How to Win the Operations Game (Pt. 3 of 3)

The operations game is surprisingly tricky. Growing up, Operation was the classic board game that was probably stacked under a pile of others like Monopoly and Don’t Break the Ice in your hall closet. Almost everyone has played Operation once. It was thrilling to try to remove the tiny pieces from the electrically charged board.

With a steady hand, any child could perform open heart surgery on a patient (remember Cavity Sam?) who wasn’t sedated. Poor Sam! Business operations teams can also achieve success when considering difficult systems implementations, but it’s a much trickier path.

Heed the warning signs

Cavity Sam is rigged to buzz when something’s not right, loud enough to give an unsuspecting child a jolt. His nose even lights up, like Rudolph. It’s impossible to miss if you mess up the surgery.

For the other kind of operations, for COO’s and their teams, the warning signs usually aren’t as evident. When choosing new systems or processes that could improve innovation for your business, is your choice helping or hurting the company? When a new system hurts a company, the warning signs might not be as obvious as they are in the board game.

Warning signs might include a steady decline in employee satisfaction, morale, or productivity. If the new system is supposed to improve communications, and employees aren’t used to it, many projects can get slowed down, or worse lost altogether.

Let’s look at some rules of this kind of operations game.

Rule 1: Innovation drives operational success

As described in part one of this series, Innovation is Meaningless (And Why Companies Don’t Do It), if your company has lost the drive to innovate, start by optimizing internal processes. This carries low risk and high ROI.

Part two of our series, Why Your Company isn’t Being Efficient, covered that companies need to make collaboration a priority. In a culture that thrives on immediacy through social media, news, and microwaveable dinners, organizations need to accept evolution and change with their employees.

Rule 2: Change management is amazing. Yes, this is a rule.

Not having change management during a rollout is like not having a surgeon in an operating room. Sure, maybe someone else could do the job, but the potential risks are too high for most patients.

To plan for a massive rollout like switching systems across an entire company, you need a strategy that provides for professional help during all aspects of the project, which calls for adequate change management and training. This will ease the present and future burden on both IT and operations teams. A planned rollout should also fit naturally into employees’ flow of work, helping to simplify and reduce any cumbersome tasks. A Forbes post reminds us to listen to the voice of the employee, especially when we introduce new systems.

Rule 3: Don’t fall into common traps

Falling into the same old operational traps (remember the wrenched ankle on the board?) can frustrate even senior management, who need to be big supporters of large-scale projects. Do your homework; there are lots of resources and VARs who can assist when you’re ready to roll out new systems.

Keep an eye on finances (remember that pesky bread slice?) System upgrades might require additional spend to start things off right, but there’s a good chance you will actually reduce overall spending by implementing the collaboration-empowering systems that will reduce IT calls and increase employee output. Be sure to ask VARs to help you scope not just the cost but the ROI for big systems projects.

Maybe it’s time to take the old Operation game out of the hall closet, find a 9volt battery, and have another go at old Sam.

Innovation Doesn’t Occur in a Vacuum: Atmosphere 2011 Recap

At Google’s 2011 Atmosphere conference Google attempted to answer one question; what does it really take to be innovative?

In front of 350 Fortune 500 CIO’s, speakers used example after example to drive home the point that innovation comes from collaboration not just inspired thought.

Dr. Astro Teller explained how Ben Franklin sat in coffee houses discussing the theory of electricity.  How Gutenberg created the printing press after visiting a winery and learning about wine presses.  Vince Cerf, the inventor of TCP/IP discussed how TCP/IP only came into existence though the collaborative efforts of many different teams across different companies.  The point was succinctly captured by Steven Johnson who coined his speech – chance favors the connected mind.  Innovation doesn’t simply occur.

Businesses today must figure out how to enable an inter-disciplinary exchange of ideas.  This means real-time collaboration and socialization.  As CIO’s, the greatest struggle is to build this collaborative and socially-enabled IT infrastructure that retains a level of control especially as more and more consumer products (iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, etc.) make their way into the organization.

This point was not lost on this audience.  CIO after CIO articulated this point in their own words; each acknowledging that Google’s collaborative products is certainly one crucial step.

Most CIOs admitted to struggling with finding the right balance between corporate governance and collaborative flexibility.  And to make matters harder, their users are putting more and more demands on their IT department by expecting support for their consumer products.

By no means trivial, each CIO had their own plan for overcoming these challenges. The CIOs I spoke with seemed to have the same three items on their list for 2012 initiatives:

1.     Developing and executing a comprehensive cloud strategy
2.     Adapting existing IT governance and controls to better accommodate a cloud strategy
3.     Device agnostic mobile management strategies

These seemingly universal challenges are those that CIOs across all organizations will face in the months ahead. The content forced participants to think big. Through Atmosphere 2011, the best and brightest forward-thinking CIOs sought answers and shared concerns.

– Aric Bandy

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