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Today’s Best Practices

Watch Alex Cowan to learn about today's best practices.
We talked about how Agile was relatively new. And what does it actually mean for your ability to use it for the things that you’re going to run into in executing the interdisciplinary cooperation that we talked about as being so important. Yeah a lot of the things that we think are the right thing to do are informed by the history of business, design, and even software engineering in ways that we may not even consciously realize.
So, I’m going to tell you a little bit about where we’re headed and what’s really important, but then also kind of where some of this stuff came from, so you understand a little bit better, some of the implicit assumptions that your collaborators may be making when they tell you one thing versus another. Well, let’s talk a little bit about business ideas over the last hundred or so years. We’re in a place now where innovation is really important to just about every single business.
And yet most managers and most individual practitioners are still learning what that means to be innovative on a day to day basis, how do we organize work to be innovative, how do we manage to allow people to innovate, it’s new and what came before it was at all most complete faith in steady state economics and the value of plans. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Charles Taylor wrote this paper in 1909, Principles of Scientific Management. And it was about, how do we instrument people like machines? So that for example, they can shovel coal into a locomotive faster?
And gradually, you start to get this idea with Friends and Influence People, the ridiculously titled, but actually kind of interesting book about the importance of interpersonal relations in business. So this comes about around this general period. I mean, of course people cared about how they talk to each other before but this industry of business thought picked it up, somewhere probably around here. You can see this dramatized with Death of a Salesman.
I’m not, like a business historian, so stuff happened in the 50’s and 60’s, I don’t really know. The idea that firms can achieve a long term competitive advantage with the right plan and the right analysis was really kind of introduced in nineteen eighty with Michael Porter’s book by that name. You can see some of that dramatized in the movie Wall Street the Gordon Gekko movie. Google’s founded in 1998, and it’s only in 2005, really, that the business thought leader industry produces something that makes the statement that the stuff that we’ve been doing to scale businesses and operate on a plan driven basis, it isn’t like startups and innovation are a small version of that.
They’re just completely totally different, and here are ideas on how to actually manage innovation. That was introduces by Steve Blank in 2005 with his book and then further articulated by Eric Ries in his book, the Lean Startup. So these provide some alternative models that are relatively new still and managers are still learning about learning how to practice. Companies take a long time to change is the reality. So, when your colleagues want to have a plan, it may be echoes of things that happen at the beginning of the 20th century that are instilling in them the desire and the idea that that’s going to work.
And it’s okay, it’s natural, but we’re going to work on how to kind of sell those alternatives and put them into practice. Let’s take a look at the assent of design. Now, the idea that there can be products whose principle attribute is good design, and that’s integral to them is relatively new as far as something that is a mainstream, widely accepted concept. Of course there was design previous to this. The term, industrial design, the design of products for consumer use, was coined in 1919. The 1939 World’s Fair was kind of an example of the showcasing of this idea.
And you can see the importance placed on the emotional relationship between people and products in stuff like Mad Men, by the 50’s and 60’s.
Then we see a company like Apple. So, the folks at Apple identified the importance of product design, and industrial design early on, and they’ve always had a dedicated fan base. But, the reality was, in the late 70’s, early 80’s, even into the 90’s, not that many people had PCs, and very few of those were mac. So, it’s really not until you get to the iPhone, and that took a few years to really go out there and become ubiquitous that just about everyone’s got a product in front of them that’s relatively complex, that’s digital, that’s clearly the product of good design. That, that’s what made it competitive. At least that’s what I would say.
And in 1991, the firm IDEO was founded and they’ve done a lot of work on the general application of design practices to business problems. And they began to circulate those, but it’s really only in the last five to ten years that you have this ubiquitous emphasis on design and innovation, so I think the important thing to remember there is that this is all relatively new.
It’s not like, there’s certainly companies that have been doing this for a long time and extremely well, but the use of this technique and the importance placed on it and the supply of people that are experiencing these things, these are all just expanding at really just a gigantic fast clip, and we’re all kind of learning as we go along. Let’s close with key software practices. Well, when software was invented, when the idea of algorithms was invented is kind of a philosophical question, it could be as early as the 13th century.
Mathematicians like Ada Lovelace began to put forward ideas about computations and algorithms in the 19th century, and 1935 is when is often identified as a time when we sort of first see the modern computer that was created by Alan Turing and his team, recently dramatized in Imitation Game.
By the 50’s and 60’s, you have computers around if you have a university campus and you want to fool around with a computer, you can, so computing itself is also relatively recent and the sort of operating system that will become Unix was created around 1970, but then it’s really not until the late 70’s- 80’s you have kind of the beginning of the personal computer era and lots of people, relatively large amounts of people having computers. And the process of creating computers, this was dramatized in this book, The Soul of the New Machine. So what is a technology startup and what is it like to build technology based products?
There were other examples, but this was a pretty prominent example of the literally establishment encountering this is only, you know, this is a 1980 relatively recent. In 1994, you see kind of widespread use of the internet companies like Yahoo providing essential directories and Agile Manifesto comes out in 2001 so, yes it’s been around for a while, but change is slow it’s still relatively new. As we move forward and we see more and more importance placed on digital, on computing, on using software to innovate and deliver valuable outcomes to customers and businesses are continuing to be changed you see things like code academy, where they put forward the idea that maybe a lot of people should learn how to code.
That it’s a valuable skill for lots of different people, and that it may be worth doing and it should be accessible. And then anybody that wasn’t really brought in or paying attention to the idea that idea based businesses, value based businesses using digital could create extraordinary results, Instagram was sold in 2011 for a billion dollars after, I think, 15 months of working on this product with the team of 13 people. So everybody stood up and took note if they weren’t already by this point. And so we have this explosion of interest in design, innovation, and software, which is probably not news to you.
But I think it’s notable where we came from to get to this point, and some of the implicit baggage that we carry with us as we think about how to really put all these things into regular practice. And, yes, the punchline is that Agile is a great way to do this. It is a practical, inclusive, easy to grasp framework about how to create reliable innovation, reliable value through innovative new ideas.

In this video, Alex explains how putting innovation into practice is important for organizations. As you watch the video, think about how your organization and/or team can more successfully drive innovation.

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