“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries
This quote from Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, summarizes the incredible challenge and fun of the technology industry. Development speed is the life force of the technology sector, and since development is merely learning how to create something new, companies that are built to learn faster than their competitors will likely win.
Building and maintaining an organization that is designed to continually accelerate the pace of learning and development isn’t easy. However, with the right approach, ongoing technology acceleration can be achieved.
The keys to development acceleration for technology companies can be grouped into four constructs:
1. A Culture Of Good Enough (For Now)
Technology organizations and their development teams must strive for excellence in their pursuit to drive innovation and delight customers. However, to be nimble, teams must be prepared to move into the unknown — a place where traditional waterfall project management does not go.
This quote from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld articulates the beauty of the agile methodology:
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Because we don’t know what we don’t know when we’re developing a new product, Agile encourages rapid customer feedback by utilizing a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP will not have all of the bells and whistles the product will have further in its development process. However, the MVP allows a team to quickly introduce the product to obtain feedback from the market and make needed adjustments.
Ultimately, the MVP is a critical tool that allows developers to learn what they don’t know and to build product enhancements by responding quickly and strategically to market feedback.
2. Technology Talent In a Very Tight Market
According to PwC’s 2019 “Annual Global CEO Survey,” “Availability of key skills” is one of the top three threats facing CEOs around the world, for good reason. There is an anticipated global shortage of more than 85 million technology workers, representing an estimated $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue by 2030.
Therefore, many technology organizations are augmenting their teams with highly versatile, highly experienced talent in the form of consultants, freelancers and other professional contractors. Augmenting teams with an influx of talent introduces new ideas so that technology innovators can stay ahead of the demands of the market.
3. Process Transformation — DevOps Helps Eliminate Bottlenecks
Often, executives are so busy with day-to-day responsibilities that it is difficult for them to notice a deceleration in product development velocity. This deceleration is typically caused by bottlenecks that have become increasingly common as quality assurance, security and compliance requirements in many industries have become more demanding.
Evolving DevOps practices strive to substantially reduce these bottlenecks by presenting both a team culture and a set of processes that bring development and operations teams together. DevOps seeks to balance the need for quality, compliance, security and velocity within the software release process.
DevOps seeks to build quality into the product from the very beginning by operations team members collaborating with the development team early in the process. By taking this approach, issues like compliance risk, software stability and security are developed into the process, rather than these issues needing to be addressed at the end of the development process, nearly assuredly delaying product release.
4. A Productive Executive Mindset
Organizational bottlenecks caused by executive leadership are often overlooked or forgiven due to the stature of the individuals involved. However, the job of the executive team is to make decisions — then the organization must execute.
Ram Charan addresses the problem of the lack of organizational execution in an insightful Harvard Business Review article. Mr. Charan observes that ambivalence or outright resistance usually arises due to a lack of dialogue with the people charged with implementing the decision in question.
This dynamic can be particularly pronounced in publicly traded companies that are often pressured to manage for short-term gain. When the same organization is asked to innovate, the desire for innovation does not necessarily align with short-term demands. However, longer-term innovation and short-term demands can and must successfully coexist.
Innovation can be achieved faster and more successfully by creating a vivid shared vision — a compelling story of why. Then, leadership must actively share the vision within the organization and, in many cases, externally with investors. With the vision established, leaders must motivate team members across the organization to make day-to-day decisions that lead to long-term growth and innovation.
Speed is paramount for competitiveness within today’s technology landscape, but speed isn’t the goal in and of itself. Instead, the goal must be to assess the business value of a product and deliver it quickly. Becoming comfortable with an MVP strategy, leveraging Agile product and project development methods, rapidly acquiring talent, eliminating bottlenecks and establishing the right culture among the executive leadership team will allow quick product delivery and maximum business value throughout the process.
Ultimately, as the quote from Eric Ries points out, successful organizations will be those that can learn faster than their competition and apply those learnings.