Looking for huge gains in productivity and time-to-market? Plan for disruptive improvement in IT Ops
I was recently in the UK where HP is working with a government agency to create a completely new system reflecting a policy change. This is a big IT project: It needs to factor in different business rules both for validation and execution that reflect the new policy approach. So here’s an opportunity to totally rethink the infrastructure. What the team is coming up with is a model where there’s fully automated service creation, provisioning and discovery. It’s essentially a fully automated end-to-end private cloud.
That’s a big disruption. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen uses the phrase disruptive innovation to talk about innovation that creates new value and disrupts existing markets. Well, disruption happens in IT operations, too—call it disruptive improvement. Christensen talks about disruptive innovation being an entirely different animal from incremental innovation. Likewise, disruptive improvement is an entirely different animal from the traditional ITIL mindset of continual improvement.
You don’t get to disruptive improvement by making a small change in automation, or "paving the cowpaths" as they say in Boston when describing their complex street layout. Huge productivity gains, time to market gains and so on—those don’t come by tweaking your manual processes. You get there by completely redesigning your processes.
Two tools for disruptive improvement
Disruptive improvement is by its nature highly strategic. And given the increasing importance of IT in most organizations, it has the potential to completely transform your business. But how can you plan your way to something so different from what you’re doing now? If you think your organization may have a need for disruptive improvement, try these two classic strategic consulting tools.
1. Take a future-back approach. In trying to move IT Ops forward don’t try taking a next-step approach; that will lead you to do whatever is the easiest next step to take. Instead, work from the future back, asking yourself these questions:
- Where do we need to be in three years in terms of our performance?
- What would that state mean in terms of how we do things?
- How does that look compared with where we are today?
- What’s the gap?
After going through this exercise you might realize, gee, this gap is huge and doing what we’re doing with incremental changes isn’t going to get us there. So let’s figure out what a strategic solution would be.
But what if the future is murky? How do you even answer the question of where you need to be in three years?
2. Engage in scenario planning. In enterprise, this technique derives from work that Shell did in the early 1970s, which put Shell in the position of being the only major oil company at that time to foresee the possibility of the first oil shock. And as a result they were vastly better positioned to deal with it than anybody else.
Simply put, scenario planning requires you to think laterally about the future, creating multiple potential "scenarios" of the futures and, instead of picking one, ensuring that you are well placed to cope with any of them. You try to bring in external sources, go and interview people in different domains and get as many different perspectives as possible. What you end up with a number of different scenarios about the future. Pick about three or four of these and then frame them, create a story about them, give them names and describe what they look like. Then you identify what each scenario would do to you as an organization and how you could respond. Ask: What would this do to our current business, positive and negative, and how could we change the way we are so that we’re better positioned to cope with that future?
It’s not about picking a winner. It’s about saying if we all agree the future could be any of these ways how do we put ourselves into position so that we still win in any one of these futures? It’s an attempt to de-risk the unknown.
The importance of changing frame of reference
As a result of your scenario planning maybe you identify something with a very high risk, reasonable probability and high impact. In that case you need to get to work on alternative business plans. But in other cases what it can do is change your frame of reference. When you change the frame of reference sufficiently for the management team they’re more prepared to move forward on what it would take to get to disruptive improvement in operations. They may see the results and say, “Wow, we really have to take this into account.”
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