2015 / 13 March

We’ve always done it this way

“We’ve always done it this way”

I hate that sentence! That sentence is a serial killer, a serial innovation killer!

The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “We’ve always done it this way.” – Grace Hopper

Most of the companies I do consulting at are big companies in which spending some money to make things better is never a problem, as long as there is a clear business case showing that the money invested will have a good ROI.

These companies know that they need to improve in one or another domain and so they invest to build new tools and come up with new processes all that with clear goals: get things done more efficiently, make customers happier and at the end of the day make more money or improve the company’s reputation.

There is generally a clear understanding that innovation is needed in the teams in charge of marketing, strategy, communication etc. The teams I am talking about are the non technical teams, the non IT teams. In the IT teams innovation is not a driver (anymore).

What about innovation in development teams?

Well, that is the whole point of this post. I don’t very often go in companies where innovation in the development teams is a main focus… but it should be!
Development teams are seen as teams which can create with tools to help the companies innovate and/or improve work efficiency.

These development teams usually receive some functional requirements which they are asked to develop. They develop the tool as requested and the customer of the development team (the business team), is more or less happy with the tool (depending on the delays, the quality of the tool etc). In this flow, did you notice that the development team wasn’t asked to think or give any kind of advice? The team was just asked to deliver the required tool. In such cases why bother having a development team in your company? Maybe you should consider externalizing it as the development team is just used as a supplier.

In the last years, all the added value of an internal development team has been completely forgotten about, and these development teams don’t seem to be even aware of it, they are in a business as usual mode!

Development teams can be a powerful innovation driver!

The main problem in what I see today is that the development teams usually don’t understand the business needs of their internal customer. Today, developers are not asked to think, they are asked to produce. A development team could be so much more than just a software production unit if they were requested to.

Developers are usually smart and educated people you can rely on to come up with creative solutions. Don’t forget that the main part of a developer’s work is about problem solving, most developers spend a lot of time on questions like: How can I solve this, How can I get over this problem… They are doing research to find the best possible solution. Maybe one of the reasons we a gotten in this situation is that many developers have poor communication skills when it comes to communicating with non IT people.

How to make it happen?

It isn’t that difficult to give a big boost to innovation in your company, here are a few tips:

  • Train your developers: give them a basic understanding about the company’s business.
  • If you don’t have one, hire a pragmatic software architect with good communication skills (both towards developers and non IT people). Your development team needs a guru with a vision, and you need some one who can understand both your developers and the your business people.
  • Identify developers with good communication skills (yes, it does exist!) and encourage them to communicate with people in other departments informally.
  • Encourage formal and informal communication between the developers and internal users or business people.
  • Organize brainstorming sessions where developers can also think about solutions to business problems.
  • Include developers in discussions about innovation both in the development team and in the company in general.
  • Ask your development team to produce POCs (Proof Of Concept), it will be fast and will help validate ideas quickly.
  • Value developers who don’t want to become managers rather than pointing out their lack of ambition.
  • Give some time and budget to R&D in the development teams.
  • Make sure you are using the most appropriate technology to develop, rather that use the usual one.

One last thing:

  • Kill Waterfall, adopt Scrum! It seems a bit harsh, but it will do you good 😉

I almost forgot to mention, that if you do the above, not only will your innovation be given a boost, but also your development team’s motivation will be higher than ever!


Everybody seems to have understood that if you are doing business as usual, you are killing your business.
So please make this apply also to your IT department, and specifically your development teams: If you are doing IT as usual, you are killing your IT teams!

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