Innovation is a Team Sport


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Innovation is important to your company’s future. However, is innovation in your environment an “ivory tower” where a select few have a monopoly on the subject or, is innovation a team sport for you?

The short video below provides some great insight into patterns of innovation. After watching this video, I am reminded that no one company, country, division, department, team, or individual has a monopoly on innovation. Rather, innovations take time and benefit from the collision of slow hunches from multiple people. Innovation is indeed a team sport, made  up of individual players with unique value to contribute!

Keep this in mind as you go about our business within your current environment. We are all called to innovate. Be sure to bring your hunches to your management, project teams, and discussions. Your customers, employees and stakeholders deserve the benefit of your innovative thoughts.

Organizational Capability for Transformation

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“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral John Stockdale, USN.

How do you align the business with IT? How do you confront the reality of a business strategy when it represents a threat to the status quo? How do you align that direction with a portfolio of projects that incrementally deliver on the desired change? In order to transformation a business, company, division, or team, you need to assemble many disciplines and techniques including but not limited to: business strategy, enterprise architecture, project management, personal development, communication, and training.

There are many books, white papers, and commentary on business strategy, project management, change management, IT governance, and organizational design. However, I rarely see any transformational thought leadership that describes these concepts as organizational capabilities, or services that work together in unison. When teams have raised their capability to deliver multiple skills like this, they position themselves better for success.

In order to transform an organization, the organization needs to position itself for success by building the capability to change, or transform. Too frequently, leaders assemble only one or maybe two of the disciplines listed above to deliver significant change. Calling on Admiral Stockdale’s profound leadership, transformational leaders should have confidence in the 1 or 2 skills they have brought together to drive change, but they should also confront the reality that most transformations fail. Have you assembled all the skills and capabilities you need to be successful with your change? What additional capabilities does your team need to better position you for success? Confront your reality and adjust  your team to bring more transformational capabilities to the table.

It’s Time to Get in the Game

It’s Time for CIOs to Get in the Game

Are you in the game or on the sidelines? In a recent article on, it is suggested that its time for CIO’s to get in the game. while I couldn’t agree more, I would encourage you to take this article one step further.

If you find yourself wanting to get in the game now, I suggest that you are significantly behind the curve. For how many years has the concept of transformation via the CIO role been around? This is not a new concept, rather a concept that is rising in importance and possibility due to the level of disruption enabled by technology…think “commercialization of IT” as an example.

So, lets presume you are behind the curve. Where do you start? How do you start? I recently fielded questions like this at the PhillyETE conference. Some food for thought:

  • Follow the pain – What are the top 3-5 problems in the business? Find a sponsor to partner with and go solve for one of them, then make it a poster child for the business value you can drive as a CIO. to help identify the pain points, think of the following areas of your enterprise: revenue, operations, client perspective, and competitive position. Surely, there are some low hanging fruit to address in these contexts.
  • Attack the white space – To avoid turf battles and resistance to your delivery of business value, find areas of the company where there is no business model, or little risk. In Adam Hartung’s book Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition, he discusses this concept in detail. My simple interpretation is “white space = unexplored opportunities” in your enterprise. For example, find areas of the business where there is no risk to the existing revenue streams and drive value.
  • Innovate, Transform, Lights-On – Chances are you have projects that are transforming your company, and you are undoubtedly running systems to keep the lights on. However, what are you doing to innovate? Framing your activities within these constructs can help you focus on the innovation part. What innovations could be valued by your company? How is your budget allocated across these three areas? Can you find ways to reduce your “lights-on” spend to fund some innovation? presents a great topic that is timely given the current state of the CIO. Take the discussion a step further, get off the sidelines, and get in the game!

What about Creating Marketplace Disruption?

LinkedIn: Reading List by Amazon.

If you want a practical, down to earth view on dealing with transformational challenges, you owe it to yourself and your clients / company to read this book. Adam Hartung’s “phoenix principle” concept crystallizes what companies and teams can do to make transformations happen. For a quick insight into the thinking, check out his blog at

Adam does a great job framing business transformation or changes within several actionable constructs like: success formulas, defend and extend management, and white space. These concepts are unique in my opinion as most other business transformation or change management books stay in the academic theory space. While the academics books fly at 100,000 feet, Adam’s contributions take you down below 50,000 feet. It gives you constructs to frame your own transformations.

  • Success Formulas – What business patterns has your company or client developed to turn a profit? Do they work still? Are they cost challenged? Are they threatened by new market entrants with a technology disruption? What is your next success formula?
  • Defend & Extend Management – This was my favorite concept. You know this one. You live it everyday. I’ll bet you have a manager or executive who is very happy with the current environment and may even be content. As content increases, appetite to change decreases because change represents a risk to their content. When this happens, you end up with a defend and extend management approach, where companies look to minimize risk to their current content in deference to growth. As opposed to conquering new challenges, individuals and teams (even companies) look to defend or preserve what they have today, in spite of it (it = sales, revenue, profit, etc.) declining on a periodic basis.
  • White space – Where is your company innovating with permission to attack the sacred cows? As a related tangent to this discussion, check out my previous post regarding my concept of Sacred Cow Driven Change. For those companies that have a dependency on a stream of sales / revenue / profit, find the white space in your business, or area where you have no risk to the current stream of sales / revenue / profit and innovate, take risk, roll with the punches, try new ideas.

For the technologists out there, I suggest this book is to business transformation as the book Design Patterns by the Gang of Four was to object oriented software. This is a work that you can refer to for patterns to model your transformations from.

After finishing the book , you will still be left with the question of how to apply the concepts to your own scope of responsibility, just like most other concepts on business transformation. The magic with transformation is in the “how” not necessarily the “what”, although this contribution by Adam does a great job with framing the what.

The New New CIO Role: Big Changes Ahead

The New New CIO Role: Big Changes Ahead –

In a recent discussion with a previous client of mine and now friend, I was challenged as to why I view the role of CIO as exciting. The attached article does a good job of answering my friend Jim’s question. Incidentally, you can read Jim’s musings on his blog at O’Reilly Radar.

What’s not to love about being on the border between the business and IT, or shall I say the border between France and Germany circa 1944? That would be brutal. 1970 might be a little more tolerable. 2010 even more so. This analogy is not meant to compare the brutalities of war with our current business environment, rather this conscious exaggeration via analogy hopefully crystallizes the concept of being on a border between two different cultures. I told Jim “some people are just drawn to chaos!” with big smile on my face like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. If you enjoy creating order out of chaos, if you enjoy bringing structure to an unstructured challenge, and you can translate business and technology, then the CIO role is something you should consider.

My favorite insights from this article:

  • There are two kinds of CIOs: operational and strategic. Which one plays to your sweet-spot?
  • On tomorrow’s CIOs…the future CIOs have to be excellent in negotiating; spend all their time with the business; be a visionary; be a “tweener” – someone who always operated between the business and IT. How do you map into this description?
  • A CIO who is transforming their business needs to concentrate on the four P’s: Perception, Profile, Participation and Performance. Rate yourself in these areas.
  • CIO = Chief Transformation Officer What have YOU transformed?
  • And they have to operate or deliver. Think…DELIVERY is job 1! Don’t forget the daily blocking and tackling.

I recently came across another interesting corroborating perspective on the CIO role as a Chief Insight Officer. I found this very “insightful”.

At the end of the day, technology is disrupting everything. We look back on history and refer to the industrial era, and reflect on the quantity of change that period delivered. We are now working within the “knowledge” era where the knowledge you gain today, might be obsolete in a matter of months based on the pace of change. We are constantly learning and displacing old tools or techniques with new ones to maintain our profit margins and compete with larger and smaller competition. All along, the CIO is in the eye of the storm, and the person who can strategically create order from chaos while operating an environment of increasing complexity and building effective relationships across the business and IT leadership will make a measurable difference to a company’s bottom line.

IT Governance Rule #2 of 3 – Make sure you are doing things right

In article 2 of a 3 part series on IT Governance, if you have a capability to make sure you are doing the right things (article 1), you need to make sure you are doing them right. With this entry, lets assume you or your organization know what matters most, and your focus is  in determining how to make sure your team delivers.

What matters more, an excellent strategy or excellent execution? If you had to pick one, which would you pick? In Making Strategy Work (2005 Wharton School Publishing – Amazon link here) Lawrence Hrebinak argues that execution of strategy is the key, not strategy definition itself. I concur and this means that this second rule is more important than rule #1, and my experience across multiple industries, countries, and economies suggest the same. It is amazing how delivery of solutions or eliminating problems “takes the noise out of the system”. In my consulting days, I was thrust into many troubled situations. In these situations my clients consistently said “if you can’t deliver on what I have already contracted to you, why do you think I would give you anything else?” Makes sense to me!

So, how do you make sure you are doing things right? Some considerations (in no particular order):

  • Project Management
    • How many projects are active? Is it easy to determine the answer? If not, you have an issue.
    • For each project, what are you delivering, when will you be finished, and how much will it cost?
  • People, Process, Technology
    • Do you have the right people in the right roles (as I type this the 2010 NFL Draft is on my TV in the background)?
    • Do you have the right delivery system or processes?
    • Do you have the right technical capabilities, architectures, platforms?
  • Relationships
    • How do the business and IT relate to each other at the enterprise, project and operational levels?
    • What does the business say about IT? What are the 10 adjectives that the business would use to describe IT?
    • What does IT say about the business? What are the 10 adjectives that IT uses to describe the business?
    • What is working well?
    • What would you change if you were King for a day?

To make sure you are doing things right, it doesn’t take a PhD. It’s really more about the basics. And, what is more basic, better said – universal, than a traffic light? Red, yellow or green? English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, or Australian we all understand the basics of red, yellow and green. Use these universal icons to determine if you are doing things right. With this vernacular in place, manage by exception. Be hard on the red items. Watch the yellow items. And, most importantly, determine which green activities are really yellow, and which yellow activities are really red and you will stay 5 steps ahead of your changes.

IT Governance Rule #1 of 3 – Make sure you are doing the right things

In part 1 of a 3 part series, this article describes an approach with applying IT governance concepts. You can find a quick and relevant global survey on IT governance that provides additional views here

How do you know you are delivering the processes & systems that the business wants and needs? At one end of the spectrum you may rely on your intuition or the “squeaky wheel with the corner office” and at the other end you may have a mature balanced scorecard capability. How well you answer this question may mean the difference between your company’s arrival at their destination of choice or perhaps being “out in left field”.

How do you chart the waters in front of you? Having a keen line of sight for your market combined with a business model to turn a profit within it, is a good start. Some decisions will be easy. Some decisions will be hard. How do you make the decisions to ensure that you are doing the right things. In a series of bullets, make sure that you have some degree of capability to address the following:

  • Define your business strategy. The back of a napkin is on OK place to start.
  • Establish one or more roadmaps to deliver the strategy. Allow flexibility and agility within your delivery models to change your roadmap.
  • Evaluate and manage the risk associated with delivering your roadmaps.
  • Establish financial traceability of your project approval process and the ensuing delivery of your roadmaps.
  • Win fast and fail fast. Don’t be afraid to make fast decisions or change decisions.

Making sure that you are doing the right things is more important now than ever. Resources, including funds and people, are more precious now than a year ago. Building a system where “no” or “not now” is an acceptable answer requires all the bullets above at a minimum.