Tag » Tips for Success

Innovation “on the cheap”

Innovation is critical for business success. This blog explains a simple innovation framework that any company can use.

For years now we’ve all heard that we need to be more innovative.  Large companies have invested millions or more in their version of an “innovation lab”.  Some of these labs have produced terrific ideas.  The question is how those of us running companies without millions to invest can be innovative.

In response to this need, GreatRidge put together an innovation framework.  We’ve used it informally at a couple of companies, and it has worked well.  The concept is pretty simple and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to implement.  It is scalable and will grow with your company as needed.

The framework components are:

  • Create an “Innovation Council”. This is a small group of people who are good at motivating others to think outside the box.  The council should have members who are employees, contractors, and outsiders to the company.  This will foster creativity.  The council meets no more than monthly for a few hours.
  • Focus the Council. One of the common missteps in innovation is that people are given free reign to innovate in whatever area they want.  While this may work great for a global conglomerate, it can be the death of a medium size business.  Just like entrepreneurs with too many ideas (I wrote about this in a previous blog post), an innovation council without boundaries often wanders the desert with no clear focus.  Establish a strategy for the council and target the innovation activities.  If other ideas come up, save them for another more appropriate time.
  • Structure the Ideas. Like any set of unstructured data, the value of the information can only be realized once the unstructured data is structured.  There are tools available for purchase to manage the idea generation lifecycle (check out www.spigit.com for a really cool tool), but medium size businesses don’t need something this expansive.  A simple, well-structured, sharepoint site will do the trick.  A simple set of “toll gates” for each idea with some basic criteria for each gate would suffice (sample gates: idea definition; idea design (how would it work?); implementation considerations/plans).
  • Track and Evaluate Ideas. No matter how large or small a company is, the need a way to track ideas as they develop and a methodology to evaluate the ideas.  The tracking is easy (see the sharepoint comment above), and the evaluation doesn’t have to be complex.  A good evaluation methodology takes into account the idiosyncrasies of each individual business, industry, and leader preferences.  You can still make “gut decisions” if you like, but tracking the ideas and having a consistent way to present ideas for evaluation adds enough structure to the process to ensure good ideas don’t get overlooked.
  • Reward the winners! Always a good idea, but particularly valuable where innovation is desired.  These rewards can be in whatever form is consistent with your corporate culture (e.g. money; paid time off; an idea statue; chocolate bars emblazoned with the winning innovator’s face; water bottles heralding the idea on the label; etc.).  The more creative and original the reward, the more linkage to the concept of innovation!
  • Post Innovation Review. This is the part where innovation ends and the cold reality of company profitability begins.  At some point companies must decide whether the innovation worked or not.  This is necessary since unbridled innovation usually masks corporate waste and none of us can afford to waste time, resources, or money.  The innovation review is as simple as seeing whether the expected metrics were achieved or not and then deciding whether to invest more in this innovation, stop investing, or make a few changes and continue on the current path.  It doesn’t have to be painful (have the review at the local pub if you want to), but it must be done.

GreatRidge believes that not only any company can innovate, but that every company must innovate.  Hopefully this simple innovation framework will enable your company to innovate without stress and strain.  Let us know your thoughts and any ideas you have to increase innovation in your business.

Lessons from Inc’s GROWCO conference – really!

I attended the Inc GROWCO conference and learned a lot. This blog contains the highlights of the conference.

If you read my previous blog (The Value of Conferences – is there any?) you know I’m not a big fan of conferences as a rule.  I followed my advice about how to make a conference valuable, and got a lot of useful information at the GROWCO conference.  The conference is for the owners of small to medium businesses and is focused on ideas for growth.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Data is still king! No matter how much you know in your heart that you have a great idea, without some sort of data to back it up your idea will never get funded.  Forrester has research on just about any idea you have that needs data to back it up.
  • Who cares about you? Figure out the 50 most important people to the growth of your company (external folks, not employees) and measure the strength of your relationships with them.  Figure out how to improve the relationships for any that are not where they need to be.  Keith Ferrazi has some great information on this idea.
  • It’s all about the people. Every company should have a relationship plan.  Most companies have a financial plan, product or services plan, customer management plan, etcetera, but very few have relationship plans.  A relationship plan is a specific, measureable, prioritized list of ways to improve your important relationships.  I’ve always had relationship maps in my strategic planning, but I’ve now expanded that to be a true relationship plan.
  • I am stunting my company’s growth. We were asked to think a moment about our “career crippling habits” (or “company growth crippling habits”).  This was a terrific question.  It made me think about what I’m not doing that could help grow the company.  I figured out that I spend so much time working on things and checking off my “to do list” that I hadn’t really leveraged people who have offered to help me.  That’s crazy!  If you are one of the folks who have offered to help, watch your email ‘cause requests are coming your way!
  • Analyze your revenue streams. OK, so we all knew to do this already.  What I learned at the conference was that I was being pretty narrow in my analysis and interpretation of the revenue streams.  I came up with a different way to look at the revenue streams and it shed a lot of light on my profitability.  It really reinforced where my growth will come from and what I need to be focused on building.  OK…so the presentation I went to didn’t have this in it, but since I thought of it while in the meeting, I’m giving the conference credit for the idea!

I’ll wrap this up with my favorite quote of the meeting (paraphrased of course).  Move boldly with “reckless abandon wrapped in common sense”.  I have no idea who said this and whether it was original or not, but I thought it really summarized my approach to building businesses.  We have to get off the dime and move to grow a business and as long as we do so with common sense, we’ll be fine!

Guest blogger on Project Management – Part 2

Guest Blogger – Rick Wyatt

This is the second part of an 8-part series which looks at how IT and Business Leaders and Stakeholders can avoid common project pitfalls.

Be careful what you ask for!

You’ve probably seen the cartoon circulating over the years that illustrates the importance of requirements in delivering what’s needed.  It’s about a tree swing and the disparate interpretations of the deliverable when requirements are misunderstood.  Just search the Internet for “requirements cartoon” and you’ll find several versions.

It’s good for a chuckle, but the sad part is that it’s absolutely true!  The single most important piece of any project is requirements – clear, documented, validated, approved, understood and executed.  Here’s how to avoid requirements pitfalls in your projects:

  • Clear – Be specific and don’t assume people will just intuitively know what the customer needs.  If requirements are not spelled out in basic terms, they will be misunderstood.  As much as possible, requirements should be written to transfer the mental images and meaning from the mind of the customer to the reader’s mind.   This is not the time to show off vocabulary or writing style – keep it simple, crisp, to the point, descriptive and non-artistic.  Diagrams and screen shots are extremely helpful in conveying the desired information, but stop short of designing the solution – that comes later.
  • Documented – An artifact is needed that can be shared with your customer and the team, one that can be referred to repeatedly during the project lifecycle and that can be retained for audit purposes.  It doesn’t matter so much what format it’s in, so long as the format captures the specifics of the customer’s need.  There are lots of templates out there to choose from – Use Case, Business Requirements Document, etc.  Pick one that covers all the aspects of capturing the customer’s need and that can effectively convey that need to the team, then use it consistently in all your projects.
  • Validated – Once the requirements have been clearly documented, circle back with the customer to validate that what has been captured is complete and correct.  This reality check is essential to make sure nothing was missed and to edit the document where needed to clear up any fuzzy terms or concepts so that the customer’s need is clearly stated.
  • Approved – After validation, formal approval of the requirements document by the customer is needed with the understanding that the validated and approved requirements define what is in scope (and not in scope), they provide a definition of project success and they are now frozen.  This will provide a control for managing project scope and preventing scope creep.  Any subsequent changes to requirements should require formal approval by the project Sponsor and could impact project duration and cost.
  • Understood – Requirements define the customer’s need (the “What”) and the project team uses them as the basis to create the solution design (the “How”) that will meet that need.  To be successful in this process, it’s essential that requirements are completely understood by the project team.  The best way to ensure complete understanding is to conduct a Requirements Review meeting for the customer and the team to jointly walk through the document, discuss each requirement in detail and get all questions answered.  At the end of the session, everyone should have the same understanding of what is needed.
  • Executed – Requirements drive all subsequent activities in the project.  Technical Specifications and Design combine requirements with technology to form the solution.  The Test Plan and Test Cases are created to confirm the solution works as intended and all requirements are met.  User Acceptance Testing (UAT) provides the customer an opportunity to confirm what they asked for has been correctly and completely delivered.  In the end, each requirement should be traceable through the entire project life cycle to ensure all have been appropriately addressed in design, development, testing and deployment.

The time spent up front in the project process on requirements will have a huge return on that investment when you successfully breeze through UAT and deploy your project.  On the other hand, skimp on requirements and you could find yourself bogged down in rework, or worse.  It truly pays to be careful what you ask for!

Copyright 2010, Rick Wyatt, IPT Concepts, LLC

The “Cloud” – Hype vs. Reality

Deciding if and when to leverage "the cloud" is a critical decision for most businesses. This post examines the pros and cons of "the cloud" and when it might be a good solution for your business.

Everywhere you look people are talking about “the cloud”.  The term is used so generally that whenever someone mentions the cloud, the first question to be asked is: “How do you define “the cloud”?”.  The term “cloud” is used to mean anything from application hosting services provided by companies like RackSpace, Amazon, and Google, to software-as-a-service offerings such as SalesForce.Com.  We won’t even get into the entire discussion of public and private clouds!

The difficult part of the entire cloud discussion is figuring out whether or not is it a good solution for your company.  Although the cloud has some advantages for consumers, there are quite a few more complexities to determining whether the cloud is ready for use by an enterprise/company.

Pros of the cloud

  • Most cloud offerings use the latest technology – if your company cannot afford to upgrade technology, then under the right circumstances, the cloud could provide an alternative.
  • Rapid scalability – since cloud offerings are architected to be a standard, shared environment, it is easy to add and remove capacity when needed.
  • Shared or restricted option – most providers allow their customers to choose between shared services (where multiple customers share the same physical devices) and restricted services (where a customer has dedicated devices for their use only).

Cons of the cloud

  • Privacy and Security – very careful consideration must be given to any usage of the cloud for data or processes that interact with private or company sensitive information.  Any organization covered by regulations such as PCI, HIPPA, or SOX should utilize the cloud with caution.
  • Monitoring/transparency – many organizations today are striving for increased monitoring and transparency in their operations.  By using the cloud the IT organization is one step removed from the actual operations of their systems.
  • Performance – many cloud service providers will site statistics of their availability, but performance is just as important.  If a service is available but running slow it will not support your business requirements.

Leveraging the potential benefit of the cloud can be a strategic investment for your company.  There are a few things an enterprise could easily host in the cloud:

1)   Publicly available information – most information that is for use by the general public would be a good choice.  An example is a customer support site containing a searchable knowledgebase or list of frequently asked questions.

2)   Properly secured development and testing environments – by hosting these environments in the cloud a company can avoid having to invest in infrastructure for new projects.  If appropriately cleaned test data can be utilized, then the cloud could be a way to develop new systems without disrupting the current production environment or support processes.

3)  Peak processing power – companies can use the cloud to provide additional processing power during peak loads.  This could be a nightly process or a seasonal processing need.  By acquiring the additional processing power with the “as needed” capability the cloud allows, companies can avoid a capital investment.

If you decide to proceed with using the cloud for your company remember to manage them as you would any third party service provider or outsourcer.  There is no magic to the cloud and it must be managed and controlled to benefit your company.

‘Tis the season for planning

While we are enjoying the holidays our businesses must continue.  How well your business finishes 2009 and starts 2010 is dependent upon good planning.  Although plans without action are not very useful, actions without plans can be very harmful.  Below are five tips for planning success.

  1. Set aside dedicated planning time.  It is easy for planning to be “rescheduled” due to immediate priorities.  Everyone has urgent items that keep taking precedence over planning and strategic thinking.  During the holidays is a great time to focus on planning.  Be sure to set aside a day or half-day to plan for 2010.
  2. Define clear objectives for planning.  A good plan does not get created by accident.  You need an approach to make the plan come alive.  Create an agenda for your planning session.  Even if you are the only one doing the planning, know what your objectives are for the plan and attack them.  Whether you will be growing your business through acquisition, expansion, or new products and services, all of your activities need clear objectives and measures of success.  Be sure you have objectives for your planning as well and consider all areas of your business: sales and marketing, infrastructure, product development, support services, customer care, company leadership, your competitors, etc.  Whether you need to make major changes, protect the base, or create a market, a stable plan with clear objectives is essential.
  3. Invite advisors – but not friends.  Friends are great and can be very supportive.  They are a necessary part of any successful business, but you need your trusted advisors to participate in planning.  You need advisors who will challenge you and push you to excel.  They should help you identify your blindspots and assist in identifying ways to drive the business forward.  Stay focused during the planning and make the best use of the talent available to you.  Be open to new ideas, prioritize the ideas to be implemented, and then send your advisors away.  Now you need some “alone time” with your leadership team.
  4. Turn strategies into Tactics.  A plan is only as good as your ability to execute it.  Take the strategies you’ve identified and determine how they will be implemented.  Answer questions like: How much will this cost?; How soon will I get a return on my investment?; Can I afford to do this now — can I afford not to?; What other resources do I need?  Once you have each strategy defined, go back and be sure you have a holistic plan that includes the “baseline” efforts you perform today as well as any new activities.  This will ensure you have an integrated plan that can succeed.
  5. GO!  Be strategic at least a few minutes each day.  Things don’t change overnight, but without effort, they never change.  Spend a few minutes every day making sure you are sticking with your plans.  Don’t be afraid to abandon something if it isn’t working out, just do so consciously and not because you didn’t have time to think about it.  Measure your progress and hold yourself accountable for the successful implementation of the strategies.

If you spend the time now to create a good plan for 2010, you will reap the rewards.  You will be more confident in your business model and everyone on your team will know where the company is headed.  They will have a plan to rally around, and they will help it succeed.

Enjoy the holidays and have a great 2010!