Most Services Launched This Year Will Fail – Here’s Why

How To Fast Track Innovation

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If you speak at conferences about innovation you’ll almost always encounter some frustrated people.

They approach you at the end, or contact you a few days later. They often have one thing in common.

They, and others like them , have ideas that are being shut down because they don’t fit the system.

They tend not to be the loud ones, the self styled boat rockers and rebels at work, but just people who are quietly trying to make a difference.

They see a refusal to identify, create, embrace, explore, develop or adopt new ideas. They see missed opportunities for new products, better processes or different ways of doing business.

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This week we spoke at an event at Alder Hey Innovation Hub on the subject of fast tracked innovation.

  • The NHS is 68 years old.
  • Bromford is 53.

That means we have at least two things in common.

  1. We’re successful. Our vision and purpose has remained relevant across decades.
  2. We’re in danger. The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today.  We shouldn’t really still be here.

If you’ve been around that long you’re going to have a huge amount of organisational wisdom. You’ve become very good at what you do.

However – older companies are really bad at innovation because they’re designed to be bad at innovation.

Older companies are designed to execute on delivery — not engage in discovery.

And this is where all those frustrated people come from. They are explorers locked in a system focused on repetition.

Smart organisations know that innovation has to happen by design. They know that you have to build non-linear processes that encourage purposeful deviation.

It’s project unmanagement.

Project management as in methodologies like PRINCE2 can be anti-innovation. It’s about defined steps to make something logical and organised. PRINCE actually stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments.

Control.

Let’s be clear – I’m not dismissing the importance of controlled projects. However my experience of talking to a lot of frustrated people is that organisations are confusing control and exploration.

As I heard this week – “I just keep getting told to take my idea to the project team, but they don’t seem to get it”.

No. They wouldn’t get it.

NEVER take an idea to a project management team unless you want it come back with a risk log, a contingency plan and a Gantt chart.

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As this diagram from Tom Hartland shows – there’s a whole fuzzy front end to deal with first.

The conundrum we face is that the very processes that drive toward a profitable, efficient operation tend to get in the way of developing innovations that can actually transform the business.

Until organisations invest in a test and learn framework to accompany their efficiency models they are doomed to disappoint a lot of employees and see ideas go nowhere.

Creating a safe place for intrapreneurs to test ideas and gain supporting evidence so they can justify requesting funds is now necessary whatever the size of your company.

What’s the ROI?

A better question to ask is how you measure the return for an idea that does not yet exist.


The latest Lab slide deck is below. Thanks to Tom for the awesome illustrations.

Using Design Principles to Describe What Transformation Means

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Digital transformation to me is about the transformation of organisations from silos, outsourced capability and murky strategic goals, to being an organisation that understands the vision, that knows where it delivers the most value and how to focus on it – Michael Brunton-Spall

Right now – if my backchannel Twitter conversations are to be believed – there are more people working on transformation programmes than doing any actual work.

Transformation is a nebulous term that no normal person would ever use in conversation.

I have a mistrust of anything claiming to be transformational for a few reasons:

Simply put – are we clear what the drivers of transformation are and what it is we are trying to transform into?

I’ve found it useful to create design principles for us to adopt as we think about or implement change.

There are eight principles in all and they underpin how we intend to exist – a demarcation between managing the present and inventing the future.

Having a clearly articulated and understood set of principles should help us do the following:

  • Get us all on the same page – or surface principles that we are unclear on and need further debate.
  • Avoid silos – as everyone is working to the same set of overarching principles.
  • Help us evaluate proposed work – as deviating from the principles is not acceptable, although they might develop over time.
  • Establish the use of the principles as “business as usual” for the way we deliver change.

Here they are:

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By embedding design principles we hope to better articulate what transformation could and should feel like.  Turning it from organisational junk language into something that people can apply to their everyday work.

We’ll let you know how we get on and how the principles develop.


 

Credit where it’s due: The principles are not original and have been heavily influenced and in part directly lifted from GDS team, Carl Haggarty, Vijay Govindarajan and many others. If I’ve failed to credit you and you spot a phrase I swiped, let me know!

Lessons in Rapid Experiments and Learning from Failure

In 1943, the U.S. Airforce met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express their need for a fighter plane to counter a rapidly growing Nazi jet threat. Because of the need for secrecy “Skunk Works”, as it became known, was allowed to operate undercover. No rules and no bureaucracy that could stifle innovation and hinder progress.

It built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required, and was given a full time remit to “break the rules in a safe environment”. 

I’ve given three talks this week to very different audiences – but they shared strong themes:

  • How can you kickstart different behaviours within the confines of an organisational structure?
  • How can we do experiments in public without falling flat on our face?
  • How do we make a business case for bright ideas in cash conscious times?

My simplistic advice is Think Big, Start Small.

The evolution of the Bromford Deal, featured in the slide deck above – began with just four people in a room talking about creating a new ‘deal’. We soon took three colleagues out of their operational roles and gave them a special remit – “what would we do if we started again?”

They operated in complete isolation for 12 weeks with a couple of ‘mentors’ dropping in occasionally. It was our own Skunk Works and a forerunner of what evolved into Bromford Lab.

After a raft of tests, pilots and detailed evaluation , Bromford has scaled the proposal, changed strategy, mobilised 130 new roles and is launching a transformed service.

Small empowered teams, bold tests, pilots demonstrating increased value to customers and improved cashflows have given us persuasive data to inform the business case.

More important than that is a culture that values the lessons learned when you are bold enough to attempt something that hasn’t been done before.

This week I spent a lot of time talking about rapid experiments.

Sometimes we need to scrap the comforting safety of product planning and project management. Instead, we should learn to practice high‐speed experimentation. 

The examples I give in the slides of frugal experiments are deliberately frivolous.

What happens if:

  • You stick Amazon Alexa in the office?
  • You put Google Glass on customers for home viewings?
  • You give people access to 3D Printing?
  • You install home sensors that can track the occupancy of homes?
  • You make video gaming available at work?
  • You get kids to redesign communities with Minecraft?
  • You use Whatsapp in place of team email?
  • You let your development team use drones to photograph land?

As I said to one of the groups I spoke to. We know the answer to all of these things. That puts us ahead on the learning and adoption curve of new technologies at work.

It’s these practical experiments that show whether the fundamental assumptions about radical innovation are correct and what they mean for your business.

The challenge? Shifting our learning from slow and expensive to fast and cheap.

How can you get your team to learn 10x  faster than everyone else?

Using Weak Signals To Determine Your Future Organisation

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“Weak signals consist of emergent changes to technology, culture, markets, the economy, consumer tastes and behaviour, and demographics.  Weak signals are hard to evaluate because they are incomplete, unsettled and unclear” – Vijay Govindarajan.

Luckily for us the future doesn’t arrive in an instant – but unfolds seconds at a time.

Despite our organisational 2025 strategies, our five year forward views, it’s impossible to predict what our world looks like in the years ahead.

We are making, as Jason Fried has said, business guesses rather than business plans.

Launching a service or developing a new product against this ever shifting background is fraught with difficulty. What’s good for 2016 could be surplus to requirements a year later.

Today all our new services must be iterative and capable of scaling for mergers, growth and indeed for retraction and redundancy.  Designing for obsolescence is more important than ever. 

At Bromford Lab we’ve worked with our Insight team to give a tentative green light to a new service – and I think there are some lessons to learn. Tom Hartland gives an overview of our thinking here with an excellent slide deck showing the design process.

The concept is simple. Switch from being a reactive service (waiting for basic repairs requests) – and move to offering proactive coaching so people can do things for themselves. It’s aiming to tackle exactly the same things as many of our public services are: reducing demand by focusing on prevention rather than cure.

Lesson One: The test has been beset by implementation problems. 

As it should be. 

If you are launching anything new against the background of what could be legacy services and systems – it should be plagued by problems.

Expect lots of tiny failures. The worst thing you can do is to give up. Unfortunately many of our organisations, and certainly most of the media, do not think like this.  This is part of the re-education journey we need to take people on.

Lesson Two: The test hasn’t delivered tangible business benefits. Yet. 

So why are we recommending that it proceeds to pilot?

The answer to that is a mix of art and science. We have some evidence of potential success but we need a more detailed and longer term evaluation.

However not all insight can be gained through evaluation alone – but by picking up what futurists term ‘weak signals’.

Generally organisations are poor at picking up these signals. Arguably the fact that we are still talking about digital transformation demonstrates that the weak signals from the 1990’s onwards were largely unheard.

There are a number of signals that we are picking up at Bromford that – if correct- means our concept could have a very positive future. With time there’s a possibility of substantial financial returns – alongside fulfilling our strategic objective of growing customer skills and aspirations.

Here are a few of the things that we do, and don’t know about the future:

  • We have an ageing population with more people living on their own. We don’t know if this will have a positive or detrimental effect on future demand.
  • We know that driverless cars will soon be on the roads – drastically reducing transportation costs to get parts to our residents homes. We don’t know the speed of adoption.
  • We know the maker community – people using 3D printing and other self manufacture tools – is growing. We don’t know whether this will ever move beyond a niche and into the mainstream.
  • We know artificial intelligence – think Siri and Amazon Alexa – is rapidly advancing. We don’t know whether AI advice and coaching delivered through technology or a robot will ever be a good enough alternative to physical delivery.
  • We know housing associations are unlikely to be flooded with lots of public money in the future. We don’t know what future welfare reforms look like.

Putting all of these things together alongside the evidence we do have is persuasive enough to take the test to a next level.

None of us can predict the future – but we can attempt to second guess it. And the best way to do that is by low-cost experiments to test the unknowns, before gambling any big money.

Ultimately our organisations will succeed by exploring these weak signals – abandoning them as they fade or focussing investment when they get stronger.

The only choice is whether to be an active participant in what the future looks like or just let it relentlessly unfold around you.

Why You Need To Selectively Forget Your Own Past

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Reset All Assumptions

We must selectively forget the past. That means not accepting current practices but challenging underlying assumptions, our solutions and mindsets, and the way we tackle the problem.

We need services designed as people need them – not as we have learned to do them.

Bromford Design Principle 1 (Draft)

I’m doing some work at the moment on organisational design principles – which is as good an opportunity as any to stand back and assess our capability for radical thinking.

A lot of the conversations I’ve been party to recently have centered around the need for a strong organisational culture to promote innovation. Indeed – I took part in an innovation assessment that seemed to hold teamwork, co-operation and shared purpose up as a kind of holy grail.

My experience of working with teams is almost exactly the opposite. Innovation often thrives because of diversity and discord. “The idea that will get you fired” is often the best one to explore.

Strong cultures are a positive – but there’s a tipping point. A point where conflicting opinions can get stifled rather than being actively cultivated.

Phrases such as “That’s the way things get done around here” or “That person isn’t really a (insert your company name) sort of person” are early warning signs you’re reaching that point.

I’ve been reading the latest book from VG Govindarajan – a great thinker on innovation and leader of a global initiative to design a $300 House.

In the book VG proposes a simple test to assess the size of the challenge in forgetting the past.  

Here are some of the questions:

  • We primarily promote from within
  • Our culture is homogeneous
  • We have a strong culture
  • Employees have a long tenure
  • We rarely recruit from outside apart from entry level positions
  • When people are recruited from outside, we have strong socialisation methods
  • We have a track record of success
  • We don’t mess with success
  • The senior management team has a long tenure and has also worked primarily in our sector

VG asks us to answer the questions scoring 1-5, with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’, and 5 representing ‘strongly agree’. The higher the score the bigger the challenge.

I ran my own organisation through this – I’ll be asking other leaders to do the same – and found we score pretty highly.

As VG teaches us – this is not cause to throw our heads into our hands and despair. Rather it’s about surfacing awareness of the weight of our history – and the chains we may need to break to move forward.

A crucial part of this is about resetting our assumptions about why we do what we do, how we do them, and who does them.

It means embracing misfits – not rejecting them from “your” culture.

Contained in our own personal and organisational histories are thousands of assumptions. Assumptions that we live by everyday. 

To truly transform we need to question every one of them.