Fostering New Thinking within Organizations

Injecting new thinking into existing organizations, from within the organization itself, is difficult. Even when the need for “thinking different” is plain, entrenchment – of process, people, expectation – make diverging from set paths a chore. One entrepreneurial speaker is seeing an encouraging trend:

Eric Ries, the driving force behind the “lean startup” movement, which encourages high efficiency and meticulous metrics tracking within entrepreneurial ventures. Ries … noticed a trend among some of the people attending his talks. Many managers from large companies were coming to his sessions to learn what they could, because, as Ries discovered, the principals of lean startups can exist within larger corporations that are attempting to innovate.

Thinking Inside the Box: Eric Ries On Creating Startups Within Large Organizations

Efficiency and metrics tracking – and you can’t achieve one without the other – shouldn’t be  solely the realm of the entrepreneur – they’re core to any successful business.

“The real value is [this] starts to catalyze change because by changing the way you work you start to accelerate that feedback loop […] and that can become the basis for making other changes,” Ries says.

Companies could also benefit … by inspiring their existing employees to be innovative, instead of wrangling up entrepreneurs from a startup, which would save them money in the end.

[17:38] idee?Creative Commons License photo credit: westpark
Paving the way for New Thinking helps
New ideas presented from within an organization can be met with derision, resentment and the entrenchment mentioned above – the reason there’s a consulting industry generally isn’t because  organizations don’t have the talent and ideas aboard already. In my experience, those things usually *are* there. The reason outsiders are brought in is to help those ideas get a foothold and succeed.

It’s almost unfortunate, but many times outsiders are brought in because insiders haven’t gotten it done. It’s not that they weren’t capable; it’s that they didn’t. Without assistance, there’s little to reason to believe this will change. So “fresh eyes” come in to help. Those new perspectives can be brought in even from other parts of the larger organization – the point of the exercise is to make time to think specifically about what your processes are, why they are that way, and what the team can do to improve them.

(Management) “have this idea that a certain alchemy will happen that ‘if I bring these special people into my organization, they will teach my regular people how to be special,’ and that’s just a formula for breeding resentment,” Ries told ReadWriteWeb. “If the people doing the acquiring had more of a theory about how entrepreneurship is supposed to work […] they could start to think of better ways to plug an acquired company into the larger organization, taking advantage of what they’re good at without destroying it.”

Read more of Thinking Inside the Box

The bit about alchemy is mostly true – especially when a larger organization works to consume a smaller, more entrepreneurial organization in whole, it can create a lot of friction without creating the intended value: The good ideas both sides bring are lost to disdain.

Encouraging efficiency and the importance of metrics – “data-driven decision-making” – would improve chances of an organization actually synthesizing what an acquired team had to offer. Putting a framework around how existing team members can be innovative within the organization would make any injection of new ideas that much more welcomed and effective. Then the “fresh eyes” have their best shot at ensuring everyone’s successful.

Required Answers before an Undertaking

I’m currently looking through some best-practices as we look to expand (again) our web analytics and reporting capabilities. There’s lots of info out there about warehousing great swaths of log data, navigation funnels, user behaviors.

“Warehouse” projects I’d been involved with previously had been owned and driven by Technology groups. When I ran across this article, it reïnforced a simple message that’s true for implementations of almost any size: Before you start building anything, ask the Business about their primary goal. From the piece:

statcounter for cybersoc (nov 07 to nov 08)
Creative Commons License photo credit: robinhamman

Business L (person) – I need a data warehouse!
Geek – Why?
BL – Because I need to know stuff.
G – What stuff?
BL – You know, likes sales data and stuff.
G – Can you express that as a single, English question?
BL – I want to know how many of which products we sell in a month, what it costs us, and how much we sold it for.
G – So you want to look at quantity, cost, and purchase price?
BL – Yes.
G – And you just want to know what was bought , when it was bought, and where it was bought?
BL – Exactly.
G – No problem.
BL – Wait, I need a seperate report sorted by sales region, one for product line, one for…
G – Easy turbo. Let’s just start with one specific question and see how that works before worry about any more.
BL- Thank you very much. I find your responses constructive and supportive. I look forward to working with you.

Can’t you produce a simple prototype very quickly on that information? Wouldn’t it answer a lot of questions that are all basically variations on a single theme?

Can’t you just extract a sample of data and slap it on your dev box and go back to BL in a day or two and show him something?

DON’T Build a Data Warehouse

My project management philosophy is simple and effective:

  1. Tell folks what you plan to Do
  2. Do it
  3. Tell them what you’ve Done

Before you can effectively let the business know what you plan to do, it’s beneficial to get as solid an idea as possible of what the business thinks needs doing.

On this current analytics project, I’m the primary client / user as well as the one building the solution. Even so, I’ve let my team know what my plans are and why; I’ve got their buy-in as I’ve already produced several sample reports – and related actionable suggestions – to demonstrate the kinds of insights and intelligence I’m working to produce on an ongoing basis.

I can now proceed accordingly, produce regular results and suggestions, and hope to see those suggestions put in motion.

I recommend reading the referenced article and especially the comments beneath it. Don’t think it applies only to datawarehouse projects – the ideas work for any number of projects.