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  • Jacob Anderson

Being Agile Requires Innovation

It is oftentimes seen that with any product or solution, the most innovative approaches grab the most attention of consumers or customers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the flashiest of the solutions available in the market, but the ones that resonate the best with a customer base. In an age of more work to do than time to go ahead and do it, how do we possibly account for innovation in our software, products and solutions? We can’t just rely on a single person to be innovative to drive the path forward but must leverage the creativity of our teams in this quest for excellence.

Encourage Innovation


To get on the path towards revolutionary solutions, we must start with small incremental steps forward. If we never focus on the concept of continuous improvement, we will never be better than we are today and all of efforts will be for naught. To encourage this path of continuous improvement, some ideas were shared by Lee Henson in a podcast titled “The Top 8 Ways to Drive Innovation in Large Organizations”. Within it, some key concepts came out that are simple and yet revolutionary.

  • Do we give our teams access to our customers?

  • Do we trust our teams to get the job done and give them the autonomy to move forward successfully?

  • Do we use retrospectives as a catalyst for continuous improvement?

These and many other simple steps are what I have seen utilized within organizations to encourage the simple steps forward towards a more innovative future. Imagine what insight a software developer would have by speaking directly to a customer. Radical idea I know because we always try to shield the developers from too much customer interaction. But I’ll tell you that I have seen it change the way a developer thinks about solving the problems being experienced by that customer. I’ve seen it change the way healthcare applications work, logistical operations get enhanced and customer relationships get accentuated by listening to and responding to the concerns that exist with current applications.

Plan for Innovation


We need to take the steps forward to allow innovation to be part of how we operate. This requires us to plan for it, set aside the time for it to occur and then adapt as a result of the innovative solutions we discover. Over the past couple of years, I have worked with several organizations that were working on large organizational transformations to become more Agile. While in some cases the success was very apparent, other situations it was less forthcoming and even muted because the innovation within the organization was limited to Product Owners, Managers or Executives. A couple situations that I can remember palpable change involved Innovation & Planning (IP) Iterations or Sprints. While this is a concept that is encouraged by Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), I have seen that the time set aside for true innovation was universally beneficial regardless of method used. With one organization specifically, the teams would have time set aside to solve some of their most vexing problems with process or the solutions they were working on. The capstone event of the IP Iteration was an Innovation Showcase that much like a System Demo helped to show off what the teams had been working on. Some teams solved work intake concerns, others addressed dependencies across multiple teams while others simply found they needed to be more efficient at starting less work and finishing more. Whatever is focused on during that heightened awareness timeframe for innovation, the key is that we carve out time for innovation. This focus on innovation as a catalyst for change and success was mentioned in the podcast “Top 10 Agile Transformation Metrics Leaders Should Be Tracking” and continues to be a focus that organizations should afford themselves to improve. If you want it to happen, you need to at least plan for it to occur somewhere. The when placed in the capable arms of your knowledge workers on your teams, innovation will change the way you do business.

Support Efforts that Lead to Innovative Solutions

Regardless of how we decide to move forward with our paths for continuous improvement, it is crucial that we trust our teams and the individuals on those teams to help us drive the innovation of the future. The more open we are about the problems we are trying to solve, the more we can empower teams to find innovative solutions to address them. Beyond encouraging the innovation to occur, we must plan for it. Whether that is with an IP Sprint or a concept like Team John that Lee Henson of AgileDad talks about in the podcast “Team John – Get a Handle on In-Sprint Interruptions”, we need to truly set aside the time to be creative and find the innovative solutions to address our most vexing problems. By doing so, we encourage a greater sense of autonomy and purpose within our teams. And that is a no-brainer as far as the wild success we will experience as a result of that greater empowerment.

Encourage innovation. Plan for it. Be Agile!

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