InformationWeek readers spend lots of effort and resources on DevOps, for good reasons. In an increasingly digital world, you must be able to quickly and efficiently write quality code and get it into production.
But code-in-production only helps if it genuinely delivers something of appreciable value to your customers. And to deliver genuine value, you need an idea pipeline that’s at least as awesome as your digital pipeline.
Otherwise, DevOps is just a bullet train with no passengers.
Leading an idea-driven organization
While the importance of ideas may seem obvious, it’s nonetheless worthwhile to consider whether your leadership strategy really emphasizes ideas, or whether you’ve succumbed to the creeping “technology first” mindset.
After all, there is plenty of narrative around how industry leaders like Facebook and Amazon leverage continuous delivery and advanced analytics to keep customers engaged and competitors fighting for their survival.
That narrative, however, often neglects to highlight the commitment those companies have made to ideas. Execution on ideas is obviously essential, too. But digital success -- whether you’re Compuware or Google -- is always, always about ideational success first.
Here, then, are three leadership principles to consider in your efforts to increase your organization’s output of good ideas:
Hire and empower product managers. Many businesses depend on an odd combination of marketers, salespeople and IT managers to develop new ideas for digital customer engagement. This is unwise. These stakeholders should certainly be involved in your idea pipeline. But they have other jobs to do. They also have decidedly different -- and often deeply conflicting -- perspectives. As a result, your development teams will be left with a set of half-baked ideas that they aren’t necessarily equipped to flesh out or prioritize based on value to customers. Or, your process can get bogged down, and you’ll be susceptible to scope creep as you try to satisfy too many internal voices.
The better approach is to empower true digital product managers who can shepherd your idea-to-delivery process from start to finish. Without awesome “idea managers,” you can’t deliver worthy innovation. You need people with the right skills, the right temperament, and the necessary decision-making authority.
Promote, recognize, and reward. Many leaders talk about innovation, but don’t do anything concrete to foster it, and instead subscribe to the myth that innovation is the result of individual inspiration and initiative.
Maybe sometimes it is. But ideas more often arise when people observe a seemingly small problem that customers encounter repeatedly, and then gnaw on the problem and brainstorm ideas with their colleagues.
That’s why you need mechanisms that promote collaborative ideation. It could be a weekly meeting. It could be a gamified idea board where peers rank each other’s ideas. But it must be something. Otherwise, it’s nothing.
It’s also important to reward success. Public praise and cash are useful, but by themselves are insufficient for creating a culture that values ideas.
At Compuware, we recognize great ideas that come to fruition with company-wide celebrations. These celebrations tell everyone -- from finance to sales, engineering to support, and even to customers to partners -- that they’ve helped bring a great idea to market. It’s also a tangible acknowledgement that innovation is a team sport.
Don’t fear failure. Many ideas simply don’t pan out. But to be overly dismissive of untenable ideas is to be dismissive of ideation itself. Plus, many great ideas start as not-very-good ideas -- and then morph into something better as they are exposed to failure. Many managers understand this intellectually, but don’t translate that understanding into behavior. So think about how you react when someone has an idea about which you’re skeptical, or when you invest in an idea without an apparent result. Maybe what you’ve really invested in is your innovation process as a whole, rather than the specific idea itself.
None of this is to suggest that you abandon aggressive evolution of your DevOps pipeline. On the contrary, the speed and efficacy of that pipeline is strategically important to your business.
But being smart about what ideas you put into your code is as critical as how you code it. So keep your eye on the idea ball. Make sure DevOps deliverables serve your customers—and not merely your IT performance metrics.
Christopher O’Malley is CEO of Compuware. He has nearly 30 years of IT experience, with past positions including CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA’s Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA’s Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.