The times, they are a-changin’, and we move through these changin’ times like a rolling stone.
So we can learn a lot from Bob Dylan.
In 2016, Jon Friedman wrote an opinion piece in the Boston Globe called “Bob Dylan’s Relentless Reinvention.” In this piece, Friedman talks about how reinvention has been a key to Dylan’s 50-plus year career that includes 37 studio albums and a Nobel Prize. As Friedman considered Dylan’s longevity, he concluded by writing, “No, we can’t all be rock ’n’ roll stars, like Dylan. But we can take control of our lives by figuring out how to remain relevant and achieve longevity. Or, as he might say: You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”
The reality is that you also take control of your business when you start swimmin’ and embrace relentless reinvention.
At Worthwhile, we tell our clients and prospective customers that the path to success in terms of digital technology requires relentless reinvention. Your business needs to continuously innovate its tech stack if it wants to thrive in the marketplace.
Now, you may be thinking that this sounds like overkill. Or that it sounds exhausting. You might be used to a project-based approach to digital innovation and not a continuous integration, continuous delivery (CICD) model.
But that project-by-project approach is not the best strategy to take if you want to succeed in today’s digital environment. Whether you want to increase market share, improve productivity, or attract and retain better employees, relentless reinvention at an accelerated velocity is essential.
Here are five reasons that your business needs to pivot toward a continuous innovation mindset to technology.
Reason #1: Digital Projects Often Fail
Technology projects are hard to complete. The Standish Chaos Report has tracked success rates on projects for years, and their research shows that only about 3 in 10 projects are completed on time and on budget. Another 50% eventually get to the finish line, but only after exceeding budget and/or timelines. Two out of 10 projects are never completed at all.
The failure rates get bigger as the projects get larger. If a project hits medium size, your business is four times more likely to completely fail than to finish on time and on budget.
What does this mean to your business? It means that trying to successfully launch a large digital project is exceedingly difficult–even if you have the right leaders and the right partners in place.
But if you can shrink the project size, you can succeed a lot more easily. The Standish stats show that a small project is far easier to bring in on time and on budget. So history says that one of the things you can do to increase your chances of success is to work on digital enhancements in small chunks instead of large ones.
The other thing Standish’s stats reveal is that using an agile development methodology instead of a waterfall methodology increases the chances of success. (A waterfall methodology tries to plan everything at a project from the beginning, while agile DevOps work in small sprints and adjust based on sponsor user feedback and other factors often.)
These stats reveal two things any business can do to decrease the risk of failure with a digital initiative:
1. Make it smaller
2. Use an agile development approach
A continuous innovation mindset lets you relentlessly reinvent with a never-ending series of smaller projects. By using CICD principles, you improve your tech stack incrementally while reducing the risk of failure. It’s undeniably clear that adopting this approach to digital transformation increases your business’s chances of success.
Reason #2: Disruption Is Coming
If the only reason for embracing continuous innovation was increasing your organization’s chances of success, it would be worth considering. But as you turn perspective from factors inside your business to outside factors, it is quickly clear that the market is full of reasons for you to relentlessly reinvent.
Disruption is a fact of life for companies today–disruption from technology changes, from startup competitors, and even from government regulation. If your business does not practice continuous innovation, it will fall behind fast. Let’s explore these three factors in a bit more detail.
Technology changes–In our world, truly disruptive technologies come along more and more frequently. Think of how the smartphone has changed the way your company works and relates to customers over the past decade or so. New and emerging technologies like cloud hosting, augmented reality, connected devices, and more are unlocking new possibilities for your company (or your competitors) to do business in different and more valuable ways.
If you don’t embrace continuous innovation, you will find yourself piling up more and more technical debt that will leave you with a bigger and bigger hill to climb to catch up to the market. And the more technical debt you have, the bigger the project to catch up. The bigger the project, the less the chances that your business will successfully complete it. This vicious cycle shows that your business literally can’t afford to fall behind, because it’s almost impossible to catch up. It’s much better to relentlessly reinvent your tech stack as a means of achieving digital transformation.
Deloitte’s 2019 Tech Trends report described how this kind of approach can actually work for a business like yours: “Digital transformation can and should be just as concerned with modest and immediate ambitions as it is with broadly reimagining the future. For example, reengineering individual business units and processes, or creating opportunities for specific products and customers can have a more immediate impact on long-term competitiveness. By adopting a strategy of putting smaller, more tightly scoped offerings into the market quickly and successfully, organizations can incrementally achieve an end-state business ambition.”
Competitors and Startups–Technology has unlocked the ability for your competition to steal market share almost instantly. This may be an established competitor that you know all about, or a new disruptive startup that breaks your existing paradigm.
Either way, continuous innovation can help your business stay ahead of the competition. As you launch new ways to connect with your customers and work more efficiently, you raise the bar of entry for your competitors. This proactive approach to digital transformation is vital in today’s ever-changing market.
Government Regulations–There’s one other key factor that can disrupt your business–government regulation. This doesn’t just happen on the federal level. Many businesses in the U.S. have been affected by the European Union’s GDPR statute. And on January 1, 2020, the state of California will launch a similar regulation called CCPA that impacts the way you store customer data and interact with users. So if your business does business in California, or with any citizen of the European Union, then you have new regulations you must follow in regards to user privacy and data storage.
This is just one example of how regulations necessitate changes in your tech stack. Your business needs to be able to respond to legal changes, whether they happen on a local, state, or national level, or even overseas.
Reason #3: Users Aren’t Static
Market conditions aren’t the only things that change. The needs, desires, and expectations of your users change as well.
One of the reasons people change their expectations of your technology is because technology is changing all around them. If one of your customers can find an answer with Alexa or Siri without ever touching a screen, they will expect answers from your company to come with little to no friction as well. Likewise, if your employees can do their banking anywhere, then they’re going to expect to be able to access your internal systems anywhere as well. This innate truth about people means that a solution that worked for your customers or employees 12 months ago may not work for them now–because their expectations have changed.
So if you want to have a human-centered approach to software innovation, you need to embrace relentless reinvention You should constantly be asking questions of your customers and employees, and watching them use your digital technology via contextual inquiries, so that you can uncover new needs and expectations.
A CICD approach to continuous innovation will allow you to consistently empathize with your customers and employees and change your technology stack to serve them better and better. You’ll avoid the trap that Bex Wise described as marrying your first idea while divorcing your user. This will allow you to change as your users change, and to keep them satisfied with your company. This drives real value, because every business knows the value of repeat customers and employee retention.
Reason #4: You Don’t Know Everything
Do you know what makes the best product designers and service designers so good? It’s not that they’re exceptionally creative or insightful. It’s that they come up with a lot of ideas, pick the one they think is best, and then try it as quickly as they can. They know that they don’t know exactly what users want, and so they test ideas with real people and then learn from the good attempts and the misfires.
This is one of the key tenets of Design Thinking methodology–putting puts product and service prototypes (including digital prototypes) in front of real users as quickly as possible, and getting their feedback. This feedback is both what they say and how they react.
The truth is that even asking people what they want isn’t the best way to create solutions, because the solution people say they want doesn’t always work. Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” How do you solve this problem? It only happens when you put a solution in front of a person and then watch carefully to see if it’s really resonant.
We understand this when it comes to shoes. Zappos offers free shipping back and forth so that a customer who likes how a shoe looks online can discover whether he or she actually likes wearing the shoe. The same thing happens with just about any other product or service–it’s not until people actually see an idea come to life that they can experience if it’s really beneficial to them.
Watching reactions and identifying with the person using empathy allows the product designer or service designer to learn at a deeper level in order to reinvent the solution and make it a little better. If you treat everything as a prototype and repeat this process over and over, eventually you have a game-changing offering for the marketplace or for your employees.
Continuous innovation is vital because it gives business leaders permission to turn “I don’t know” into “Let’s try it and see” with almost negligible costs of being wrong. The relentless reinvention process is designed to help people who don’t know everything (aka all of us) learn more so that they can create a product or service that actually helps real people.
Reason #5: You Fall Out of Date Quickly
One of the implications of living in a digital world like we do is that things change quickly. Think about what your company website looked like five or 10 years ago versus what it looks like today (or what it should look like today). The same is true with your ERP, your mobile app, or any other digital asset in your technology stack.
A project-based approach to digital innovation is almost certain to result in you falling behind. Every subsequent project will be an exercise in trying to catch up, and the technical debt you’ve accumulated will result in project sizes and timelines being longer. With longer projects, you run the risk of falling behind before you even get your new digital project into production.
On the other hand, with continuous integration and continuous deployment (CICD), you repeatedly take small steps toward the forefront, and the velocity gained over time allows you to stay current with or even ahead of your market vertical when it comes to technology. This allows you to be an early adapter with key technologies when it makes sense to your customers and your employees, and unlocking value that your competitors just can’t match.
In fall 2018, McKinsey Quarterly asserted that “Enduring advantages are more likely to accrue to companies that can sustain a high rate of innovation, consistently introducing new solutions and improving them with proprietary data.”
The path to this velocity of innovation is relentless reinvention. And it’s a path that your organization has plenty of good reasons to travel.
It’s time to get moving. And keep moving. And moving. And moving.
Kind of like a rolling stone.