Innovation in an IT Work Environment
In the ever-changing world of IT, it is challenging to create and maintain innovation activities.
Information technology has had a high growth rate for years and there is a reason for that: a constant flow of innovations in technology, but also in business processes, as growing competition on the market has made innovation a must for every organisation.
On the other side, the top skills missing among job applicants in the current world are problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity.
In the ever-changing world of IT, it is challenging to create and maintain innovation activities. With more than ten years of experience working in three different companies as an innovation manager, I will try to give a fresh perspective on innovation management in the IT environment and show examples from companies all over the world.
A software development environment provides many possibilities for innovation, but also puts some constraints on innovation processes that can be bypassed, bringing success to the company and innovators.
Using the agile process in the area of software development with its short cycles, it is a challenge to create and maintain an innovation culture. With this in mind, the following questions are raised:
How to bring innovation challenges closer to developers and use their experience and vision to create new projects? How to set up fast and clear focus topics or customer challenges oriented toward new business ideas? And on the other hand, how to inspire developers about incremental, often small but useful and money-saving, improvements?
I’m working in innovation management for more than a decade. In that time, I was involved in creating an innovation programme using a new reward system that successfully increased innovation results.
The next big topic was the creation of bespoke innovation activities for a customer-oriented software company. So, let’s see what place innovation has in IT companies.
The environment in a software company is much different than in other industries and most tools and activities, which are common in other industries, must be either adapted or totally neglected.
Let’s start with people. Software engineers, developers, coders, or however you call them, are a bit different from “ordinary” people. They are deep in thought, don’t like disturbing meetings and they often have short-term milestones which makes them people who haven’t got too much time to think “outside of the box”.
Hence, the shape of every innovation initiative has to be carefully adapted to this special environment. Processes are also a bit different than in other industries.
Planning is done differently, and the time to deliver the new product is shorter as all process stages are shorter. Deadlines in the agile world are focused on a short-term pace instead of a long term time cycle in a waterfall system or in other industries.
These make life easier, but can prevent innovation as shorter cycles could mean less or no time for ideas. Sometimes it looks like we are working in a zero-defect culture where no errors are expected, as we are concentrated on new incremental improvements, but innovations need a different error-tolerant environment to allow for breakthrough ideas.
In addition, the export of software is done differently. When a customer buys the software, it is not necessary to ship it with trucks, trains, ships or planes. The customer just needs access to the latest release versions and the user rights to download it.
There is no direct contact with the customer, no physical stores or warehouses, just websites and servers.
What is very positive in this industry is that here the most common thing is change, which is really important for innovation. Software engineers are used to changing direction, projects, tasks and technologies; hence establishing an innovation ecosystem should not be too hard a job. Software engineers must educate themselves and constantly be ready for change.
So, the future where there will be no more workers but only creatives are ideally shaped for today’s IT workers. In a time when it’s not so difficult to launch a product, but it’s extremely difficult to achieve success with it, product managers are key figures in starting and maintaining innovation activities. Their task is to make room for new ideas, not to neglect it.
Creating a prosperous innovation culture is a must for many environments trying to catch the competition or to stay in front of it.
More on this topic in my book "Developing Innovation - Innovation Management in IT Companies".