Branching to be more successful tomorrow

Planning for tomorrow is fine when it comes to a list of work you need to get done. Tomorrow, I need to type a letter about my project, I need to be ready for a couple meetings and I need to pick up coffee on the way home. It all works when you know the future. What about when you don’t know the future? Can you actually successfully plan for what your Business’s future will be? What products or services will be hot? Those who can do this are usually controlling the future and the path many think those chose. Is your Business strong enough to do that? If you said ‘yes’, most likely you will be out of Business soon.

Some Businesses do make a strong attempt by creating products for the future. Generally, these are done by folks working the current product line and are made up of changes clients asked for. Sorry, but your clients do not know the future. They only know what may make their job easier from their limited view of how your products work. They wont get a budget unless they have to for a whole new direction so they will always answer surveys in the direction of least resistance.

“When the boss designs it, it all looks like the boss” – I speak from a long history of this. I had over a hundred employees that loved what they did, they tuned and helped clients in every way they could to keep our products on the leading edge. But, unless I suggested it, there was no ‘other’ projects going on. Most employees will fear projects that are outside of the standard as they think that the project will fail and they will be let go while their day job would have continued on. When all ideas come from one source (Microsoft under Bill Gates had this problem), no one owns the idea and there almost never be anything radical.

We did have a lot of ‘outside of the norm path’ projects that we worked on for Intel. They had a pretty good system (10 years back now) of encouraging employees to come up with ideas. That employee would make a case for their project and get to put a team together to jump in cubes on the far side of the building and try to make it all a reality. We were generally called in at the very end when there was shortcomings since we were known for pulling off just-in-time programming outside of the norm.

Most of my product development time now is at one major corporation. We have a ton of projects that are basically ‘new paint’ on the current. Bug fixes and minor updates are the norm. Just enough to be able to get the big clients what they want. My old hat went on when a team member came to me about a completely new direction. The idea fit into no current project so to give him time to develop idea meant everyone else had to suck up his work. Most folks jumped in, others didn’t understand what was wrong with our new can of paint.

The project went along, showing slow progress but it kept moving forward. The next major finance project round came around and we went into sales mode. We needed to sell this new way of doing processes. It was not a paint job on current methods, rather a whole new back end and front end… a new way of thinking about data management. Of course, now we must deliver on time and on budget with few hick-ups so no one goes back to the ‘old way’.

Several months ago, a long time employee said that they didn’t understand before where I was coming from but read a book that explained it all. I may have put too much expectations on team members to get it and want to run with an idea, or they didn’t have any new ideas since they were thinking too much like our clients. The book, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen does a really good job at showing examples of companies that followed their clients till they went out of business and their clients moved on – and other companies that put a few creative folks in a corner to work on a completely different direction. Of course, not all new great ideas pan out, but the ones that do will keep the income hitting your company bank acct.

With no graphics needed to be viewed, I grabbed the audiobook version from the iTunes store and listened on my iPhone driving to and from the office. It is only a couple hours long but Clayton does a great job of using that time to get the idea across… now I just need to get company ‘C’ class folks to listen so the next group working on the a special project wont have to do it offline.