Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Power of Inspiration

In contrast to the frenetic activity that appears to dominate this season, for me, year-end is an important time of reflection and reconnecting. I like to review my journal, look at all the photos we took throughout the year and try to recapture a little of the wonder that recently fell from the treads of life. It's also a time when I am particularly aware of the need for inspiration to thrust forward into the adventure of the year ahead.

Inspiration has blazed a trail of extraordinary accomplishment across the pages of history. It is the breath of the divine that fills the sails of human creativity and passion, driving us forward into a hopeful future. Remarkable works of art, innovation, and courage were fueled from this combination of purpose and energy, sometimes even in the most seemingly impossible situations.

A few weeks ago, I was recharged by a rare visit from Eric Peterson, founder of Mitra Imaging, a medical imaging company that was acquired by Agfa in 2002. Since that transaction, Eric has been using his time and resources to continue the legacy of "Making a Difference". The audience was captivated as Eric shared his participation, and more importantly, his passion, to see a dramatic improvement in health care in northern Guatemala.

Having established the Tula Foundation, Eric partnered with a number of organizations and individuals to actively put in motion this vision. By accurately identifying the challenges and focusing on putting the right resources and infrastructure in place, Tula is making important inroads towards improving the quality of life in one of the poorest and neglected provinces of Guatemala.

"It's really not about technology, but all about the people that do the work and helping them make the right connections", Eric emphasized. Using his experience in empowering talented people and teams, and in growing a healthy organization, Eric was instrumental in putting in place a a solid strategy for ongoing future improvement. The fruit of this vision is beginning to take shape as these initiatives have translated into the first class of local nursing graduates, and in a fledgling tele-health program to support these new medical personnel in their remote locations. Throughout his talk, Eric conveyed a deep sense of satisfaction and excitement from that result from his personal involvement in pursuing this purpose and vision.

In his usual manner, Eric was candid and witty, and his passion thoroughly contagious. But more importantly, what he represented was the magic, the inspiration of what is possible, the critical ingredient for tackling these daunting challenges. As you look forward to the new year, I hope this example will challenge you to reach beyond your own limited view and see what is possible... with a little inspiration!

Wishing you an awesome New Year...

Howard Lenos

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The People are the Product - Part 3: Innovation

Successfully competing for the future will require continuous disruptive innovation. In organizations where the people are the product, each resource must be encouraged to participate in making innovation a consistent reality.

Often, in a traditional organizational model, this type of work is delegated to a small R&D group. In the world of software development and knowledge work, each person is a potential innovation source and an idea catalyst. With this mindset, it's easy to see how collaboration can readily become a powerful innovation accelerator.

Here are some practical ideas for increasing innovation across the organization:
  1. Opportunity - Google is deliberate about encouraging each employee to spend 20% of their time improving the products or researching new ideas. Many innovations at Google result directly from this general approach. When managing development teams in the past, I have insisted (and measured) that each person spend 2-5% of their time on "breaking the imagination barrier". Many positive improvements have resulted from even this small change, and never has it negatively impacted a project schedule.
  2. Exposure - In these days of global knowledge access, RSS news readers, on-line blogging and forums, there is no barrier to connecting with successful emerging practices and respected thought leaders. I personally read about 100 posts per day and always find something remarkable that can be directly applied to my situation.
  3. Connection - By combining social computing tools and processes with exposure to relevant ideas, you can create a powerful idea engine in your team or organization. In knowledge-based environments, it's fascinating to watch entire groups become energized by sharing ideas and leapfrogging to new levels of productivity. Tear down the walls by effectively using Wikis, Forums, Profiling, and Social Network Mapping tools.
Finally, challenge yourself and your organization with these questions from Gary Hamel's book, The Future of Management:
  1. How have you been equipped to be a business innovator? What training have you received? What tools have you been supplied with?
  2. Do you have access to an innovation coach or mentor? Is there an innovation expert in your unit who will help you develop your breakout idea?
  3. How easy is it for you to get access to experimental funding? How long would it take you to get a few thousand dollars in seed money? How many levels of bureaucracy would you have to go through?
  4. Is innovation a formal part of your job description? Does your compensation depend in part on your innovation performance?
  5. Do your company’s management processes—budgeting, planning, staffing, etc.—support your work as an innovator or hinder it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The People are the Product - Part 2: Alignment

Once we recognize that people are the critical asset of a knowledge-based organization, it is easy to see how human interaction can become a powerful engine for success. In his book "Ten Steps to A Learning Organization", Peter Kline writes:
"The Transformation of Relationships is what, in business settings, we must increasingly deal with. It is now more widely recognized that an organization’s greatest asset is its people, provided they are able to work well together and proceed on a path of continuous improvement. It is also recognized that cooperative team work beats competitive territorialism every time."
Organizations are combining these principles with emerging social computing tools to accelerate virtual teamwork and collaborative innovation. The opportunity leaps upward when this capability is extended outside of the organization, creating rich interactions with supply chain partners and particularly with the customers themselves.
"It's no longer viable to offer commodities, or just the best products or services. Companies must now open a two-way dialog with their customers in order to meet their needs throughout the consumption process, for they don't want your products and services in and of themselves, they want solutions to their needs. In today's fiercely competitive business environment, you must provide the complete experience that delights each and every customer."
Peter Fingar, co-author of "Business Process Management - The Third Wave"
More than ever before we have the ability to encourage human interaction to accelerate organizational success. I have been intrigued by the work of the people at Role Modellers as they demonstrate early prototypes of HumanEdj, their Human Interaction Management Systems. Although I'm not specifically advocating their system, I appreciate the way they articulate the principles of human interaction:
The benefit from using a HIMS to implement human interaction management is that it provides workplace software that understands human work patterns, and supports the inherent spontaneity of the human mind. The way people really work is via interactions, which lead to commitments, which lead in turn to actions. IT in the 20th century was based on information processing. The HIMS is a new kind of IT solution for the 21st century, based on commitment processing.
"No Person is an Island", particularly when the people are the product!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The People are the Product - Part 1: Momentum

Long before the birth of the Internet, Peter Drucker foresaw the growing prominence of "knowledge work" and the changes required by management and leadership to harness this potential. Many of these principles apply directly to the software development industry.

When it comes to "Software Engineering", Alastair Cockburn states: "People are Active Devices"

People have lots of interesting characteristics, and we don't know what they are - which makes it all the more absurd that we try to define methodologies and processes that incorporate them.
Software Development as a Cooperative Game - Alastair Cockburn
In knowledge work, the people are the product. It is their potential that creates the possible future, and sustainable value. They are dynamic knowledge repositories and sustainable intellectual property creators. Although the products produced by these individuals and teams represent realizable value, they have a very limited half-life, depreciating rapidly if no additional innovation is applied.

Instead of treating software development and knowledge work as a reducible process, we begin to understand that the priority for leadership is to maximize the potential of each contributor. This requires:
  • Understanding how people are individually motivated
  • Respecting people and developing a culture of trust
  • Helping people discover their potential
  • Recognizing contribution at an individual and team level
Interestingly, we already apply many of these management principles when building effective sales and marketing organizations. The challenge is taking these leadership approaches and using them to foster innovation in what is often viewed as "predictable" knowledge work.

Thankfully, success stories are emerging from the industry that provide crucial learning for the rest of us. I'll cover some of these in upcoming posts...