I was questioned by a colleague yesterday, a question I determine to answer through this blog post. The question was "do you remember of any Innovations we did in the last 2 years?". My answer is NOT REALLY. And I have no hesitation in saying this. I think while the whole world is claiming on Developers been Gods - @Scobleizer in his latest post, How Facebook is made by Developers - Techcrunch, And how Google Dev community is the maximum value driver in Innovation. While there are success stories of how developers really make the future of Innovation bright in any organization... I think many of them forget to mention the determination from the Management, The Vision to Innovate, The attitude to learn from failures, and the readiness to accept failures, the faith in developer community and last but not the least the work load on your teams. I believe there are multiple more elements that drive Innovations... many of them written in the posts previously written.
My answer to the question raised is going to come in a series of blog posts, while this post is going to be focused on the Agileness as a potential blocker to Innovation. Please note that I see Agility as a potential blocker only. So the short and frequent but shippable product takes the precedence, the Team get busy in finishing the tasks planned for Iterations, their visibility to the product and the vision is limited to the set of iterations and releases. Obviously if you are going to have a busy team of developers just working to get a feature right out of the developer machine to the customer, they are going to loose an important element of their attitudes... Innovation.
In my experience agility has all potential reasons to create enough blockages to Innovations... here is why:
1. Multiple short and frequent releases mean that those releases are focused to get small issues / bugs fixed for your customers, maybe some small features that are likely to help your product improve. This means that the focus of your team is on that release and those set of small items. Development or Product teams, both are going to fence themselves into the barriers of those monthly / 2 monthly release cycles.
2. Yes the quality and the speed of development increases with effective agility, but then it also increases the iterations in building requirements, delivering those requirements to a complete set of functional piece. All in all you are working fast and quality, but with no newness.
3. Products may have roadmaps, however the long term features that are going to be a part of your 1-2 years roadmap is not getting resourced. Majority of your discussions are restricted to what is coming in the next release, and many times it is doing something this release to win a deal. Majority of times these items that are big chunky development or Innovation pieces get outdated, Thanks to the market conditions, Technology updates or competitors.
4. If you are catching up, You are not Innovating. A major set of companies/products who tend to catch up with competition have failed to be ahead in the race, as they are always in a mode of catchup.. they are making their Teams to work on those things that the competition has and that is taking the energy out... remember this catching up never ends... I see this race for Myspace... though the new Myspace is really nice.. I believe it is just trying to catch up with Facebook... same thing happening around with Yahoo for instance. So while you are busy catching up with 1 competitor... a whole bunch of competition is busy not catching up with you instead Innovating... Imagine what would happen if you want to catch up with RT like function of Twitter, Like like function of Facebook, A gooogle like search , A Quora like simplicity.... Gosh.. you gonna be One hell of a busy Team.
5. Innovation is not copying. SAP-Oracle is a recent example. If you are busy copying features, you are taking your product years back.. because that is when those products started thinking of it, and did it. In the process of agility many people tend to copy smaller set of features into short releases... this causes Teams to defocus.
6. Innovation is not 1 person telling and other people doing. You cant just free up 1 person to tell you what your product needs... there is a whole lot to do. Agility drives responsibility of Product Innovation on a few less. This is one big trouble... if you dont have 100 ideas every moment, you are going to work on 1 Idea which is probably not well validated or Innovative.
7. Iterative Freeze is needed... One of the problem of been agile is that there is always a backlog... believe me or not.. run an eye on past few releases of your agile team and see the amount of backlogs, Technical debts... many of these are due to the indecisive, iterative feedback sets. One or the other team member will have one or the other change and this change is going to get a lolly in your backlog.
Having said this.... I also want to say that some of these issues can still be tackled to keep the Innovation momentum up in a agile Team. A few of my thoughts...
A. Have streams of development. 1 that focus on short term goals, another that is always working on Innovation items with a longer release plan. This is not catching up though. Had Facebook tried to get into the Phone market, they would have lost focus from the Social Business, the vision of which is to be Social leader and not collaborative struggler.
B. Leave Agile teams with lull releases. Yes everyone wants CUSTOMER DELIGHT. But keep a set of releases empty.. so your teams get time to breathe...this breathing period can really help them Innovate.
C. Small inputs can turn into Big Innovations.. Promote and Provoke your agile team members to Innovate.. Appreciate the items they do on their own... If they are taking you away from your product vision, Guide them but dont reject them hard. Recently a developer bought a cool module for customizable design and formatting. This input was bought down with a statement that it is not needed for the product, Disappointed developer kept another cool Idea of real time previews undisclosed.
D. Make agility your strength, not your weakness... Break up your Innovations into smaller phases, instead of going on a all out war on it. If you are able to get a cool thing for your product increasing the customer UVP.. even if it comes in phases.. Your speed can get things in time, your attitude and quality will give perfection to your Innovation. people will like it. As YT said...Think whatever you do is your Version 1.0 while 2.X is waiting in queue.
E. Imbibe a Innovation culture... Not a THIS IS NOT YOUR JOB CULTURE. If Facebook is successful it is because it has a great Team to support great Ideas and great vision. Unlike Yahooo whose better technology just cant be met by its product ideas and vision. Unlike Myspaces scalability that just is useless as the product doesnt have a great usability and vision further. Unlike Zoho's apps whose Technology is just not able to catch up the cool features and usability of the product...
Now.. that you are one hell of a Agilist.. take a step back, retrospect how Innovation is going in your Team.. and take a leap to improvise the Innovation process.... Let Agility be your glucose in this short sprint.