Innovation isn’t easy. Writing ‘innovation’ is easy, saying ‘innovation’ is easy, but, critically, the act of doing and achieving innovation is difficult or at best – tricky. It involves creativity and experimentation, collaboration, serendipity and risk.
Recently, I was invited to the Mansion House where the City of London and Culture Mile were exploring ‘Creativity: the New Superpower’. I was struck by Maria Adebowale-Schwarte’s assertion “Collaboration is hard if you don’t listen and won’t flex”- which in my experience is spot-on. In these times where multi-agency collaboration is essential for successful digital transformation projects, it might be useful to ask up front “do you listen and will you reshape your thinking?” This question is as applicable to aerospace supply chain management as carbon neutral construction operations or the evolving partnership between place management stakeholders.
Collaboration is hard if you don’t listen and won’t flex
Whatever the endeavour, for manufacturers and service companies alike, seeking to understand and implement the opportunities that digital innovation can provide a business, requires an organisational culture that embraces the challenge. However, changing the mindsets and attitudes of employees at every level of a company is perhaps the biggest obstacle. There are countless and understandable reasons for this which I won’t go into here, put simply, digital transformation needs a culture of innovation. If an organisation is seeking to innovate as part of a supply chain endeavour, the complexity is even harder to navigate, which brings me back to the question, “Do you listen and will you reshape your thinking?”
Some essential tips to enable digital transformation
Start small to nurture a collaborative relationship
Calvium are trusted digital partners of Rolls-Royce. We have worked together on multiple digital innovation projects that support many aspects of the business. For instance, recently we partnered to deliver the FOD App. This innovative app allows users to track and record foreign object debris (FOD) on airfields, a common cause of engine damage, straight from their smartphone. It will help to avoid future FOD costs – potentially amounting to billions of dollars – and secures Rolls-Royce’s position as an essential provider of pioneering technology.
However, collaborating on this complex project is an outcome of undertaking smaller innovation projects many years before. These initial projects allowed Rolls-Royce and Calvium to find their feet and learn how to work well together. The following points are as true for fostering a sound collaborative relationship between Calvium and Rolls-Royce as they are for virtually any other partnership seeking to innovate (with or without digital):
- Take time to build up positive relationships and nurture them
- Have open and honest discussions to foster a sense of respect and trust
- Be permanently curious and receptive to each other’s ideas – relish the opportunity to learn
- Engender a sharing culture and be open to shifting individual and collective viewpoints
- Develop shared project goals and understand the individual aspirations of each team member
- Bring a ‘critical friend’ into the mix, to challenge the thinking and ideas of the team.
By developing a trusting partnership that ‘gets’ each other and knows one another’s strengths, peculiarities, foibles (how often does one write, or indeed read, ‘foibles’?) as well as each organisation’s processes and procedures, a foundation for innovation is laid. From this point, teams can work together on increasingly complex and larger scale projects that are designed to enhance performance at every level.
Agree and follow one project development approach (but review and adapt the methods to service innovation)
When a project team comes together to innovate they are by definition doing something that’s original, both in terms of the project outputs and, usually, the working processes. Often, individuals from different departments or disciplines will have their own familiar working approaches and methods. However, when working as part of a new team, it’s important that everyone establishes and pursues a single shared framework, not necessarily one that’s restrictive, but one that’s understood.
Once the whole team is on board there’s an opportunity to reflect upon the approach throughout the duration of the project – and beyond. In this way, opportunities to improve can be identified and enacted as the project progresses. I wrote about a great example of this in the white paper ‘The Lost Palace: optimising digital innovation for cultural heritage institutions where I discussed how Calvium’s ‘invention through emergence approach’ was employed to identify and develop a bespoke product to service innovation, ‘The Script Engine’.
“The Script Engine platform was invented to deal with the creation of a new kind of augmented reality interactive theatre that The Lost Palace presented. It enables the creative team to author compelling interactive theatrical scripts in ways that most suit their existing creative processes and it enables flexibility and late changes to content without jeopardising code stability.”
Employ user-centred and inclusive research and design
User-centred research and design is fundamental to Calvium’s practice. Without user research any design team would be working without knowing what users want or need. They would be designing a solution without really understanding or defining the problem. Hence, without user-centred research underpinning a project, that project is skirting on the side of failure. Put like that, why would a team not ensure that user research is a core part of a digital innovation project throughout its duration – and not just at the end for ‘user testing’.
“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”
In addition, it’s vital to ensure that the user base is broad. Adopt an inclusive research and design approach. Don’t exclude potential users by not including them in the design and development of the project.
I’ve written extensively about NavSta, Calvium’s mobile wayfinding system that helps people with different access needs to travel independently through railway stations. NavSta was designed with inclusive research and design at its heart and is a good case study for anyone seeking to understand inclusive user-centred design.
Buy-in across all departments for integration and deployment
If there aren’t advocates for digital innovation in the executive team or the C-suite then there’s a problem, Houston. Equally important is the buy-in of the IT team. It’s perfectly possible for an innovation manager to run an innovation hackathon and have budget to create a small scale off-grid digital project as a proof-of-concept. However, to scale that prototype up for full integration and deployment across the business, IT needs to be involved and on-side.
For anyone responsible for leading an internal innovation project, it is sensible to find out early what concerns the IT team may have and to try to mitigate any issues as they arise. The worst case scenario is developing a project, thinking it can and will be integrated and deployed, only to find out that there is a fundamental deal-breaker that could have been sorted out if the IT department were part of the project team from the outset.
In writing this article, I set about to bring to the fore some of the ‘essentials’ that need to be in place in order to support digital innovation in any organisation. In so doing, I realise that I could have written much, much more based upon years of experience in a range of business environments. However, take heart, for if you are able to achieve just the above mentioned, you will be well on your way to successful transformation!