Five process and technical capabilities changes that drive productivity

Make organizational change that gets results.

I propose we stop adding "Innovation" to job titles. Just don't do it. This label bothers me because it alludes that real impact is made through shortcuts, a unique skillset bestowed upon a select few, few that bear the Promethean torch of tech precognition. But that's deceptive and hardly works out in the long run.

The largest, systemic impact we've seen over the last decade on society and business has been felt not through a single particular capability (e.g., ML, blockchain, AR) but through systemic adoption of product best practices. Consider habit-changing experiences such as on-demand content, mobile engagement, and value-add services (e.g., Amazon, Uber, AirBnB). The B2B world is a few steps behind, but we're seeing an uptick in data strategy work, workflow automation, and integration of a product-centric mindset.

The enterprise does not need dedicated innovation departments. We're all capable of creativity as long as the systems in which we operate reward it. While showering each other in technological jargon is the favorite past time of banking conferences worldwide (I do miss them now), in this article, I take a pragmatic look at five specific changes to process and technical capabilities that you can make as a leader to enable productive, creative behavior in your team and organization.

5 areas of opportunity that increase productivity

Assuming you're a rebellious type and in a position to break the modus operandi, here are five opportunity areas to consider for 2021 that will impact your customers, your employees, and your bottom line.

1. Invest in modern employee tooling.

The first on the list is perhaps the most obvious one. Many businesses were completely incapacitated as lockdowns began in early 2020 due to limitations of legacy systems that required on-premises use. We've seen a massive surge in investment in bespoke employee tooling that helps automate workflows, reduce human error, improve collaboration (e.g., concurrent editing, case management), as well as successfully work remotely. Build the tools and engage a wider talent pool that isn't restricted by geography.

2. Recognize the value of product design.

Engineering organizations are starting to see the value add. Invest focused effort to integrate capabilities such as design systems, service design, domain research, and prototyping. Design to this day operates outside of engineering teams, and there’s a huge opportunity for efficiency and faster learning cycles. Take a look at the design systems white paper and learn how it helps technology teams speed up front-end development and deliver consistent, on-brand experiences.

3. Focus on getting a solid data strategy in place and ignore audacious claims about the value of ML and AI.

(Apparently, despite my best efforts, I couldn't avoid the seepage of acronyms in this post). If your organization is still landlocked with ETL workflows, ML isn't going to drive any valuable insight. You need to look at your ingestion fundamentals, define the target "ideal" state, start using event streaming, identify ETL dependencies, and slowly migrate into a world where data drives business outcomes...which leads us to self-service and data.

4. Look at productizing the DevOps capability.

I'm not just talking about adopting a DevOps capability. DevOps should exist as an active product with the goal of providing self-service to all product teams in the enterprise, effectively removing security and infrastructure as typical blockers. Establish systemic monitoring of current state, rollout strategy, adoption of infrastructure as code, recommended design patterns, security standards, and many other best practices. Don't regress to "infrastructure teams" with DevOps labels and constantly work on reducing the technical debt of your DevOps product.

5. Integrate and learn from product analytics.

Don't just talk about it. The voice (or behavior) of your customers and employees should provide the learnings for product refinement and future roadmap via tools, such as MixPanel, Adobe Analytics, etc. Observe feature adoption, frequency of use, workflow completion, frustration points, and other insights that will reduce the echo chamber effect of your internal team.

And there you have it. All five initiatives are independent, well-defined, and will drive meaningful, measurable outcomes for your product teams. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me directly with your objectives for the new year.

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