When Tech Hurts - Part 2 (Intentional Innovation)
As a customer success manager, I get to work with contractors from sea to shining sea. These businesses run the gamut in terms of where they are in their innovation journey. A trend that I've noticed about the most tech-mature of these organizations is this: they leave nothing to chance. I would argue that successful innovation at these businesses is less dependent on what a change is. They depend on how change happens. Leaders who innovate with intent understand how rare it is for a great thing to arrive on the wings of chance. No, valuable change is thoughtful work.
In my last article, When Tech Hurts, I talked about tech friction, or when technology makes work that should be easy so difficult. Haphazard innovation can subject employees to tech friction. This can instigate a culture of skepticism around change among those affected by it. This article will expand on three key tenets that one can strive for to follow to prevent tech friction and its consequences.
The Three Tenets of Intentional Innovation
1. Master the Problem
Avoid looking for solutions before understanding what it is that you're solving. An innovator isn't just a mad scientist - they're a doctor conducting a medical diagnosis. They actively listen to their patients describe symptoms, ask probing questions, and collect data to uncover the true problem. Like a physician, do not get too caught up in treating the symptoms while hunting for the cause.
By the way - this tenet isn't the first by accident. Remember Einstein's famous quote:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
Why do we invest in a preconstruction and developing BIMs? It allows us to better understand the problem we need to solve (the construction phase), and therefore make a better solution.
2. Implement Solutions, Not Technology
We've all heard the trifecta before - people, process, technology. The solution to the problems you uncover may involve more than one of these three elements. Point being, don't rush to assign technology as the cure to your business' ailments. I've watched innovation initiative committees map convoluted processes on a 20-foot wall, only to decide "we need Software X to fix this".
For example - What if it takes a week for an invoice to make it from the company's mailbox to a project manager's inbox for approval? Would you introduce invoice approval software, or help develop leaner processes for accounts payable? I've seen businesses go for the latter option without addressing the true bottleneck. Being able to approve 100 invoices in an hour won't help a business pay bills faster if its process supports less than ten percent of that.
3. Be Present
One of the most frustrating things that can happen to someone trying to stay productive is for them to have the tools they're used to working with replaced with little support past an initial training session. You can tell folks to call you when they need help, but let's face it, most construction professionals are more likely to find a quick workaround than to reach out for support. After all, in our beloved industry, there's a stigma around asking for help.
So how does an innovator get their support-averse users to pick up the phone? Be present for your users in the way you might be for a loved one or significant other. Such a presence requires two things: physical proximity, and mental engagement. Are your users in a field location? Take your laptop to their job trailer and just work from there for the day. Simply being on-location will encourage those you serve to ask questions when they otherwise would not have. In fact, spending time with people in this way may also make them more likely to call you when you're not able to be at their job site.
Being present is crucial to implementation because it will help you identify those unintended side-effects. You will find things that you overlooked while analyzing the original problem and planning the solution. You may find that a problem solved for one person is a problem created for another.
Fix More Problems than you Cause
The source for tech friction is simplified to this: technology that you introduce or replace causes more pain for those it impacts than it solves. We're quick to axe an initiative if the return on investment (ROI) calculation doesn't add up. This is fine - but we cannot neglect to consider each user's Return on Effort (ROE).
The tenets described above aren't a magic wand. They're principles to abide by that will help you innovate in a manner that makes that which should be difficult oh so easy. They focus on implementing changes (not just technology) in a way that satisfies ROI and ROE, saving money without damaging your coworkers' work-life quality.