3 Steps CIOs Can Take To Make Innovation Happen For Their IT Department

by drjim on March 20, 2012

You never can tell where innovation will show up…

You never can tell where innovation will show up…

“Be more innovative” – how many times has your CEO told you that? Although being innovative isn’t really part of the definition of information technology, CIOs still want their IT department to always be ahead of what their internal customers want. We’d like to be able to have our IT staff be solving problems that our customers might not even know that they have. However, it turns out that in the IT sector, being innovative is very hard to do. Good news – I’ve got three ways that a CIO can capture some of that innovation stuff and apply it to their IT department.

Ignite The Entrepreneur Spirit

Making innovation happen within an IT department is all about getting the individual members of the department to start to think in different ways. What can get overlooked all too often by CIOs is that this kind of thinking requires time.

In order to allow innovative thinking to occur, you need to free up your IT department to spend time thinking in innovative ways. Lots of companies such as Google and 3M have formalized programs to do this. They allocate a percentage of their staff’s time (ranging from 15% to 20%) to work on project of their own choosing.

You may not be able to let your IT department free up that much of their time; however, any time that you can allow them to use to work on projects of their own choosing can only help to drive innovation. Simply showing your commitment to allowing them to be innovative will sometimes be enough to light the spark of innovation.

It’s All About Words

Just exactly where does an innovation start? We’d like to think that it first shows up as a flash of insight in the mind of a solitary worker. However, more than often it really gets its start as the result of a conversation between two workers. Someone says something that gets the other person thinking and things take off from there.

As a CIO, you need to figure out a way to make sure that these types of conversations happen more often. One of the best sources for innovation causing conversations is when members of your IT department talk with people from different departments.

Depending on the size and the layout of your company, it can be difficult to set things up so that these types of conversations occur. However, thanks to online tools such as web sites and knowledge repositories, members of different departments can interact and share ideas.

You’re Not Like Me

Finally, people who are similar to other people have very little to say to each other – they already know what the other person is thinking. As a CIO, you need to make sure that the IT department doesn’t find itself in this kind of rut.

One way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is to make sure that the people who are in the IT department are diverse. They may all look the same, but you want them to have different ways of looking at the world and different ways of thinking.

Reaching outside of the company to get in contact with teams that have different jobs or different outlooks can also help. Hospital emergency room teams have talked with racing team pit crews in order to better understand how more can be done in less time. Your IT department could probably talk with a team from another industry to gain similar insights.

What All Of This Means For You

Every CIO would like their IT department to be more innovative because it’s a great way to show the importance of information technology, but exactly how to go about making this happen is something that too many of us struggle with. It turns out that it’s not hard to do once you know how.

Three different ways to make innovation happen for your IT department include diving deep and really getting to know how your IT department’s customers are using your services. You can build on this information and create probe projects that try out innovative new ideas with the expectation that most will fail, but all will produce good learning opportunities. Finally, you can tap into the power of your in-house staff: put their minds to work on how your IT department’s products and services can be more innovative.

Everything is possible, the trick is in finding out how to make it happen for your product. Take the time to investigate these three suggestions and see if you can use them to add some innovation to your IT department’s products and services in order to make them even more successful!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to free up your IT department’s time to be innovative while still making sure that they completed the work that needs to be done?

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