Author

Tom Friend is an Agile Coach and Trainer currently at Duke Energy in Charlotte, NC.  Tom is a retired military pilot, small unit leader, and squadron commander. He is an accomplished Agile consultant, trainer, and coach with 23 years’ experience leading software development teams in various industries to include federal, banking, cable, telecommunications, and energy. He has 12 years of hands on Agile / XP / Scrum software development experience.  He is a distinguished graduate from Air War College and has a BS in Aeronautics. [/trx_infobox]