Sunday, March 22, 2015

In a few weeks, I will be working with a large organization that is in midst of a revolution. A revolution that strives to induce new energy and innovation into the organization while dealing with its legacy and traditional mindsets. In fact, the major revelation as a part of this, is the idea that the organization is no longer a traditional brick-and-mortar company. Instead like its predecessors and competitors, it is destined to become a Platform company. It is destined to become a Technology company with deep roots in traditional business. It is finally destined to take IT as not just a cost-center or a support function, but as a key ingredient for its future. 

The bigger challenges that surround this revolution is the idea to be able to maintain a delicate balance between the current short term targets and the bigger, bolder bets that it needs to make in the times ahead. 

For a while now, the majority of activities surrounding this revolution is tactical, and less strategic. Partly, because of the increasing need to have the house in order, and target achievables that have missed the timelines multiple number of times. 

Although the organization understands its position in the market, it still has miles to go in order to be able to gain significant presence in the new business areas that the company wishes to expand.

I, for most, will concentrate my energy into creating an engine of Software and Technology innovation that provides a standard boilerplate for all existing and new projects. 

As I plan to own these activities, I have been looking around for ideas, inspiration and practices. Partly, this will help me to pile up my arsenal on how I would approach solving this technical riddle for this organization.

My research and curiosity leads me to multiple different lanes, each with its own ideology and practices.

One of my first involvement was the Lean Startup movement by Eric Reis, inspired by Steve Blank’s Customer Development Methodology. I borrowed some ideas around Lean Startup, and the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in previous projects, and found them deeply useful to reduce noise and create essential focus when building projects. However, a common trail of disappointment that I faced was the constant withdraw of people on adopting these ideas in mainstream enterprise, primarily due to the fear of unknown or new. Where people got interested, they got deeply disappointed as they faced practical challenges and resistance from other teams.

I found interesting work by Telefonica in adopting Lean Startups ideology to create very useful and innovative new services for its customers. The Lean Enterprise book by Trevor Owens and Obie Fernandez was also a fantastic investment for me, helping me navigate through the particulars of what it takes to adopt Lean Startups in large organizations. I was able to resonate with the entrepreneurial framework that the book introduces for innovating and making their enterprises go Lean. 

My next stop was IDEO, and its Human Centred Design Thinking. I was introduced to this Design Led thinking a couple of years back, thanks to a project I did while participating in Acumen-IDEO Course with some friends. My experiences with the course and the project was extremely exhilarating, and I found it to be an excellent framework to innovate and create demonstrable results in short amount of time. Although the focus of that course was Social Innovation, the learning from the project did hint me to believe that they are as useful in a large enterprise to solve problems. 
Steve Blank, however had a very interesting take on the commonality and differences between the Lean Startup and Human Centred Design Thinking on his blog. He advocated that indeed both these processes are useful for large enterprises, but Lean Startups is more about getting their first, and then iterating. Design Thinking was more about getting it right. 

I then looked at some essential readings that my friends and mentors recommended. The Goal from Eliyahu Goldratt, and The Phoenix Project by Kevin BehrGeorge Spafford,Gene Kim were my first stop. Both are highly recommended readings, and kept me going back to them on each step of my research. I have a laundry list of things to do, thanks to these two books. I am still amazed on how relevant and similar Operations Research and Lean Manufacturing is to modern IT and Technology development. I still have multiple bookmarks and To-Dos pending till date, even after going over the books a couple of times. 

After having looked at ideas from Lean Startups in Enterprises, IDEO’s Human Centred Design Thinking, DevOps and Lean Manufacturing, I focussed on my other favorite topics - Cognitive Psychology and Behaviour Economics. 

Cognitive Psychology and Behavior Economics have been a good casual readings for me since sometime, thanks to writers like Steven Pinker, Dan Areilly and Daniel Kahneman. One of the aspects that stuck to my thinking was how deeply we underestimate and undervalue the study of human psychology as an essential ingredient for creating a technology rich and innovative organization. After making some notes on the science behind how we think, perceive and decide, it was quite evident that the more we understand about what’s inside, the better we could build things and structures outside. More than ever, it provided me some interesting ideas on asking the right question, introspecting, and creating opportunities for adoption of new technologies. I had, in my past, found considerable trouble in teams to take risk, make bold bets and have faith in doing something innovative. One of my mentor, rightly said that the problems in most cases is not the technology, but the humans who develop and use it. 

After spending multiple weeks and months into this, I am still dumbstruck with the exact answer to my original quest. Though I am aware that the answers will not be evident immediately, but I am glad to raise some key questions, and have pointers to experiment and evaluate. 

In this quest, I have created a new Github project that will be part a collection of my notes, questions and inferences. The other part will be toolsets that I build and use as I work towards creating a Technology Platform for this organization.

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