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From Sprints to Endurance

Jamie Heuze
Jamie Heuze
Head of Product 5 May 202012 minutes read

In this first part of this two-article series we will explore why large organisations struggle to innovate long term, and what are the signs you need to be aware of.

Building a Sustainable Culture of Innovation with Operational Design.

Congrats 👏, If you’re reading this then you’re already thinking way ahead of most people in business. You’re a corporate rebel who embraces change and you have a desire to build a future-focused organisation, one that applies not only strategy but cultural and organisational thinking to its ways of working. But don’t stop there and don’t get complacent! Successful business transformation evolution only exists through execution, and one must always practice what they preach.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion.

The Second states that if an unbalanced force acts on a body, that body will experience acceleration.

You can easily apply these laws to the realm of business and see a direct correlation to those of successful organisations. Businesses, like Netflix and Apple, will apply the first rule, always moving forward, always challenging themselves to be better, always working an infinite game mindset.

Some, like IBM and Microsoft, will employ the second law from time to time needing a strong crank to the flywheel of innovation. To do this, there is no better way than undergoing a design Sprint. Sprints will inject some much need acceleration into your business in just 5 days. But the more important question is; how do you maintain that velocity long term… how do we stay in motion?

In this first part of this two-article series we will explore why large organisations struggle to innovate long term, and what are the signs you need to be aware of. In part two, we will outline how to bring together Design Thinking, Lean Methodologies, and Agile Development to lock-in a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Why Now is Important

They say that the majority of large organisations only ever look to innovate in times of crisis. Usually when a competitor threatens market share or in times of specific, local or global uncertainties...ring any bells?

At the beginning of 2020, the coronavirus caused nearly every business on the planet to just stop, no notice, no planning, just a complete stop. Although digital transformation has been happening for years, especially in the financial sector, many businesses were under the impression that it wasn't critical for the way their business operates. Now, every business out of necessity is rapidly clambering to become a digital service to survive.

Ok, If every business is now a digital one then it probably means digital transformation is dead right? (Although I would have said this had always been the case but that's for another post.) Digital transformation was never actually the goal, it was only ever the very first step to becoming a future-thinking business.

Becoming a future-thinking business, in theory, is fairly straight forward, it is in the practice and execution where the perils lie. The same mistakes seem to keep cropping up over and over again for large organisations, stopping them from truly applying their innovative thinking. Furthermore, this is why innovation usually gets a bad reputation, a lot of thinking without any doing! It grinds down your people and after a while it becomes extremely frustrating for both leaders and practitioners.

What Stops Innovation

Over Etch's many years of experience, we've noticed a few key areas that continue to suffocate innovation. We can normally tell how innovative an organisation is just by looking at the time they take to respond to change. It takes a huge amount of political capital to change an organisation and the larger the organisation, the more politics, planning, and siloed work seems to exist creating some kind of slow disconnected linear process driven monster. There is a great spin on a Peter Drucker quote and we think it's quite an apt truism;

So, here is what you need to look out for if you're going to successfully build a culture of innovation.

Individual limits

This breaks down into a few facets but ultimately it boils down to the members in your team having access and an understanding of the right tools and methods with enough personal drive to challenge the boundaries.

Organisation

Failing to get the right team together is something we see from time to time but even if you have the right people you have to establish the right behaviours and a healthy dynamic.

Semantics

Considered meaningless in the grand scheme of things but when a misunderstanding of semantics is multiplied by the network effect it leads to great confusion and frustration. For example, the phrase "prototype" will mean something completely different to designers, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Forget specialisms and establish a jargon buster board or a commonality of language within the business teams early on.

Politics

As mentioned before, creating a culture of innovation takes huge political capital. This is the number one reason why organisations struggle to stay in motion. As much as leadership likes to think that politics do not play a part in business decisions the matter of the fact is that they do. Organisational politics are invisible but they influence every person and decision within a business and its infrastructure.

How To Move Forward

Check back next week for part two where we will outline how to bring together Design Thinking, Lean Methodologies, and Agile Development to lock-in a culture of innovation through continuous learning and improvement.

Here's to the future!