Preparing for different types of innovation

Yesterday, while attending a webinar, I heard something mentioned that struck a note with me. The speaker said that it is our job, as IT professionals, to support innovation. The statement of course makes sense and is inline with what I view our jobs to be, but hearing someone else say it made me ponder what exactly does it mean – to support innovation, in practical terms.

And while I can’t yet organize everything I thought of relating to this, what I did start to organize is the directions from which innovation can come. What I observed is that even if we do prepare for innovation, it is usually from only one or two of these directions, and ultimately end up blindsided.

So without any further ado, here is the list. Would love to know what my small band of forced followers think about it.

  • IT department innovation – innovation within our own department, new way of looking or doing things, that are largely confined to just us, the IT department within the organization.
  • IT industry innovation – innovation within our profession, although we haven’t seen true innovation in a long time.
  • Business innovation – innovative ideas and concepts initiated by the organization we support.
  • Industry innovation – innovation started by someone else within the same industry we’re in.
  • Customer innovation – innovation on the part of the customers our organization serves.
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The Agile Triangle

I have recently been thinking about this whole concept of Agile, and how to best transition from the “old and tired” to the “new and exciting”.   In other words, how to take the best of what agile has to offer and implement it into our professional, and even personal, lives.

For one, there are clear advantages to embracing the agile mindset, even if all of its tools and approaches may not be applicable.  To be more nimble, personally and organizationally, and facing the inevitable change with an open and ready mind is a survival skill, again personally and professionally.

So I began to think about what’s needed for a person or an organization to become “agile”.  As my thoughts began to take shape, I also came upon the need to convey the concept to my project management students.  In preparation for the class, I finally came up with a model that I think works well.  And so, an Agile Triangle was born.

The Agile Triangle

Agile triangle

The way I see it, you need three things to be agile – Agile Team, Agile Customers, and Agile Situation.  The reason why the triangle works for me is that it’s reminiscent of the PM’s triple constraint triangle – I see it working in roughly the same way.

The Agile Team

What I am essentially saying here is that for an agile environment, the project team must have an agile mindset.  In broad strokes, it means they should be open to change.  Getting down to the team level, that may mean different things and different tools may be used to achieve that agility, but at its core, the team must display the qualities, and reflect the values, of agile manifesto.

This also works for personal agility – whatever qualities an agile team possesses, they can also be applicable to an individual.  In fact, if the individuals within the team are not agile, the team will likely suffer from low agility.

The Agile Customers

This one is easy to understand, but for most teams, I find, is the one considered most difficult to achieve.  It essentially means that the customer must also have an agile mindset, and most importantly be willing to work with the team in an agile way.

The Agile Situation

I have been going back and forth with this, not knowing if I wanted to call this situation, or solution base, but what I am essentially saying here is that the thing you are engaged in must be agile-friendly.  That means the project must be agile-friendly (how do you organize an event in an agile way?), the tools you have must be agile friendly (sculpting a statue from 100 ft piece of granite is probably not going to give you much agility), and so on.

Triple Constraint

Much like the PM’s triple constraint triangle, I believe this triangle works in exactly the same way – if one of the areas of the triangle is less agile, then at least one other area, and possibly two, will have to be more agile to make up for it.

While I continue to refine this model, what do you think about it?  Like, no like, hmm, meh, etc?

Creative Commons License
Agile Triangle by Vadim Gorelik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Evolutionary path of enterprise IT

I’ve been giving much thought lately to the question of what enterprise IT departments should look like. Not in terms of technologies they support, but in terms of their organizational posturing. That is the question most interesting to ponder, and most crucial to answer.

What I began to develop is that there are about three different stages in evolution of corporate IT. My thoughts on these stages are not yet complete and I will probably continue to refine and develop my views on this topic, but as plainly as I can see it right now, these are the stages.

Stage 1 – the infrastructure provider. I wrote before about how IT tends to focus on providing basic services which can now be procured cheaper elsewhere. But it seems this is the first stage of a modern enterprise IT department – when most of the time and resources are spent on providing basic services. In my observation, this is where the customer satisfaction levels are lowest as IT has little time to “raise their heads and look around”, busy dealing with the basic while the organization is clamoring for something else.

Stage 2- the force multiplier. Having the infrastructure side of things well in under control, the majority of time and resources of this department is spent working with other departments to understand and enhance their operations. This is the stage to which most of the current IT departments gravitate and virtually every organization I worked at, or speak with, are in some sort of a transition between stage 1 and stage 2.

Then there is stage 3 – the business unit. To me, this is the panacea. This is the stage where both the infrastructure and the force multiplier efforts are well under control, and the IT department can now become “one of the guys” – a revenue generating business unit. The resources dedicated to the first two stages have slack, which is then used by the organization to generate revenue for the company. Outside of providing consulting and stage 1 and 2 services to other companies, I presently find it difficult to justify engaging in any other activity, but I think this should be the ultimate goal enterprise IT.

I will continue to think through this, but what do you think about the concept, the stage definition, etc?

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Teaching is like cooking; or why publisher supplied slides could be bad for the former and good for the latter

Few years back, I discovered that I enjoy cooking. It was completely unexpected, and entirely welcomed. I found that standing in front of a stove for a few hours preparing food for my family is a tremendously rewarding experience. As a result, I embarked on a journey to turn myself from a person that didn’t go much further then scrambling some eggs, to someone who can whip up a four course dinner for friends and family (not there yet.)

Along the way, I discovered that there are three stages of cooking proficiency. In stage 1, the cook is following the recipe to the letter, constantly checking measurements and steps, afraid of deviation. In stage 2, the cook will rely on the recipe, but will already have the confidence to make changes or substitutions. In stage 3, the chef generates his own recipes, experimenting with ingredients and flavors to get his own signature down.

As I make a foray into teaching, and transition from those who do to those who teach, I observe that teaching is a lot like cooking in the sense that I see the same three stages present in teaching as I do in cooking. In stage 1, the instructor presents the information as is, nervously checking his sources and slides. At this stage, the instructor attempts to curtail the discussion as his comfort level with the topic, and with his ability to channel the discussion in the right direction, is not there. In stage 2, the instructor tends to consult the materials, but can generally deviate in any direction, stir up a conversation, and then bring the class back on topic. In stage 3, the professor generates his own knowledge and instructs his students on the same.

I observe this rough separation both at McCombs and at St. Edwards where I pursue my Masters in MIS.

But now what of the slides you ask?

What I also notice is that lately, there is a tremendous reliance on the slides provided by textbook publishers. Even in the case where professor seems to be very competent in his topic, he may still choose to use these slide decks. As a student, and an observer, I feel it makes instructors lazy and reduces the effectiveness of the class.

For one, I observe the tendency of the instructors to not prepare for the class. “I know I have a slide deck which I can use as prompts so I’ll just wing it,” is what they seem to say. Sometimes that may work out, sometimes it may not and higher the level the instructor is teaching, the less likely this attitude may work out. At graduate levels, the chances that there is a student in class with deep knowledge of this topic are far greater than in high school, and so winging it in grad school may simply make one look incompetent.
Another observation is that using publisher’s slides forces the class into the flow created by the publisher, which is likely to be uncomfortable, or downright incompatible with the instructor. It forces the instructor to go through the subject in a textbook format, and if this particular chapter was assigned as reading, the class ends up being not a value add time, but a rehash of last night’s reading.

Ultimately, unlike cooking where provided recipes serve to help a stumbling cook get to an acceptable result, publisher provided slide decks serve to hinder instructor’s progress as teachers and unwittingly reduce the effectiveness of the classroom experience.

I understand the desire on the part of publishers to provide these slide decks, but perhaps we need for school administrators to look at these materials and prohibit instructors from using them. What do you think?

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Stopping the cycle of exclusivity

This morning, I received an email letting me know there is one active discussion on the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Office Studies group on LinkedIn.  The discussion was started by Wayne Brown who is the owner of the group, and also the starter of most of its’ discussions.  This particular discussion is titled “How to help with mentoring higher ed technology leaders who want to be CIOs?”  Expectantly, the responses follow a familiar path – identify potential, create activity, teams, groups, networks, etc.  While all of that is fine and good, what it started for me is a train of thought based on the fact that the whole discussion is off mark.

It is hard to reject the fact that within IT, there are those who would be considered technology leaders (and so potentially CIO material) and those who are not.  It is also hard to reject the fact that non-technology leaders, as in those who show up to work, perform some business as usual tasks and go home, these IT workers far outnumber those considered to be technology leaders (especially since the definition of who a technology leader is, is not set and varies depending on who’s talking).

But reading the discussion, I can’t help but think that what we need to do is not cultivate this minority for the sake of granting them entry into an even smaller minority and then waiting for that brilliance to trickle down to the masses.  If the complaint about these sorts of mentoring opportunities is that CIOs have so little time, and some environments are not friendly/setup/conducive to this sort of activity, then the cycle will continue to perpetuate – the technology leaders will become overburdened CIOs with little time for mentoring, leaving the next wave of technology leaders to emerge on their own, float into CIOs peripheral vision, and be granted a few mentor-ship opportunities per month.  And on, and on, and on.  As it were, so it’ll be.  What problem does that solve?

What we need to focus on is cultivation of technology leaders from rank and file of the IT.  If the CIO only has 4 hours a month to mentor someone, it needs to be a group of average performers to turn them into technology leaders.  And technology leaders need to be in a position to do the same, so that more people are involved not only in trying to patch another server farm with another round of patches, or beat back the users from BYODing, but in raising the collective consciousness of the IT profession.

The CIOs also need to go back to their local universities and in those 4 hours a month work with them to shape technology education.

Maybe only then can we stop being startled by each new technology twist or turn, because when you get down to it, what we’re really startled by is not the technology itself, but the thought of having to deal with it side-by-side with IT majority.  And that is a far more important problem to solve.

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The Path To Staying Irrelevant

If IT department wants to be viewed as a cost center and stay irrelevant, it should continue to provide commodity services like email, storage, and network connectivity.  It should also complain about how difficult it is to provide these services.

If IT department wants to be viewed as a business partner, it should ensure that these commodity services are provided by vendors who can now provide them better and cheaper, and focus on understanding the business, and addressing its higher order needs.

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On The Need To Reform

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” — Mark Twain

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Beginning of a Journey

Student Journey Map - Day 1

After spending some time becoming acclimated with the new world of MBA program office, I launched a project which I am very excited about.  This project comes straight out of the relatively new discipline of service design (if you don’t know what service design is, check out or a list of resources which I’ll put together at some later date.)

Student Journey Map - Day 5

I chose to begin the project by creating a student journey map.  Although traditional journey maps tend to focus on customer touch points – that is points where customers interact with the service provider, I wanted to document various decision points, pain points, or just points in time, along the journey.  Granted, the overall purpose of the exercise is to create a tighter, deeper relationship with the customer by identifying various points, and then making them into touchpoints, but the distinction I would like to make here is that not all of these points will become touchpoints: we may choose not to engage the students during a particular point, even though we’re aware of it.  To me, touchpoint map is something we can develop from this stage one map.

Student Journey Map - Day 10

Because of the number of people involved in the process, the overall goal of the project, and the crazy schedules everyone follows these days, I also chose to not make it a hosted, guided affair.  Instead, we posted some brown paper on one of the walls and invited all staff  to contribute their points at their leisure.   Expectantly  the progress is somewhat slow, but it is moving along nonetheless.


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Role Change Update/Blog Restart (again)

I have not posted here for a while and the reason for that is that I assumed a new role at work.  Between that and grad school, there has not been much of a chance to blog, nor was there anything particularly exciting to blog about.  Until now.

For those who haven’t heard yet, I am now the Chief Technology Strategist for Graduate Programs – essentially, I am tasked with creating a strategic technology plan for our MBA program office, and assist with its implementation.

To me, this is exciting for a number of different reasons.

First, the role is much closer to what I typically do anyway and something that I’d prefer to do.  Even when my duties are clearly tactical, I prefer to spend my time worrying less about the operations, and more about the strategic direction – what are we doing, why we’re doing it, and how we can do it better?

Second, there are many articles and blog posts that point to the fact that this is what IT may look like in the very near future: a technology professional embedded in a business unit, managing implementation of available resources, be they internal or external.  If the predication is to become a reality – what might that look like?  I have a chance to find out for myself.

Then there is the sheer size of the opportunity which is exciting in it of itself.  For one, McCombs Business School is one of the top business schools in the world, and Texas MBA is a Top 20 program.  It is also a very much its own entity within the business school, with its own admissions, career management, student services, (to a certain extent) alumni relations, and academics.  That gives me an opportunity to study and improve upon technology use across administrative, student, and academic departments.

To tie all of that together in a coherent plan that will impact the success of a group for a long time to come – what more can a long-suffering IT professional ask for?




The Future of IT will be reduced to three kinds of jobs

The Future of the IT Department

Fast Forward: The Future of IT Departments

Blog Posts:

IT Department: The Future Outlook

The IT Department of 20/20

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Compromise on needs to not meet them

When faced with customer needs, we only have two options – to meet them or not.  A simple choice, however, turns into a source of tremendous dissatisfaction.

If we choose to meet the need, it is always with some judgment, or stipulation, which always results in some sort of a change.  Whether due to budgetary constraints, or requirement analysis of multiple interested parties, or lack of technological/human ability, we’ll inevitably deliver something that isn’t quite right.

Customer: I need a purple widget 2 inches wide, 3 inches high, and 1 inch deep.

We: Sure, we can do that.

Three months go by.

We: After talking to all of the stakeholders, we determined that it’d be cost effective for us to produce a blue widget 3 inches wide, 2 inches high, and 1 inch deep.  It saves us a lot of money and allows more people to use the widget.

Customer: Yay!  Widgets! Efficiency! Cost savings!

Few days go by.

Customer: Umm .. I still wish I had that widget

If we choose to not meet the need, it may be for a variety of reasons – because we cannot meet it, would not meet it, or even choose to ridicule the user for even considering THAT to be “a need.”

Sometime ago, I heard a quote somewhere that a compromise is something neither party wanted.  I think that since personal and organizational needs are typically put through a compromise machine, they are typically unmet, forcing users to settle for a widget that isn’t right for what they need.  Obviously, this results in all sorts of negativity and dissatisfaction, from all sides.

The reason for this divide is that the base upon which these solutions are delivered is too rigid and inflexible.  Technology must have these constraints; budgets must have others, regulations yet others, and so on.

Wouldn’t it be something to build a frame, which can support not only any number of scenarios, but support those varying scenarios simultaneously?  A goal worth striving for as its achievement can have significant implications.

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