I consult, write, and speak on running better technology businesses (tech firms and IT captives) and the things that make it possible: good governance behaviors (activist investing in IT), what matters most (results, not effort), how we organize (restructure from the technologically abstract to the business concrete), how we execute and manage (replacing industrial with professional), how we plan (debunking the myth of control), and how we pay the bills (capital-intensive financing and budgeting in an agile world). I am increasingly interested in robustness over optimization.

I work for ThoughtWorks, the global leader in software delivery and consulting.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An "Innovation Maturity Model?"

Our innovation model now has multiple practices within each of three dimensions. Collectively, it looks like this:

Delivery Assurance
Source Code Management
Collective Code Ownership

Tools & Infrastructure
Community Management
Bar Lifting
Risk Tolerance

Continuous Sourcing

We can make this model still more finely grained by identifying the ways in which each practice area is performed. For example, we can define different ways to fulfill the Governance practice of “commercials and contracts.” By sequencing in degree order the extent to which each method of execution enables innovation, we can create a simple innovation “maturity model.”

This is, clearly, going to be a bit involved, but it gives us useful information. The extent to which the different practices are performed will be a strong indicator of our organisation’s aptitude for innovation. In addition, having a “maturity flight” for each will highlight strengths and deficiencies in how we operate now. This, in turn, allows us to focus our efforts and investments specifically where it will make us more competitive.

In constructing progressions of practice in rank order by the extent to which they facilitate innovation, we start with a simple taxonomy of “innovation maturity.”

  • Level 3: Practices that are fully aligned with and engender innovation
  • Level 2: Practices that engender but do not maximize innovation
  • Level 1: Practices that are neutral or marginally enable innovation
  • Level -1: Practices that inhibit consistent innovation

    Having a “Level -1” is useful from the point of view that there is value in calling out practices that inhibit innovation. A Level 3 might be thought of as a maximum degree of facilitation. Between are varying degrees to which things are done that engender innovation but are suboptimal in a purely “innovation” context. This is not to say that Level 3 should be the target: there may be economic or operational reality why an organization peaks at level 2 or 1. This is also not to say that there are not levels beyond 3, but for purposes of constructing an initial model, it is best to keep it simple. Bear in mind that this is simply a model that provides us a structured way to analyse what we’re doing now and suggest what we should be doing instead.

    With a taxonomy, and a series of practices, we should be able to construct a “maturity flight” for each practice, sequencing activity in degree order to which each engenders innovation.

    For example, the “maturity flight” of the Compliance dimension of Governance might look like this:

  • Level 3: Compliance rules are automated and implemented as gatekeeper events in daily activity (e.g., through build) and feed a compliance dashboard
  • Level 2: Key success factors for solution completeness (security, performance, reliability) implemented as a battery of repeatable test suites
  • Level 1: Multi-disciplinary compliance working group formed with delivery leaders to articulate “solution completeness” in plain terms
  • Level -1: After-the-fact audit and review intended to find errors as opposed to guide solutions; rules set by non-delivery staff; rules exist in documentation

    Similarly, within Community, the Participation flight might look like this:

  • Level 3: Programmes established to recognize and enable participation (e.g., a 10% scheme, internally funded conferences)
  • Level 2: Communities fo Practices form; practice membership recognized by HR as a soft “matrix” organization; soft budget allocated
  • Level 1: Collaboration tools and space passively advertised; demand-based “at-will” participation
  • Level -1: Teams work in isolation; collaboration is a function of individual networking

    And so on, for all practices.

    By doing this for every practice area, it becomes possible for us to:

  • Identify specifically the deficiencies and obstacles to our ability to innovate,
  • Map the affinity that we have for innovation.
  • Track our progress as we improve our ability to innovate.

    Of course, with as many as 19 practice areas identified, this is going to produce a lot of data.As we have an index and a categorization for each, we can consolidate our scores and get an overall assessment of our Agility, Community and Governance practices.

    In so doing, we have a composite picture of where we’re at relative to where we’d like to be relative to an “ideal state.” Again, we have to use this judiciously: this is not intended as a certification or a mandate. It is an indicator that, properly applied, should allow us to better ask and answer: to what extent does our organisation really do the things that lend themselves to innovation? We cannot expect innovation from an environment that is not conducive to it. This degree of insight goes a long way to avoiding a futile “innovation mandate.”