Infusing innovation into the organizational DNA
Ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way as a virus is. But the best thing about this is that you can start positive epidemics of your own.
— Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
With globalization setting in, the world has become much smaller, and today it is just one open market place. The challenge now is to live and thrive in the new world, where the call is for more innovation. Gandhi once said, “We must become the change we want to see.” His words identify with the vital building blocks of our venture on proliferating the innovation culture across the organization. Most organizations roll out enterprise-wide change initiatives at regular intervals to achieve excellence and growth and to tap the maximum potential out of the vast sea of opportunities.
Project management is the engine for transforming vision to outcomes, and there are a host of tools and techniques that make this process more effective. Today, for continued business success, most organizations rely on their projects. Thus, project management has become a fundamental skill for managers around the globe. Most tasks today are broken into specific components, or rather, organized projects, which are unique in nature. These projects are of varying size and duration. While it is easy to roll out new projects in smaller organizations, larger ones, by virtue of their sheer size and complex structure, find it difficult to roll out enterprise-wide initiatives. It is also necessary to visualize the importance of institutionalizing ways of implementing change initiatives faster, better, and cheaper. Statistics of projects worldwide show a significantly increasing trend of failed projects, prematurely closed projects, projects with cost/schedule overrun, and so forth. In spite of improvement, the reality of today's projects is dismal. Only 35% of projects today are successful. This shows a need for a change initiative. This paper presents an innovative solution for delivering successful projects based on cultivating the innovation mindset in the project team.
Innovation is the buzzword today. Innovation, the next competitive differentiator in an increasingly globalized landscape, is applicable to economies, industries, portfolios, programs, projects, and a whole range of initiatives that require execution excellence. It is becoming necessary for the project team to continuously find ways to innovate as a daily imperative. Teams that are focused on trying out innovation do come up with new ways to achieve stakeholder delight, irrespective of what the original contract or project specifications look like. With this in view, it is necessary for the entire project team and performing organization to inculcate a culture of innovation. Innovation, in the context of service companies like ours, is to inject innovation into existing know-how and come up with new ideas, products, processes, or technologies that enable the business to achieve higher margins, more profits to reinvest in the business, and finally, deliver superior business value to customers.
Innovation is not just a break from the standard procedures. It is about changing the mindset. This paper presents a practical approach to successfully infusing the innovation mindset within the associates in an organization. It delivers a practical and innovative framework, encapsulated as “Snowballing,” which is a unique way of achieving meaningful proliferation of a large magnitude. Snowballing is achieved through a chain structure of linked employees covering the entire organization. Implementing change in the form of a chain is a novel concept in change management. This strategy is called “Chainge Management.”
The paper will focus on the project management of building a culture of innovation in any large organization. With this in mind, the Innovation DNA workshop generates the fuel for innovation by providing a platform for brainstorming and group discussions among the participants, as well as executing best practices such as the snowballing methodology to achieve greater reach. The program aims at igniting innovative thinking, instilling confidence in the associates to innovate, and thus foster the culture of innovation across the organization. The participants get exposure to best-in-class market-facing process and product innovations by viewing videos on the same and through case-study methodology. The future is bright and the spirit of innovation prospers in the organizational environment.
Innovation in the Organizational DNA
Success in business doesn't come from feeling comfortable. In today's technology-driven world, business life cycles have accelerated exponentially. The challenge is to keep a step ahead of changing market conditions, new technologies, and human resources issues. Innovation—the ability to define and develop new products and services and deliver them to market—is the fundamental source of value creation in companies and an important enabler of competitive advantage. The key to all this is to infuse the spirit of innovation into the organizational DNA, and as part of this initiative, the iDNA workshop was introduced.
Innovation in the software industry continues at a healthy pace as hundreds of new offerings are launched into the market daily. In a sea of innovation and technology proliferation, innovators need to compete in a maturing, crowded, highly-competitive, and noisy marketplace and need to respond to the ongoing structural change of the industry—with globalization, consolidation, new workforce strategies, and increasing margin erosion all playing a role. We at Satyam believe that innovation doesn't' follow hierarchy. So, the iDNA workshop, a project initiated by Satyam's Innovation Wing, is attended by “Satyamites” across all bands and levels and across all circles. Just in a short span of 6 months, more than 2000 associates have attended the workshop in all Satyam locations across India.
The iDNA workshop is based on an open and collaborative approach to innovation, where the focus is on bringing about a change in the mindset of every individual in the organization. The key to compete in today's difficult, volatile environment is creating a culture of innovation where decision-making is pushed to the lowest levels of the organization. Associates are delighted, since they are empowered and a sense of ownership is built around their idea. This innovative culture helps generate creative thinking, thereby leading to business value generation for the organization. Like any other project, the iDNA sessions can be planned, monitored, and the benefits tracked. The workshop provides a platform for developing the innovative culture within Satyam and helps customers understand Satyam's focus on innovation. The workshop gives the participants a chance to explore and understand the best-in-class market-facing process and product innovations by viewing videos on the same and through case-study methodology, as well as brainstorming and having group discussions on topics related to building innovation. The participants are encouraged to Snowball and are provided with all the necessary support to conduct successful sessions and thus, by using our own resources effectively, the program has greater reach.
The Snowballing effect—a figurative term for a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger, and a highly beneficial system—is the (USP) unique selling point of the iDNA workshop. Using this internal best practice of Snowballing emphasizes that the iDNA workshop is not person-centric and person-dependent. The ball of innovation keeps on rolling across the organization on its own and thus the pervasive culture of innovation is established.
An innovative mindset is an asset to the organization and thus there is a need to extend this asset across the organization in the best possible manner. This means that the innovative mindset has to be proliferated across the organization in a faster, better, and cheaper approach and thus create a win-win situation for the organization.
Chainge Management and Snowballing
The success of a change initiative depends on the implementation part, which is as important as what the change is. Effective implementation of change involves listening to the various “voices” within the organization and to the requirements of a particular situation. The “change strategists” should respond to these factors and translate them while framing the implementation strategy. An effective implementation strategy can not only result in successful achievement of the objective, but also assist in establishing a suitable structure in place for introducing more changes in the future. A planned implementation of change can make it percolate across the organization. The human factor in accepting and adapting to such systems in a smooth way continues to influence the success or failure of well-designed change initiatives. A change in mindset and culture is required to introduce and develop such initiatives in the organization. For the creation of this ecosystem, an innovative methodology called “Snowballing” has been conceived. It has built-in “assurances” for the successful rollout of the project.
The question of how to proliferate the innovation mindset is what led to Chainge Management. The concept of Chainge Management is inspired from multi-level network marketing. The first and foremost activity in Chainge Management is to create a chain structure of linked employees who are involved in or are affected by the project. Each fractal of the chain consists of one leader and three others (See Exhibit 1). This is a self replicating unit which can multiply n times. As a multi-level network, the chain starts with a chain-leader. The chain-leader in this case is the change implementer and is facilitated by a change strategist. The chain-leader has the mandate to drive the change to a certain number of associates.
The Chain provides an enabling structure for disseminating any communication required as a part of the rollout. The purpose of each dissemination packet may be tailored to suit the needs of the rollout at various times. This information may need to be re-sent along the chain, as there is continuous evolution of the components of the rollout. Each flow across the chain is called a pass (So we have a forward pass and, in case of a feedback, it flows as a reverse pass.) and each content passed is called a packet.
Exhibit 2 shows a chain that has grown to 6 batches. The potential of Chainge Management can be realized from the fact that with just every employee facilitating only 3 other employees, 1093 employees can be covered within 6 batches. Thus the exponential reach of such a change implementation methodology can be leveraged in large projects. This is the Snowballing methodology—the best way to start a positive epidemic. This implementation strategy is a radical approach because it converts “change recipients” into “change implementers” as the change progresses across the organization.
Snowballing, the rollout plan in a large organization, is an initiative that has made tremendous positive impact across various geographies. The initiative set out with a series of workshops for associates across various locations, with an aim to bring about a paradigm shift in innovation culture. Under the Snowballing methodology, the associates who attended the iDNA workshop were required to disseminate the learning to at least three other associates, and the cycle continues.
As shown in the Exhibit 3, consider that an organization wants to reach about 10,000 associates in 45 days. If the nature of change is such that a batch time of five days is sufficient for associates to undergo the training and practice the new learnings, then the organization can refer the illustration as a suggested model. Even with every associate facilitating only three other associates and with one operational chain, the organization can cover 9,841 associates.
The iDNA program aims at introducing a Certification Program on Innovation to ensure that innovation is absorbed in its true sense by every associate, which will guarantee success to the associate, to the project, to the organization as a whole.
Challenges in Implementing Snowballing
There are some common challenges during the implementation of any such initiative in the organization. Perhaps the most common ones are inertia, resistance, and mis-specification. Apart from these, lack of training, participation, feedback mechanisms, and management support are most detrimental to a Snowballing initiative.
Apart from the above challenges, the following are more problems that most firms experience when introducing such activities in their organization:
- The time- and mind-share of the employees. They need to participate in the enterprise-wide rollout while carrying on with their normal business of customer requirements.
- Lack of structure and documentation of activities, lack of provision to visualize uncertainties.
- Need to effectively disseminate to all employees as and when the content itself undergoes changes (with the feedback from implementation). Managing this iterative evolution in real time, as part of a process, is a challenge.
- Need to identify a matching technology (suited to local conditions) to enable and sustain the proliferation.
- Need to conceptualize a tracking approach to assess and influence the proliferation rate (in real time).
Any new initiative needs to operate at the organizational and individual levels if it is to be successful. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to create the right organizational attitude by tackling the human factor that comes into play. Involvement of employees at all levels and in all stages of implementation is absolutely necessary. All the employees must have input into the project, and usually, all must re-develop their understanding of the purpose and, most importantly, the benefits of the project.
Characteristics of Ideal Snowballing
Keeping the challenges in mind, an ideal implementation solution should have the following characteristics:
- Distributed leadership—recipients should become implementers, thus nurturing leadership qualities. Involvement of employees across the organization should be present, as this would lead to teambuilding.
- Pre-defined documented structure must exist as this is self-sustaining over the rollout phases.
- Provision for visualizing slippages must be a feature of the methodology.
- Development of a dashboard to track real-time information about progress of initiative must be feasible.
- Potential to cover the entire organization. Should be applicable to 50,000 + employees.
- The methodology should be capable of scaling up by virtue of replication excellence.
- It should be swift to implement by virtue of cutting information, time, and effort.
- The methodology should be transparent and therefore, the expectations from each of the participants should be specified in advance.
- There should be a mechanism to incorporate employee feedback throughout the implementation process.
- The methodology should be self-correcting and self-sustaining, Assured buy-ins because the fractal efficiency) is high and the efforts needed are small.
Critical Success Factors in Chainge Management
The structure of the chain is very simple, even though the end result is scalable to 50,000 employees. However, the task of each employee is simple, as he or she has to interact with only three other employees in the chain. The efforts and time spent by each employee is also less. Maintaining simplicity throughout the process by proper cutting of time and effort increases the success rate.
Identifying the Number of Chains Required Before the Rollout of the Initiative
If the organization has a large number of employee and needs to reach to them quickly, more chains may be required.
Once the chains are established and the change begins to the propagate, the other challenge that surfaces is tracking the snowballing. Since the dissemination grows exponentially, it is important to ensure that it is controlled and tracked regularly. The core team of the initiative should develop a dashboard for senior managers/CEO for tracking the progress.
Creating a Positive Atmosphere
It is natural to expect a category of employees and management to disbelieve and spread negative communication across the organization about the change. The chain, being a group of employees that is exposed to such communication, is susceptible to the message spread by skeptics. This situation can emerge as one of the most critical challenge for the team driving the initiative. The core team should ensure that the chain is protected from external vulnerabilities in such a condition. The core team needs to be alert and do damage control exercises by availing themselves of assistance from the executive sponsor.
Regular communication through newsletters and posters, recognition of achievement, and positive messages from senior managers can be useful tools to maintain integrity and willingness among employees. Appropriate communication at regular intervals, organizing recognition events, and rewards are some ways to maintain employee motivation.
The Snowballing methodology has been validated by applying in the Fixed Bid Project Management (FBPM) initiative in Satyam Computer Services, a leading IT services company for implementing the assurance-based project management concept within the organization. This initiative was to help the project managers and teams in the company to execute fixed-bid projects with a higher degree of maturity and comfort.
This initiative made a positive impact across 22 Business Units Accounts, 1,000 PM's/PL's, four locations (India, U.S., U.K., APAC). The initiative also generated more than 1,000 documented illustrations of applying FBPM, proliferated using the Snowballing methodology, to increase profitability and improve delivery.
Assurances in Snowballing Methodology
Built-in assurances in the Snowballing methodology have various advantages. These have the capability to counter the challenges in implementing the initiative as mentioned earlier.
- The chain is self-replicable and can reach all employees.
- The distributed leadership that results in every change recipient becoming a change implementer
- The chain structure enables cutting the effort and time required, so employees can carry on with their normal business activities.
- The presence of forward pass as well as reverse pass ensures that real-time feedback is incorporated.
- The chain structure is decided and declared well in advance and is transparent, enabling tracking and high predictability.
- The chain structure is self-correcting and can tackle attrition, absence, and other slippages.
- The chain structure is based on an informal mentor-mentee relationship, thus strengthening team spirit.
Changes in business trends have led to continuous innovations by companies to be agile. The changing expectations require a dynamic process in place. This paper shows various challenges to change rollout and presents a simple and practical solution that could serve as a proactive guide to steer through the issues. This is required for assuring the stakeholders that all challenges and opportunities have been addressed in the best possible manner. The key lies in identifying an innovative methodology for implementing a change initiative.
Chainge Management presents a new dimension to implementing change in organizations. It brings a paradigm shift in the employees, where they start embracing the change instead of resisting. The methodology simplifies the complex process of change by involving stakeholders at every stage. The team of change strategists gets the opportunity to look beyond the implementation-related transactional issues and use their intellect to leverage the learnings and build structures that are suitable to support any future change initiative. It caters to the requirement of organizations for implementing change quickly, with minimal investment and a fast ROI. The chain structure supports the project by building the innovation culture across the organization.
The Tipping Point describes how little things can make a huge difference in making ideas and products tip. Our proposition of the idea—Snowballing—is the best way to start a positive epidemic. It is based on the premise that any big change can be triggered by small incidents (supported by a natural or engineered ecosystem), which then can snowball to phenomenal proportions.
This paper also addresses the human factor in this; that is, the mindset with which to address the opportunity. When this kind of framework become a part of the project manager's thought process (DNA), he or she can decide on actions to tackle challenges, help steer the success of projects, and deliver maximum stakeholder value. Thus, Chainge Management and Snowballing are tested and proven practices for infusing innovation into the organizational DNA. Such a technique can ensure that innovation can penetrate to every corner of the organization.
In today's dynamic globalized corporate environment, projects are being executed at a rapid pace. Standing out from the crowd is the need of the hour, and for this, we have to develop a strategic competitive advantage. Organizations that have a specific ongoing program to infuse innovation into the organizational DNA would equip project teams with a mindset for steering projects to success through all the uncertainties and vulnerabilities, and delivering a win-win situation to all stakeholders.
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© 2008, Madhavan S Rao, Avancha Sreenathudu
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia