Digital Factory

Being a technology consultant is a fabulous job. We’re brought in to amazing companies to understand their business models and, by applying technology solutions, we facilitate solving the challenges they face on a day to day basis. Many times the end result is almost like a “product.” We could be building a custom solution tying together legacy systems and applying new technologies and techniques but the end result is something we’ve built and delivered.

Interestingly enough we’re often solving similar problems for different customers.


This is fortuitous because the more frequently we solve similar problems, the more skilled we become at addressing those challenges. We become “experts” in the field. When credentializing ourselves to clients we point to the many solutions we’ve already built in the same business arena with the same or similar technology.

But like Henry Ford in the early 1900’s, we’re still often doing it one project at a time. While we’re experts in the field and we can apply our experience and skill, we’re often repeating the same exercises over and over. Ford’s solution to this problem was the creation of the assembly line which allowed the cost of a Model T to fall from $850 in 1909 [1] to $260 in 1924 [2].

Wouldn’t it be great if we applied some of the same principles to building our digital solutions, a digital factory if you will? The end result would be quicker delivery at a more competitive price point.


Old Method: cost to the client ~$250K and 20 weeks
Digital Factory: cost to the client $200K and 12 weeks

This requires some investment up front to be sure and thoughtful leadership but the end result is a win-win for everyone involved. It offers faster implementation of a technology solution which is a far more efficient use of your consultants and it puts your firm at a more competitive price point. The key is to ensure you’re addressing the sweet spot for a market solution when you develop your model. If you follow this pattern you’ll have laid the groundwork for developing an accelerated start to the project and you’ll have a promising story to tell your client right from the beginning.

[1] “Ford Model T.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Apr.

[2] “The Model T Put the World on Wheels.” Ford Motor Company – Official Global Ford Corporate Information . N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

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Innovation Debt


“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

Do you ever get the sense that things are getting a little stale? That, while you’re personally doing great work, it’s just not as compelling, as rewarding, as forward-thinking as you wished? It’s not that you’re not delivering quality, it’s not that you’re not being effective in the solutions you’re building, it’s just that you’ve been doing it that way for a long while and there’s this nagging idea that you’re missing out. It’s not that you just want to jump on the latest fad so you’ll feel “cool.” It’s just that you’re getting the sense that your organization is missing the boat, that there’s something coming in the future that really needs the groundwork laid now. You and your organization may be suffering from Innovation Debt.

In the software development world, there is an important concept called “technical debt.” As I mentioned earlier in this post, there’s a similar concept at a company level I’ve termed “innovation debt.” It’s far more than just a technical issue and it’s certainly not just about software development. It’s about your organization as a whole and where they stand on the innovation continuum. If you’re not innovating, you will be incurring innovation debt. Essentially, Innovation Debt is the cost you’ll be accumulating if you’re not investing in creating and building compelling and distinct solutions and competencies that don’t just tap into existing best practices but that are constantly looking ahead for what’s next, for the emerging technologies, techniques and practices that will have your company on the front edge of growth and innovation.

Companies are sometimes fearful of “innovation” because the tangible benefits can be hard to quantify. Too often they ask the question, “What’s the cost of investing in new and distinctive (innovation) practices and competencies?” But they should be asking, “What’s the cost of not investing in new and distinctive (innovation) practices and competencies?” If you’re not innovating, the cost is the innovation debt you’ll be accumulating. And like any debt, you’ll have to start making interest payments. Rather than paying that interest and then paying that debt, you can make an investment in innovation and start reaping the rewards in the following fifteen ways.

  1. People; innovation is all about your people; it says to all your employees, “we’re engaged and ahead of the curve, this is a company you want to invest your time and talents in, we provide the tools and the technology that make you effective in your job and turns us into a market leader.”
  2. Mindset; transforming the culture of the company to an innovation mindset builds automatic behaviors into every initiative, every strategy, every program, making it an assumption that all activities of the company prepare for future markets, impact the existing market and improve the position of the company relative to its competitors
  3. Compete; competitive companies are serial innovators that get ahead and stay ahead of the competition; to compete in the global marketplace, it’s vital to use tools and practices that are fueled by innovation; your competitors are aggressively targeting your piece of the pie and they undoubtedly will be creative and innovative to gain an advantage
  4. Keeping Pace; if markets were static, if competitors didn’t come up with new products and services, if customers were predictable, and if technology never changed, there would be no need for innovation; the business landscape is constantly changing, and with it, the methods, processes, tools and common business practices; innovative tools ensure emerging business processes can be effectively practiced
  5. Productivity; effective organizations are primarily based on the productivity of the people which is primarily based on the tools they have; great people with great tools = great productivity
  6. Execution; results matter, innovative use of technology delivers results faster and with more effectiveness, innovative organizations foster a culture of execution, of delivering, of discipline
  7. Enthusiasm; innovation drives enthusiasm, enthusiasm drives participation and engagement, engagement drives customer service and profit
  8. ROI; innovative technology pays for itself through increased efficiency, improved accuracy and radically effective process improvement
  9. Process; innovative approaches to the use of technology provide process improvement where people and systems are seamlessly integrated to deliver results far more effectively
  10. Growth; innovation fuels growth, the business becomes more productive, responsive, even fun; new and effective methods and tools provide an edge in entering new markets; people want to be part of growth, not cost-cutting
  11. Proactive; the choices are, “make change” or “be changed”; you can either affect change and shape the future of your company and your industry which is hugely positive OR be changed by and respond to trends and events which is hugely negative
  12. Vision; innovative tools, when properly applied, enable you to see markets and opportunities through a different lens, allowing you to position yourself effectively before your competition and Lead With Vision
  13. Creativity; building a culture of innovation fosters creativity which leads to solving problems in new and exponentially more effective ways that goes far beyond building new tools but also leads to innovating your functions, logistics, business models and processes
  14. Position; Market leaders are always market innovators; Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Cisco, Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, BMW, UPS, Intel, GE, Nike, PG&E, Samsung, eBay. Add your company to that list!
  15. Skills; innovative companies and leaders develop unique skills

Look at the companies that are devoted to innovation. It’s a pretty impressive list; Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Cisco, Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, BMW, UPS, Intel, GE, Nike, PG&E, Samsung, eBay. Read the histories of these companies. You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the breadth of their research, their innovation, the wide range of their explorations, the kinds of things that naturally recur from these efforts; conversations, ideas, excitement, growth, passion, success. It’s overwhelming. They deliberately nurture their corporate intellect through true education and innovation; a constant commitment to experimentation, and not just light and peripheral experiments but substantive experiments, purposefully setting their course on a culture of innovation. Compromising on Innovation may compromise everything your organization hopes to build for your owners, your employees and your customers.

Are you investing in innovation or incurring innovation debt?

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Innovating When Opportunity Knocks

“Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.” – Rita Coolidge

Being a technologist is all about solutions. OK, it’s about a lot more than that. It’s also about timing, effectiveness, innovation and using the right blend of technology to address the specific problem space. Your customers and your clients approach you for solutions. Their campaigns aren’t working, their systems have lost effectiveness or they simply need a new mobile app: they need a new technology solution. Can you help them?

Here are four things they’re looking for.

  1. Get Moving: spin up a team at the point of opportunity
  2. Deliver Effectively: execute with precision and speed
  3. Simply Innovate: connect thought leadership with emerging technology
  4. Use the Right Technology: integrate existing and emerging technology stacks to solve the problem

Here’s an organizational idea to address this. Create a Technology Innovations team (the ITeam) in your organization with the following core spheres of competence.


Each sphere of competence addresses the following questions.

Team Cloud: How do we create an organizational blueprint that allows us to spin up a team to handle a new client/customer/partner or technology quickly and effectively? When opportunity knocks and a new customer is eager and ready to go but timing is key, how do we spin up an organization that can effectively and quickly and credibly win and deliver on that business opportunity? What is the blueprint or playbook?

Effective Delivery: How do we promote a simple delivery process that provides enough versatility and efficiency to “get in, do the job, get out” with quickness and precision? How do we brand and market the process and make it consumable and compelling? How do we get widespread adoption within our organization?

Simple Innovation: How do we sponsor innovation that turns into money-making technology in a cost-effective way? How do we systematize the process? How do we investigate the technology landscape, identify enterprise problem spaces, integrate new technology with proven systems to connect ground-breaking solutions to clients or customers willing to pay for them?

Technology Enablement: How do we mainstream successful emerging technology solution execution from the team to the organization? How do we brand, market, sponsor, motivate and infuse leveraging the integration of new technology development with existing technologies and clients or customers?

Sometimes, being ready to deliver when the opportunity presents itself is the most important capability to have. To do so means putting the pieces in place before that time.

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Lead With Vision

“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible” — Jonathan Swift


I was listening to the excellent Cloud Computing Podcast the other day and really enjoyed a discussion by @DavidLinthicum and Chris Dailey @cjdailey [1]. The questions it made me think about were:

How do you get corporate leaders to embrace new trends in technology like the Cloud or Big Data? How do you get the executive stack to think strategically around new technology? How must leaders lead so that appropriate innovation is a normative corporate value?

The answer is to develop the skill of vision sharing. Sharing your vision about transformational technology in a way that causes people to embrace that vision is the key leadership skill to harness. Yes, astutely laying out the technical particulars is important but it doesn’t often win the day. Can your leaders share their vision in a way that motivates people to embrace the advantages of the new technology? Or will your people react to the shared vision by anchoring themselves in the present because change threatens their comfort and security?

In most companies, people have built up their teams around existing processes, technologies, structures and capabilities. New technology is threatening. It threatens people’s existing fiefdoms and it threatens their perception of their own success. But success based on existing technology can’t sustain itself long term. Your competitors are not sitting still and the new kids on the block are there because they’re making hay with the new technology. Leaders must realize that the technology they have today and the processes they have today will not continue to serve them equally in the future.

If your current leadership is sitting on their hands, if they’re not understanding both the existing profit model but also the technology needed for the future profit model, you have the wrong leader mentality. You need to groom or hire visionary leaders, people who are capable of sharing a vision, of inspiring a team of people, not just with existing capabilities and doing more, better, faster, but with utilizing new technology, new capabilities, new processes. But vision sharing is risky, especially by technologists. It’s common for brilliant technologists to get pushed aside just because they shared a bigger vision. And that vision scared or threatened people who were more interested in maintaining the status quo, who were more interested in self-preservation, who are more comfortable with the familiar. You need to build teams that are capable of sharing visions and embracing visions.

Your leaders also need to understand the contrast between reformation and revolution. In short, the status quo must consistently be challenged. If you don’t embrace perpetual reformation, you’re headed for revolution instead. Reformation means regularly evaluating, addressing challenges within the organization, looking at new ways of thinking and new technology to keep the organization moving forward. Revolution means you’ve hit a crisis, you need a major overhaul to compete and even to survive. Revolutions are rarely safe and comfortable.

Vision sharing involves getting the teams together and helping people understand the outcomes of new major initiatives and understanding why these outcomes are a positive event for them and their teams. The outcomes are coming anyways. You can either embrace change now as you consistently reform your systems and your approach, or you can suffer the effects of a revolution as you and your entire team feel the effects as wholesale change is initiated.

We can think of examples in the past of emerging technology that was embraced slowly. The LAN, SOA, the web, mobile. Today technologies that come to mind are the Cloud, Big Data and Social Media. These are technologies that have documented positive impact. Even if people are protecting their fiefdoms, the change will come eventually. Take the case of Big Data. Of course the relational database zealots will come out in force against it. It’s not comfortable, it’s not secure, it’s not familiar, it’s not “how we do things.” But you know and I know that they’re going to lose that battle eventually. In forward thinking organizations, that’s going to be sooner rather than later.

The message here is that your leaders can’t just be good at technology. They need to be good at sharing their vision forthrightly and effectively and in a way where people passionately embrace that vision. This is not easy if they come up against entrenched forces that perceive new technology as a threat. The real key is to build a team of people that are not only eager to work together, but who understand that innovation and transformation are a regular part of the rhythm of the organization. The leadership challenge then, is to create a culture that embraces change, innovation, reformation and transformation. Better that than a slow hedge against the future where a revolt becomes necessary to get back in the game and make up for lost time.

[1] This post borrows greatly from a brief discussion by Chris Dailey from the Cloud Computing Podcast, Dailey, Chris, and David Linthicum. “Changing Corporate Strategy with the Cloud.” Cloud Computing Podcast. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

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The Tax You Pay For a Bad Idea

In the software development world, there is an important concept called “technical debt.” Basically, it’s a metaphor developed by Ward Cunningham (inventor of the wiki) and it goes something like this. You’re building a piece of software. It could be a full system or just part of a system. You know there are two ways to approach the development; the quick way or the “right” way. But you’re facing some time pressure to deliver so you choose the quick way. You know there are best practices and other things you should and must do but you choose not to do them now because of the time pressure. By choosing the quick way you choose to accumulate some technical debt.

Today I was reading this book “Flirting With the Uninterested” by Maria Ferrante-Schepis and G. Michael Maddock. [1]


In the book the author discusses a new type of debt, “innovation debt” although in the book she refers to this as an “innovation deficit tax.” In my view it’s more properly termed “innovation debt.” Here’s the entire discussion from the book.


You are likely paying an innovation deficit tax. Why? Because marketing and advertising are the tax you pay for a bad idea. More accurately said, they have become the tax you pay for not being able to create a better idea than your competitors.

The days are gone when a nice tagline or clever campaign could create sustained buying behavior. The more complicated the product, the more likely that people will tap their social network to make decisions. People don’t talk about ad campaigns when making these decisions. They share excitement and information about truly differentiated products. The lesson? The smartest companies are shifting their ad spend to innovation spend. They have realized that they can get exponentially higher return by investing in something that is truly different and needed, and THEN marketing it. And when they do, they spend less on marketing because their consumers do the marketing for them.

If you incur technical debt, as with any debt, you’ll need to make interest payments. These come in the form of the extra work you need to do both now and in the future. Incurring technical debt isn’t always the wrong choice; there may be a window of opportunity that, if missed, would incur a far greater debt. Presumably however, if you want to stop paying the interest, you’ll need to pay down the debt and do the work required to build the system the right way.

If you incur innovation debt, you’ll also need to make interest payments. In essence, if you haven’t invested the time to build something truly innovative and compelling that distinctly meets a customer need better than your competitors, the interest you’ll pay will be in the form of marketing and advertising.

The key takeaway: “The smartest companies are shifting their ad spend to innovation spend.” So, “If you’re considering spending a bunch of money on marketing or social media, why not start by developing a game-changing idea first and marketing it second?” [1]

 [1] Ferrante-Schepis, Maria. ““The Product Isn’t the Problem”” Flirting With the Uninterested Innovating in a “Sold, Not Bought” Category. Charleston: Advantage Media Group, 2012. 12. Print.

Posted in Innovation, Marketing, Software Development | 1 Comment

Windows 8 Is a Direction, Not a Destination

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs


And maybe even after you show it to them. The reactions to the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows 8 are decidedly mixed but on balance they tip to the negative side. The complaints are myriad:

  • “Where’s the Start button?”
  • “Too radical”
  • “It’s incomplete”
  • “It’s slow”
  • “The apps don’t work well”
  • “Key apps are missing”
  • “Hard to use”
  • “It’s dual purpose, they should have chosen desktop or Metro”

I wonder if people are missing the point. Microsoft is faced with a situation it’s encountered before.

  1. A new UI paradigm
  2. Huge media and industry hype
  3. A threat to Microsoft’s market share

Windows 8 is just Microsoft’s response to these factors. For sure it’s a new direction for them but it’s also the opening salvo towards a destination and we’re just starting down that road. Let’s take a step back a few years to the late 70’s.

The personal computer industry was filled with variety and there was no clear winner. The market was dominated by Radio Shack’s TRS-80 which enjoyed over 50% of the market. [1] The early 80’s saw a number of competitors like Commodore, Kaypro and Osborn join the fray and together take about 50% of the market. In fact, in 1983-1984, the Commodore 64 held sway with about 40% of the market while the Apple II had about 10%. [2]

The common factor for all of these machines was the command line interface. However, the market was beginning to solidify around DOS, the operating system developed by Microsoft and licensed to multiple computer companies. But something ground-breaking was to happen in 1984 with the introduction of the Apple Macintosh.

The Mac was this amazing new piece of hardware with this interesting new concept, a GUI, a graphical user interface. Gone was the command line. Instead there were “windows” and “folders” and the use of a pointing device, a “mouse.” Fueled by Steve Jobs’ hard driving motivational energy, based on the “snow white design language” [3] and launched by the famous ‘1984’ television commercial aired during the Super Bowl [4], this small computer gained immediate popularity.

So, in 1984 there was also 1) a new UI paradigm, 2) huge media and industry hype and 3) a threat to Microsoft’s market share. Microsoft responded by developing and launching Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985. In fact, Windows wasn’t a new operating system at all but rather an “operating environment” that extended DOS. In effect, you ended up with this dual-headed system. Sound familiar? In this case, your PC booted into DOS and at the command line, you typed in “WIN”.

There were new UI concepts like drop-down menus, scroll bars, icons and dialog boxes. Windows 1.0 shipped with several new “apps”, Paint, Writer, Notepad and Calculator. But Windows 1.0 was nothing more than an initial foray into some new concepts. The UI was very rigid and hard to get used to. You couldn’t overlap windows, control the screen layout or use keyboard shortcuts. And it was slow and cumbersome. Again, sound familiar?


And, to extend the parallel even further, major respected publications like the New York Times questioned the value of the concept altogether as they opined on Christmas day, 1984, “Windows were a great idea until you compared them with the old-fashioned, uncomputerized desk, at which point it became obvious that they were simply too complicated to be dealt with efficiently. They made life more difficult, not easier, and they will continue to do so until a video display the size of a desktop can make visible a number of complete documents, each in its own window.” [5]

Yes, Windows 8 is cumbersome at times. Yes, there are some missing pieces and changes will need to be made. Yes, there’s much to learn. But it’s not the final say in how we’ll use Microsoft-based PCs. It’s only the opening statement in a direction the PC (and tablet) is heading. Windows 8 is a reaction to iOS and Android based on the events of the last few years and is really history repeating itself. Will it be successful? Yes. Microsoft has a user base of over a billion users of Windows already. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Windows 9 or 10 is not the widely accepted solution of a billion computer users.

So, complain and vent, yes. And by all means, push Microsoft to improve. That in fact is critical. But see Windows 8 for what it is, a precursor for the future, a likely future, a good future in fact. Microsoft has made a big bet, and in my estimation, a paradigm-shifting bet that will have the impact and adoption of Windows 95.


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Morning Drive Thoughts on Windows Phone

I was chatting with a friend last week about Microsoft and Windows Phone adoption and what they could do to improve it… and these random thoughts occurred on the way in this morning…

  1. BlackBerry 10 is coming out soon. I don’t have any reason to think it’s going to do well but the somewhat positive perception created by the press may be an issue in slowing the adoption of Windows Phone. One huge opportunity for Phone is to fill the gap created by RIM’s demise. One missed opportunity may be Microsoft’s response to events like BlackBerry 10’s rollout. I’ve seen much more advertising for Windows 8 than Windows Phone and that’s a big miss. If they’re serious about competing, they need to invest more in Phone. They spent $8.5B to acquire Skype. They could afford to incentivize their partners to aggressively court companies like Home Depot to replace their BlackBerry offerings with Windows Phone. Where are they on this?
  2. They’re behind in apps. Yes, they’re getting better but not there yet. Even though they claim 46 out of the top 50, one could question that ( They need to invest in app creation similar to programs they have in place for building apps for Windows 8. My daughter is interested in Windows Phone but as a designer she deems Instagram a critical app. They spent $8.5B to acquire Skype. How about $XXM in a critical app creation program? They could invest in their partner network to build critical apps. Pay attention to apps that are gaining attention now in iOS/Android and target those to be built and introduced in three months.
  3. They get hammered in the press. Their marketing needs to be preemptive and reactive, just like a political campaign. If you get hammered in the press, push back. If perceptions are inaccurate or biased, put out another point of view. Work to gain positive perception and mindshare. Apple got somewhat hammered for the maps snafu. Had it been Microsoft, it would be game over. BlackBerry is getting somewhat positive press. Microsoft needs to pay attention. They spent $8.5B to acquire Skype. They need to treat Phone as a first class citizen and invest in PR like it matters. It’s really now or never. Having firms like IDC predict gloom for Phone ( is a failure of Microsoft evangelizing their platform.

There is no guarantee that Phone will succeed and if Microsoft is serious they should pony up, send the message that they’re really committed to its success.

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A Rollout Like No Other

“If I had simply asked people what they wanted, they would have asked me for faster horses!” — Henry Ford

Eighty five years ago today the intrepid and amazing Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company introduced the Model A to the world. We have been amazed and enamored over the past few years at the long lines when a new Apple product has been introduced. But we have only to look back 85 years to witness a product rollout far more impressive in scale and magnitude. [1]

Henry Ford was well known for his devotion to the Model T. It was his baby. It had made him a fortune, established him as a paragon of industry and, with his commitment to a pricing model people could afford, endeared him to the people unlike any other public figure of the day. He was keenly aware of this role and the fundamental part his invention had played in shaping American culture and providing a new level of joy for the American people. An incident from 1912 illustrates the magnitude of his devotion to his product.

Ford had been away on an extended trip to Europe and during that time his leading engineers and managers cooked up a little surprise for him. As engineers are wont, they had a deep desire to “advance” the design and thought Mr. Ford, when he saw their work, would be excited to broaden the product line. So they designed a prototype, a proposed successor to the Model T. It had four doors, was longer with more stylish lines, and was painted red. When Mr. Ford returned from his trip, one company manager described what transpired as Henry inspected the new vehicle.

He kept looking at it. He’d tip his head this way and that and look at it…. I said, “Is there anything more I can …?” “No,” he said. “I’m going over and look at the new car.” He kind of smiled…. He had his hands in his pockets and he walked around that car three or four times, looking at it very closely. It was a four-door job and the top was down. Finally, he got to the left-hand side of the car that was facing me, and he takes his hands out, gets hold of the door, and bang! One jerk, and he had it right off the hinges! He ripped the door right off! God, how the man done it, I don’t know! He jumped in there, and, bang, goes the other door. Bang, goes the windshield. He jumps over the back seat and starts pounding on the top. He rips the top with the heel of his shoe. He wrecked the car as much as he could. [2]

And so, company executives knew exactly where not to stray. The Model T would define the Ford Motor Company forevermore. Well, not exactly. By the mid-1920s the Model T’s appeal to the American public was waning and everyone in the industry knew it. Everyone that is, except the titular head of said industry. Company executives began a concerted campaign to win over Mr. Ford and finally, in the late summer of 1926, after literally years of tension and debate, Henry Ford gave in. A new model could be built.

The following year was filled with endless debates; Henry staunchly advocating for traditional features, and Edsel, his son, and president of the company, lobbying for modern innovations and contemporary styling. Many of the debates, when viewed in modern terms, seem comical today. For example, the new model could hit sixty five miles per hour and during one test run, the driver lost control and the car ended in a ditch prompting Henry to proclaim, “We can’t put that car out on the public! We’ll kill them all!” [3] Nevertheless, Mr. Ford relented on many innovations proposed by his son including the more powerful engine.

Finally, on May 26, 1927, the new car was announced. In Apple-esque style, few details were given other than that the new model would have “speed, style, flexibility, and control in traffic.” [4] While the Ford Company re-tooled their factories to build the new model, Henry began a carefully crafted and masterful public relations campaign previously unmatched in American history. He withheld almost every detail of the new vehicle, occasionally releasing tiny teasing tidbits but never announcing anything substantive. He also positioned himself as the public’s benefactor, a heroic and wise man of the people, defender of their interests.

By Thanksgiving the anticipation for the new car had reached fever pitch. For five straight days after the holiday, Ford ran full page ads in every English language newspaper in the country, two thousand in all. On December 2, 1927, the day had arrived and Model-A-mania gripped the nation. This was the event that everyone had been anticipating, like a Super Bowl of epic proportions or a new iPad rollout. But nothing has or possibly will ever compare to this event. The first day numbers were staggering considering the US population of 119 million. In Detroit, 100,000 people viewed the car on the first day. In Cincinnati there were 296,745, in Chicago, 514,096 and in the Kansas City area, an amazing 651,000. [5] This, despite the fact that many people had to be turned away. C.W. Doss, the Kansas City branch manager related the staggering event.

“It’s history – what a tremendous reception the Model A had. In Kansas City they literally broke the doors down to get in before it was time to open to the public. They pushed them right through. You couldn’t control that mob. There will never be another introduction like that; never was before. That was the story all over the country. It was tremendous, fabulous. The advance orders on that car were tremendous. They just ran over you to get one.” [5]

Estimates were that 10 million Americans went to a dealer to see the new vehicle in the first thirty six hours and 25 million in the first week. In other words, over 20% of the American population, 1 out of every 5 men, women and children in every city, town, village, and borough made it a point to see the new vehicle in the first week alone. And the new car did not disappoint. New innovations were everywhere; hydraulic shock absorbers, windshield wipers, new color schemes, theft-proof locks and safety glass. Perhaps more surprisingly, the new model continued the Ford tradition of affordability, costing no more than the Model T, with prices ranging from $385 to $570.

The introduction of the Model A was a signature event in American history. In many ways it was a high point of the decade with an industry magnate building a product of high quality at a reasonable price. And it was likely the most remarkable product rollout in history.

[1] This entire post borrows greatly from Watts, Steven. The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2005. Kindle Edition.

[2] Brown, “Reminiscences,” pp. 110– 11. Allan Nevins noted that this story was corroborated by C. H. Wills, Jr. (See Nevins, Ford: Times, Man, Company, p. 581.)

[3] Sheldrick, “Reminiscences,” pp. 30– 31; Ernest G. Liebold, “Reminiscences,” p. 846; Nevins and Hill, Ford: Expansion and Challenge, p. 450.

[4] Watts, Steven. The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2005. 372. Kindle Edition.

[5] Spawn, Jim. “The Introduction of the New Ford Car.” The Restorer. N.p., July/August 2010 Web.

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How NOT To Innovate

“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” — Dee Hock

Liberal vs. conservative, PC vs. Mac, Chevy vs. Ford. Seems there’s always two points of view, two approaches, two views. Or there’s a continuum. What about “innovation”? What are the opposing approaches to innovation?

For companies, it’s all about competing. It’s all about competing. Just starting out? How do you get a foothold? In the middle of the pack? How can you get to the front? Are you the leader? How do you stay there? The answer is and will always be — innovate!

Of course, maintain and grow your current business. Of course, serve your customers better. But does this just involve doing things smarter, better, faster? Or do you need to adapt and change? Do you need to constantly rethink products, services and perhaps most of all, processes? How do you get the new, innovative thoughts into your mind and the old ones out?

It does seem that many companies talk about “innovation.” It does seem that many companies even give it a go. It also seems that most companies are fundamentally bad at it. From the outside in, it seems that there is an upside down understanding of “innovation.” When you really look at some companies’ efforts, it’s almost as if they went about trying to ensure innovation doesn’t happen. It’s almost as if they’re following in lockstep my tongue-in-cheek guide below.

So, if you want a guide on “How NOT To Innovate”, try this approach:

Don’t Rock the Boat

  • Have a detailed plan that maps out all the steps over the next year or two; realize that — creating new products, developing new processes — innovation — your thoughtful smart people can figure much of this out beforehand, then it’s just a matter of following the recipe
  • Make sure your company knows precisely how it has always made money and that everyone just tries to do that faster, better and smarter
  • If you’re an industry leader, innovation is risky so do it “safely”, sit on your lead a bit
  • If you’re in the middle of the pack, keep plugging away; soon, with incremental gains you’ll have made headway
  • Put in place a deliberate, public, “innovation” process, stepped and managed; that way, no one will submit foolish ideas or waste people’s time with frivolous and fruitless investment

Manage Creativity

  • Manage by committee, make slow deliberate decisions, make sure everyone knows to get approval for each stage of invention
  • Ensure all new ideas are very “smart”; when someone creates a “far out” idea, scrutinize it publicly so everyone knows what’s creatively de rigueur
  • Ensure politics are in place around who the “idea” people are, know your place
  • Discourage desires for new, cool things by subtly labeling them “a bit out there”
  • Make sure people who roll out new ideas feel most comfortable when they’re sure it will have support from everyone
  • Don’t tolerate ambiguity, make sure you’ve got it pretty much figured out before you proceed

Make Safe Bets

  • Create a culture of “Be careful, try things yes, but have a plan, don’t let it interfere with the business, get approval so no one can say you were wasting time or money”
  • Ensure that risk minimization is top of mind
  • Keep your tries to a minimum, don’t “blow” time and expense on trying too many things; again, we’re here to make money, not to feed the creative (but expensive) itch
  • Only reward the successes, and remember, determining “success” takes a while
  • Create a culture of discouraging “mistakes” or “wasted effort”
  • Don’t invest in efforts where the ROI isn’t clear from the get-go
  • Reinforce cultural mores that reward conventional success and discourage risk taking

Engineer Talent Carefully

  • Hire from a recipe, here’s the list of skills and the personality profile, go find them
  • Make sure there’s a need and position that matches each new hire
  • Avoid “opportunity” hires (see ‘Make Safe Bets’)
  • Promote those who follow the convention, who get along, who don’t create waves
  • Address employee attrition by rewarding those who maintain the status quo the best
  • Ensure political correctness is a criteria for suggesting innovation
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Why Organizations Struggle To Deliver Software

There are five underlying variables that deeply affect an organization’s ability to deliver substantive, high quality software solutions effectively. When discussing this topic, people typically mention things like process, tools or skillsets but in truth, though those aspects are important, of far greater import are things that affect people’s focus, commitment and direction.

Leadership: Size will determine the exact structure of the leadership but there must be a clearly defined leader of the software development team. This person is the ultimate head authority that sets tone, policy, leads the culture and has the right to direct the activities of the team. There can be multiple people “at the top” to be sure, for example, driving sales or marketing or directing strategy or defining architecture. But team members need to have a clear understanding of who they answer to so there is comfort in knowing they’re performing as requested and not receiving conflicting direction.

Culture: While this word is frequently overused, understanding it is central to an organization’s ability to deliver effectively. There is a continuum between “fast and furious” for example, and “slow and deliberate.” Where does your organization lie? Is the team rewarded for being nimble and effective and delivering frequently, for example, or is the concern more about knocking down every last defect before each interim release? Do you celebrate quality over timeliness or is rapid, regular, reliable delivery more desirable? Having your team understand the underlying philosophy that will be rewarded allows them to function successfully almost automatically.

Legalism: Rules get a bad name. Rules are fantastic. They give people a sense of direction and how to operate. When there is a lack of policy and standards, people become confused and unsure how to proceed. By the same token, rules are constricting. When rules trump effectiveness, results suffer. Relying strictly on “rules” as a safety net rather than relying on your own common sense makes no sense. Your culture should be so well communicated that people know when an exception to the rule is the right way to go.

Fear: People should be empowered to make decisions because there is clear leadership and they understand the culture and they know when the rules don’t exactly fit the situation. Team members must be comfortable, not fearful, that decisions they make on their own will be supported, not picked apart and “Monday morning quarterbacked.” Feedback after the fact is important to be sure so that individuals understand how to make better decisions the next time. But confidence in their right to use their common sense “in the moment” will more often than not lead to superior results. Backing the person rather than the rule will have huge rewards downstream and will increase loyalty to the organization many times over as well as allow a person to grow in their decision making prowess.

Rigidity: Change is hard. Switching policies makes people uncomfortable. People complain because they developed a comfort level with how things have always been done. But change is essential. Tools evolve. Markets shift. Requirements change. Organizations that don’t adopt new practices, try out new techniques, adopt new methods and tools, are headed for the ash heap. Your staff must get comfortable with change. Your staff must get used to, at times, being uncomfortable because of change. Great organizations are great adopters of advancing techniques, ideas and methods. Promoting a positive, eager attitude that embraces change will lead to a culture of success.

Your organization can be extremely effective in building and delivering software, but, you have to pay attention to more than just process and methods.

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