Innovation

Creating new innovations in your company? Asking these questions will save you a world of pain

Daniel Kirby

As an entrepreneur you’re excited to make change happen. When you’re excited - or afraid - it’s easy to dive straight into a project. Activity feels like the right thing to do.  

“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln.


The preparation matters.

And when it comes to building technology, preparation matters a lot. 

Over the last 18 years of creating innovative new technology for our clients we saw ourselves - and them - diving into tech projects without a clear vision or plan for what we wanted to achieve at the end. Lots of technical features, little purpose. 

We found that with any kind of innovation and business change, but especially with new technology, you should first identify and agree why you are doing it. 

Why do this? Because technology projects are complex. There are many many things that could go wrong. These can cost you a lot of time and money. And your sanity. No-one likes being in a quagmire of technical BS.

Start with Why

So we created a process called The Tech Bootcamp™. A simple, repeatable, proven process for transforming businesses. A process that was included as a best practice in the 2019 Parliamentary Review.

The Tech Bootcamp™ ensures you focus on improvement, not just technology. It guides an entire project from beginning to end.

And it always starts off with The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop. A 90-minute, strategic-level, dive into what you want and why.

At the end of the workshop, you will find the simplest thing you can do for the least cost and biggest impact to create improvement in your company.

There is one condition of a Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop: you have to tell the truth. “I don’t lie!” I hear you say. But do you say what you really think when your boss, or awkward employee is in the room.

The workshop is a chance to spill your guts and understand what the pressures really are. The wider context to any detailed technological decisions.

This is a very healthy process, particularly for aligning different teams, but also for you.

In the last two years six Director-level clients have independently said the workshop is “like therapy”.

’I was expecting some new ideas for tech to help drive our business, I got that in spades but bootcamp workshop is so much more. Dan and Joe took us on a journey that forced us to re-appraise our business model, get to the core of what we’re all about as well as what drives us personally. Truly inspirational, highly practical and super energising, I felt like I was on speed all afternoon #winning!’
Tim Gambril, co-founder at Mighty Atoms


We usually do this with our clients. But you can run one for yourself. 

Let’s find out how.

How to run The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop

 During The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop you’ll ask questions, and refuse to accept ‘corporate’ answers. You know the kind of thing, the stock sayings, the company mission statement. The same old goals such as “hit our targets”.

Like drinking a foamy cappuccino, you have to get through the froth before you get to the coffee.

Allow for ideas to emerge, keep asking “why”.

You’ll be surprised at what happens. Incredible insight emerges, often from your own mind (let alone your team). Things you already know but have forgotten. Or that you assume everyone understands, but they don’t. Or that have become “normal” in your industry and company but don’t really work for either customers or team.

Listen, really listen.

As if for the first time, and your career depends on it (because it may do).

The people

You need two people to run the workshop. A Chair and a Note-taker.

The Chair stays in the moment, facilitating the conversation. The note-taker aims to capture the best bits. We often use an app called Otter which automatically transcribes a conversation (it can be clunky but can capture things we miss).

We recommend having attendees from across your business, as it’s a great opportunity to ensure everyone is on the same page. If you have a marketing department and an IT department, get those guys there. 

Kicking off

The Chairperson introduces the workshop and explains the format and the requirement to tell the truth.

We recommend starting with a Positive Focus exercise. This is a simple way to prime people for openness and creativity. Simply ask each person to share one thing they feel good about – personal or professional – to the group. This is a great ice breaker, shifting the gears. Plus, your brain is 31% more productive when it's positive.

Running the workshop?

Here are some principles that work well:

o   Keep asking “Why” - peel back the layers - don’t take the first answer as the only answer 

o   Summarise and play-back the gist of the conversation - so that the team can hear it themselves. People say things they aren’t aware of

o   Regularly pause & reflect and then go back over the same ground - it digs up fresh insight

o   Be alert - all the good stuff comes at THE END of an exercise or workshop: the choice turns of phrase  

o   Resist the urge to start brainstorming solutions – we want the What and Why, not the How  

o   Write down the precise words people say. Listen hard but especially at the end of the workshop when things are winding down

  

The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop Exercises

There are four exercises to complete in the two hour workshop. We recommend having them in a Powerpoint document which you share on a screen with the group. The note-taker then types notes into the document as the discussion unfolds. 

18 Month vision (30 mins)

SWOT (15 mins)

North Star (10 mins)

Priority Inbox (30 mins)

 

18 Month Vision

The first two exercises in The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop are based on tools created by Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach (the world’s number one entrepreneurial coaching programme). We attend ‘Coach’ and Dan Sullivan’s insights have transformed our business: we highly recommend it if you run a company.

 

Our first exercise is the 18 Month Vision. To find this, ask your workshop this question: 

If we met again in 18 months, looking back, what has to have improved for your customers, company & team for you to be happy with your progress?

 

Remember:

-   Improvement doesn’t have to be “of technology”

-   Don’t just accept the first thoughts that come to you

-   Ask why, challenge, dig into ideas

-   Don’t worry about “how” you achieve the vision

-   Trust your gut, this is a sketch

 

Looking at the near future – the next 18 Months – is useful as it’s enough time to implement something strategic and see how it pans out.

Relax into the conversation, let dead-air hang.

Don’t worry about what the ideas are. Just see what feels right as you examine your near-term improvements through each of these three lenses: customer, company, team. Get it all down.

 

SWOT

Once you’ve had a discussion – maybe a debate – and got your 18 Month Vision, spend 15 minutes answering these three questions:

  1. What 3 biggest Strengths need to reinforced and maximised (to achieve your 18 month vision)?
  2. What 3 biggest Weaknesses need to be overcome?
  3. What 3 biggest Opportunities need to be focused on and captured?
  4. What 3 biggest Threats need to be eliminated?

Again, write down what first comes to mind, and you don’t have to stick at 3 things.

 

North Star

Now you’ve got your 18 Month Vision and understand the Dangers, Opportunities and Strengths that will help or hinder its progress, it’s time to define your North Star.

 

 

Without a target you’ll miss every time, and without a North Star you can’t ensure your technology is improving the right things. Technology can be very useful and solve lots of problems, but are they the right fixes for you right here right now?

Any data you learn from The Tech Bootcamp™ - in effect your repeated experiments – should be serving a bigger purpose. It’s easier to find perspective in the day to day of digital when you can orient on your North Star.

All you need for a North Star is a sketch, the right general direction: ‘this’ way and not ‘that’ way. And if you need to change it after a while, no big deal.

Your North Star should be sufficiently aspirational – and sufficiently clear – to be achievable. But not so specific that it narrows your thinking.

So, what is yours? Write it in a short sentence. Examples include:

“We need more customers”

“Make more money from mobile sales”

“Persuade the board to invest”

 

Priority Inbox

You have your North Star, now you need to take your first step towards it: the simplest thing you can do, for the biggest impact and least cost.

Like everyone you’ll have a thousand things you need to tidy, fix, improve. If you write them all down – as a team – and then agree their priority, it’s easier to do them, one at a time.

Get a white board, or a big bit of paper. Shout out all the things you wish you’d done, that P you off, that frustrate your customers (or team or supply chain). Remember: all progress starts with the truth.

Yet you can’t have “Everything” as a priority. The Dictionary says that a priority is a thing that is regarded as more important than others.

So, focus on the essential, not the merely ‘good’.

Look for small gains, quick wins because these create confidence and momentum.

Yes, choosing is hard. But as a famous footwear brand once said: Just Do It. By choosing you’re much more likely to actually do something.

Because what we’re really after is Action!

After The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop

Within 48 hours of your workshop, both the Chair and note-taker should regroup and reread their notes, collating and editing them for clarity. The notes should then be distributed to the full group of attendees.

Your next step is to decide what to take action on. During the process of auditing and discussing the notes, the true strategic context for any decisions becomes very clear.

For example, internal communications could be your big issue. Or new customer acquisition. Or lack of clarity on the data between departments.

Now is when you can get carried away and brainstorm all the great solutions, features and technologies that will solve your problem. In other words, this is where you can waste a lot of time and money (and where your digital agency gets excited).

Remember you are running an experiment.

An experiment is a hypothesis.

You need data to prove it’s true.

The simplest thing for the biggest impact, and least cost

“First, we guess it. And if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is."
Richard Feynman
Nobel Prize winning physicist


So rather than trying to do things ‘perfect’ straight away, why not prove things in an ‘imperfect’ way? If it works, build on it. If it doesn’t, kill it. This way you always know where you stand, and damage from failure is limited in scope.

At The Tech Dept our starting point is to look for the simplest thing we can Action for the biggest impact and least cost. That doesn’t mean that the project will be cheap, or it won’t functionally work properly. It simply means that we cut our cloth according to the needs of the moment.

 

NOTE:

Technologists almost always believe the answer to any problem is more – and more up-to-date – technology. Sometimes this is true, often it’s not

Do you like wasting time and money? Of course not. And maybe you’ve had your fingers burnt, so are now doubly careful with digital.

This is why The Tech Bootcamp™ approach is so powerful.

You test your experiments intentionally. Proving – or disproving – your hypotheses in a simple structured manner.

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