Government Policy and Technology Innovation

In a way that mirrors yesterday’s court ruling, the FCC announce they were going to investigate and likely force serious changes in the world of set top boxes. The FCC, at one point, forced and supported the cable industry in controlling the types of set top boxes (Set top boxes are cable boxes – Roku and AppleTV are cableless competitors) available to consumers. Since then, we’ve suffered with mediocre and extremely expensive boxes. Boxes that cost $16/month and over time you end up paying for a box 10 times over. The gist of this issue is whether or not to allow companies to make “soft” cable cards. Right now, if you want to decode any video from a coax cable from Comcast, you must have a physical card to do the decoding. There’s nothing preventing this from being accomplished entirely using software once you get the signal into the box and that’s what this is trying to encourage.

Granted, this has taken a while for the FCC to wake up and look at the competitive landscape and see that this isn’t in the public interest. Defining exactly what is in the public interest is a difficult because everyone sees this in a different light. However, it’s pretty obvious that something that you end up paying $1,920 over span of ten years isn’t in the public interest. The competition, Roku and AppleTV, each cost between 100-200 one time and you can use it until it dies which will probably be something like 10 years. I’ve had my Roku HD for 5 years now and it still works great. It would make perfect sense for me to buy a version, assuming I had cable at all, that would allow me to watch cable through it. Everything all in one place.

This is the type of regulation that government should be celebrated for encouraging. Granted they screwed it up to begin with and they are only righting a wrong now, but they’re on the right path. Regulation like Net Neutrality is a similar decision that can spur innovation. Looking at T-Mobile’s binge on plan, you can see why we need this. If I’m a small streaming company or, ya know, YouTube, I look at this platform and see how it’s slanted against me and limits what I’m capable of delivering on T-Mobile’s network.

in the case of the FBI and forcing technology companies to change their technology to reduce security, it’s nice to see an organization that’s willing to at least consider improving opportunities for innovators. Sure it may look like picking winners and losers – but when most policy is driven by current winners picking them to lose sure looks more like balancing the playing field to me.

Enabling Innovation Through Lean Improvement

This is part of my ongoing Lean Disruption series where I write about how to combine Innovation Theory, Lean, Lean Startup, Agile, and Lean product development.

Since values and metrics drive processes how can you enable innovation in an organization that isn’t completely willing to support innovation? As I mentioned before Skunkworks are a key component in this process. Using emergent strategies with Lean Startup tools such as the Lean Canvas are another key method to enable innovation with the skunkworks approach. However, not every organization can or will truly allow this approach.

In organization that cannot or will not support a skunk works approach to innovation what options are available? In the case where you are a manager of more than yourself you have the ability to implement Lean within your small organization. Owning the processes within your organization and becoming a coach to your employees, can begin enabling metrics that drive customer centric focus.

This is possible by taking a single step and picking a metric that will move the metrics that your bosses care about. Focus on improving one process at a time. Start with something that is completely in your control, such as how you hand off material within your group that goes to other groups. Measure the number of errors your group introduces, however do not blame people. If things are wrong investigate the root cause of the problem rather than accusing your people of causing the problems. Problems can come from the group that handed off the work. In those cases, create a process to review the work looking for errors and then work with the team supplying that work to eliminate those errors where you can.

In the case where there are errors within your team, you work together to uncover each source of the problem. As a manager you own the processes as much as the result of the work your team does. The final output of your work is 100% dependant on the processes that lead to those output. Another important step is to work on converting your daily meeting, assuming you have one, into a daily standup rather than a typical beat and greet. These meetings instead must cover the goals for the day, issues from the day before, and follow up to address those issues. In the case where the team has projects they are working on, this can become an opportunity to being pulling in some agile stand up practices, such as “What did you work on yesterday, what do you plan on working today, and do you have any impediments?” These questions can help change the way projects are run within your group.

To improve processes within your group, the best way to do this is to go to where work is being done. You must actually watch as work is being done, while keeping in mind that the way work is being done will change as you watch people work. Make sure they are aware that you are not going to be critical or even record who is doing the work at the time. Record the information and move on. You should not use this information in their next 1 on 1 or review. The goal is to learn how people are doing work especially across work types and workers. After you map the process review the results in your daily stand up to discuss potential issues. Partner with your team to find the root cause of the problem and empower them to make changes to their processes.

Before you change the process it is important to measure current state and measure the impact of those changes on the metrics that matter to you. Keeping in mind that you must make all changes from a customer’s perspective. These are the easier things to implement. However, making changes and getting support in this change from your leadership isn’t going to be easy, so you must show that you’re making wins and improving the result of your work. That’s all leaders care about.

Successful process improvement opens the way to broader innovations. Start small and then move into larger projects as you have a better understanding of what you are trying to do.

Values and Metrics Drive Emergent Strategies

This is part of my ongoing series on Lean Disruption. Where I write about combining Innovation, Lean, Lean Startup, Agile, and Lean product development methodologies.

Clay Christensen argues that there are two types of strategies corporate leaders engage with, deliberate and emergent. Porter’s 5 Forces analysis is an attempt to use tools to pull emergent strategies based on changing environmental landscape into the corporation’s deliberate strategy. A deliberate strategy is the strategy that leaders have vocalized and intentionally invested money and resources into. Emergent strategies on the other hand are strategies that develop through metrics and actual organizational behavior. While a leader may intentionally push resources one direction another metrics that has much more value to lower level managers may require those resources to be redeployed in another context. Resulting in a different strategy to develop than what executives had originally planned.

Hoshin Kanri (Policy Deployment) plays a similar role to the 5 Forces in the Toyota Production System where leaders start with their stated 3-5 year goals and turn those into annual goals, projects, and finally the metrics by which those projects will be measured. However, the process isn’t done after a single meeting, this policy is reviewed monthly and if conditions change enough can be completely reworked or modified based on what conditions are emerging. This is important because it can, in fact, feed changes the whole way back at the the 3-5 year goal levels where if serious issues are occurring in multiple projects associated with a goal, such as lack of resource commitment, that goal must be re-evaluated or there needs to be other changes to incentivize resource commitment to those projects.

The Lean Startup and Agile approaches are likely the most closely tied to emergent strategy development. The Lean Startup approach values experimentation and customer engagement above all else which can result in initially a great deal of change in project/corporate strategy. In the Running Lean the author uses the Lean Canvas as a tool to maximize the power of emergent strategy develop and smooth the transition from emergent to deliberate strategy development. In many cases that transition is relatively easy anyway, however it is possible to see that transition occur as a corporate leader iterates through versions of the Lean Canvas resulting in less and less changes to the Canvas.

Agile similarly promotes engagement with customers and using iteration to eliminate uncertainty. In this way Agile is closer to Lean Startup than traditional Project Management and leads to emergent based products. Where the customer need is truly met. Which, over time, results in a deliberate strategy to maximize the resulting product. This product is still, likely, within the initial deliberate strategy of the leaders of the company, but may be very different than what the leadership had initially wanted or planned. This is the best of both worlds as the leaders get a product that fits their strategy, but is more effective in serving market needs than what they ever could have planned.

The values and metrics the organization uses to manage the work that it does heavily influences the direction any project or product develops. The tighter the control over metrics with less flexibility for innovation leads to more tightly aligned products to deliberate strategies. However, this can come at a cost of less innovative ideas and poor-market fit. In the case where something might significantly change the direction of the company, for that product to survive it is best to move that into a skunkworks or protected space where funding is secure with appropriately aligned staffing levels. This will allow the metrics and values to coalesce around the product, the customer, and the market needs.

Values in an Agile/Lean/Innovative company

This is part of my Lean Disruption Series where I’m looking at Lean, Agile, Innovation, and Lean Startup.

None of these methodologies can be adopted for free. They require a great deal of firm introspection. Understanding how processes interaction with people and values is vital to adopting any of these approaches let alone a combination of these approaches.

Metrics are one of the best examples of how there can be conflicts between stated values, values in making decisions, how resources are handled and how processes are structured. The famous saying “You manage what you measure” is right in a lot of ways. Many companies claim that they value customer satisfaction, however many of these companies do not actually do anything with the satisfaction surveys they do get. Comcast is the most obvious example of this. Comcast doesn’t really value customer satisfaction because they measure their customer support on how much they can upsell to the customer anytime they are on the phone. This changes the processes their customer support must use, rather than designing processes to enable single call resolution, their processes are designed to enable selling more products. Their employees, the resources, are rated based on this and if they don’t meet those goals they are unlikely to do well. Considering the Verge’s Comcast Confessions series most of the resources at Comcast do not feel valued. This all points to the true values for Comcast being retention at all costs and more revenue per user measured in Churn and ARPU (Average Revenue per User) respectfully.

Agile Manifesto from ITIL’s blog

For a company to adopt an Agile approach to developing software, the paradigm of what the organization values must radically change to align to the Agile Manifesto. In most software development the concepts on the right are what are valued through a Project Management Office. The concepts on the left are typically considered only at the beginning or the end of the project or not at all. Working product is the goal of a project, while customer collaboration inclusive only in the beginning getting requirements.

Switching from the right to the left creates massive cultural upheaval at an organization, where power is shifted down and out. It is shifted down to the team level, where managers in the past made all the important decisions Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and developers make the decision now with the customers. Power is shifted out through increased collaboration with the customer. Customer centricity forces the company to understand what the customer really wants and more quickly respond to changes in their understanding of their needs. This does mean that the “requirements” change, however, in many cases due to the uncertainty in a technology, interface, or some other aspect it was impossible to properly articulate the actual need until there was an example in front of the customer.

With these value changes there must be process changes to that properly reflect the change in the way the values require work to be completed. In the case where Single Call resolution is the most important metric reflecting the value of true customer satisfaction, processes must be built to enable that – such as training, information repositories, and authority to truly address customer needs at a single point of contact. In software development rapid iteration with continual feedback is a process that must be built to enable that.

This changes are not free and require true commitment from leaders across the organization. Without their commitment any adoption of these frameworks is doomed to failure.

How to manage those Innovations?

This is part of my ongoing series exploring Innovation, Lean, Lean Startup, and Agile.

A few days ago I wrote about how the Lean Product Development method at Toyota essentially builds a Skunk Works around a new technology. This concept was popularized by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, which produced some of the most amazing aircrafts ever created, including the fastest plane ever made, the SR-71 Blackbird, which was designed in the mid 70’s.

In a similar fashion to Toyota, Lockheed relied heavily on existing technologies to drive down the cost of a new break through innovation. This allowed the Engineers to focus more energy on the few systems that truly required breakthrough engineering and thinking. Existing components for the bulk of the design also significantly reduced costs as the engineers did not have to design everything from scratch and could rely on standardized or consistent components at interfaces. This means the cost was lower using an already designed part, the part could be purchased at economies of scale, and the engineering work on new components was reduced because of they didn’t need to design interfaces.

This approach is seen as a best practice not just by Toyota and Lockheed, but Christensen argues this approach should be applied for any sort of disruptive innovation at a large company. This is required because of the risk of cannibalization of existing sales, lack of alignment with the needs of existing customers (doesn’t meet performance needs), and wins that might be small for the overall organization are huge for the new team. The alignment between wins and team help cement the team as successful and continue to shelter it from unrealistic demands from the broader organization.

In the Innovation Machine the author argues this is the approach that the most successful companies at innovation use. It helps companies become serial innovators and continually disrupt their markets and industries. Furthermore, the small wins for a new team doesn’t mean that these companies can’t have extremely aggressive goals for these internal startups. In fact, it’s likely many of them have billion dollar goals within 5 years for them, such as IBM has for their internal startups. However, the funding and the organizational structure is sheltered for a short amount of time and protected from the normal funding cycle that other portions of the organization are subject to. This is to ensure investment in future innovations that have a great deal of uncertainty.

The added benefit of these internal ventures is that the leadership of the entire organization can decide to use them as a means to change how the organization operates. For example, in the case of the Macintosh, re-integrating the Mac mini-company back into Apple forced massive changes in the way everyone worked. If the work processes are more efficient in the Skunk Works it is key that those processes are adopted by the business unit that will eventually house that new innovation. If the Skunk Works is using Lean processes and Lean startup practices integrating into the rest of the organization is going to be difficult unless those leaders are helped to get on board with the methodological approaches. This will take time but will certainly be worth it.

This is the approach that GE is taking for their new engine development. They essentially used the Lean Startup to develop an MVP by using a Skunk Works/Lean approach where they leveraged an existing engine to move the technology in a new direction with customer feedback the whole way.

For companies to be successful in deploying these approaches it will be key to to develop a safe place for them to experiment. Learn and grow away from the unrealistic expectations of a mature idea, when the idea is living in a space of extreme uncertainty.

Lean canvas, Lean Development, the Theory of Disruption

In yesterday’s article I talked about how you can use a product development approach called Set Based Concurrent Design (SBCD) to avoid some of the risks associated with developing a disruptive design regardless of how integrated or modular a given technology and its platforms are. Before that I had written about a concept called Lean Canvas to include questions associated with disruption to help push the initial design into a more disruptive place to maximize the likelihood of success.

In “Running Lean” the author, either knowingly or unknowingly emulated the benefits of SBCD whenever he fully described his approach for creating Lean Canvases. Ash Maurya recommended that for any given startup to initially start with multiple different views of the initial Lean Canvas which could represent different solutions, problems, customer sets, and metrics. Each one of these is to be discussed with potential customers in interviews.

However, once you understand your customer, you’ll need to begin developing your solution. In the case of a piece of software it may be easiest to simply caret multiple wireframe mock ups that emulate the SBCD. While with physical products, you’ll need to start with several mock ups and ideally multiple different specifications for components within the design. This is important as you may need to mix and match components of your physical design based on the niche customer set that you are targeting. The best result may end up forcing you to create a product that might be difficult to make if you don’t plan for the different specification interactions from the beginning.

While building your product as  you look at each different iteration it is important to continue asking if the actual solution continues to be disruptive or if it has slid into a less disruptive niche in the market. It is also vital that you still are aware if the interaction between the changes in your product and how it impacts your customers. If your potential customer decide that there are too many features you may have pushed yourself out of the initial niches  you were striving for. This will also mean you’re moving into a market space that will force you to compete head on with your competitors.

Using these three tools, questions for disruptions, lean canvas, and setbased concurrent design, will help speed the decision to continue pursuing a specific product, problem, and customer set. The point of this early process is to speed learning as quickly as possible and the B-M-L approach coupled with a set of Lean Cavnases and Products will help rapidly increase that knowledge set. Especially when using tools to help determine the trade-offs between your choices.

Finally, with continual engagement with your customers and products that are narrowing down towards a completed solution, you may find that your sets of products could become a family of products. This means that your learning may even be more valuable than before.

Innovation and Lean Product Development

This is another portion of my on-going series for Innovation, Lean, Lean Startup, and Agile, see my last one here.

So far we’ve talked about how to combine some of the various theories together. For example looking how Lean and Agile work together or Lean startup and Lean work together. Similarly we looked briefly at how Lean Startup and Agile can be meshed, but haven’t discussed this much. Today we’re going to look at how the Lean Product Development methodology can be combined with the theories purported in the Theory of Disruption. I will look at how these can be combined with yesterdays article tomorrow.

Lean Product Development is a natural outgrowth of Lean manufacturing. It is how Toyota is able to continuously develop new products at a faster rate than their North American competitors. It is how Toyota is able to create new designs that are extremely high quality and disruptive to the market.

In the Innovator’s Solution, Christensen argues that integration and modularity are on a swinging pendulum where due to the constraints on the “not good enough” technology, that a more integrative approach is required because a fully modular design would reduce performance below thresholds that customers would be willing to pay for. Christensen argues that this would occur because relationships between firms dictate how new technologies can be developed. Whenever firms work jointly on a technology there must be agreements in terms how the components interconnect with each other. These underlying interfaces between technologies evolve much more slowly whenever there are multiple firms are working at the interface of these technologies.

Allen Ward writes about Toyota’s methodology for product development. He calls this approach Set Based Concurrent Design, where there are multiple different designs for a given new product from the start. For the case of the Prius, Toyota started the process with incredibly lofty goals and over 20 initial designs. These designs were kept loose initially, until they were reduced down to four that were selected to be turned into clay molds. During this time Toyota had been working closely with their suppliers, where they had no plans to insource more of their components than for a typical car. As it stands Toyota uses suppliers to provide roughly 75% of components to their cars, while focusing on the hardest components like the Engine and body. Similarly to a gas car, for the Prius Toyota elected to keep ownership of the drive train, and the hybrid engine systems. Otherwise everything else would be managed in a similar process as any other car.

To manage for the uncertainty of their four designs, they provided their suppliers with a range of requirements. Engineers at Toyota and their suppliers developed a range of “Trade-off” curves, which provide the ranges of trades-offs between different features and the limitations of those features. For example, engine vibration will have a trade-off with the tolerances of the Pistons. These trade-off curves increase the rate of learning for a given product and reduces the risk for a new product development.

This means with more information shared between companies there is less need for companies to oscillate between heavily integrated designs and modular designs. For an organization like Toyota the desire to share information and creating a formal process to enable disruptive innovation without owning the entire new product is a huge advantage for the organization. Toyota is actively investing in new capabilities and disrupting their competition.

This of course doesn’t disprove what Christensen is saying though. This approach has worked well for Toyota but has not been adopted by many other organizations. This is one of the problems that companies are having with disruptive technology. Furthermore, Toyota inherently turns new product development into a pseudo skunk works, which is what Christensen recommends for these ventures, by making their Chief Engineer a mini CEO for the product as well as dedicating, or as close as possible, engineering and manufacturing resources to the tasks. Finally, Toyota focuses on a few key elements that will be disruptive while reusing a great deal of older technologies maximizing technology reuse and learning from historic projects.