The Right People: A Key to Innovation
Let’s take a look at the first ingredient, people. IT professionals have always needed a blend of business, technology, and people skills; now, however, the people skills are even more important and a bit different than in traditional IT environments. This is because innovation requires new methodologies and frameworks for thinking about solutions, such as design thinking, which helps people empathize with business users, define problems, brainstorm ideas, visualize them with UI mock-ups, and validate them with users.
In order to do this effectively, CIOs need people who can moderate and coach innovation workshops, and effectively interview users, digging beneath the surface to probe their unknown needs and desires. Lastly, CIOs need people skilled in interaction design and visual design to optimize system usability and aesthetics.
Here’s a good example of why this bundle of skills is so useful. Several years ago, when I visited a customer in China, I watched as a business user input hundreds of invoices on a new system. After every 20 invoices, he’d hit “refresh” 10 times. When asked why, he explained it was a necessary step for the system to calculate and catch exceptions that needed to be dealt with manually. I asked how he liked the usability of the system, and he replied that he loved it – it was much better than the old system.
I thought, however, “Why does he need to enter the invoices at all? Why not use OCR technology to book invoices automatically and push exceptions to the user so that he would only see problematic invoices?” This would speed up the process, likely reduce errors, and free up the user for more strategic work.
That’s what is needed for innovation: the ability to carefully observe how people work, question business processes, know the technology capabilities available, and understand how to apply them to create business value.
So, how do you find people with these skills? Thankfully, you can train people in design thinking to cover some of these skills. In other cases, you will need to hire people with a background in design (user research, interaction design and visual design).
But based on my experience in the last 15 years, the most crucial element is soft skills. The best designer in the world is of no value if he or she can’t communicate with end users, business experts and developers, or is not a team player. The same is true for developers and business experts.
For example, it does not help if you have a development geek who only wants to develop for IOS if your business requirement is “bring your own device” and you need to support multiple devices. The same is true for a designer who fights to get just the perfect visionary design, but the design is way too expensive or impossible to implement.
CIOs also need to create an environment in which people trained in creative thinking can co-exist with classical business thinkers. Otherwise, the desired culture and behaviors will never emerge and grow.
In today’s world, innovation is an interdisciplinary practice that calls for strong design, development and business skills, but above all, the ability to see the world through the end user’s eyes and bring it to reality. In other words, it is not just about design thinking – but also design doing.