Can CIOs Drive Innovation & Boost Quality At The Same Time?

by drjim on October 5, 2009

How To Capture Innovation Without Going Broke

How To Capture Innovation Without Going Broke

How are you at walking and chewing gum at the same time? It’s sorta a classic challenge – do two different things simultaneously and do them well. CIOs are facing the challenge today – cut costs and simultaneously use IT to make the business more competitive. How hard can that be?

Say Hello To Six Sigma

If you’ve been to a book store recently and looked at any of the books in the business section, you may have been overwhelmed by the number of titles that had the words “Six Sigma” in them. Six Sigma is an approach to business that makes use of constant measurement and analysis in order to continue to optimize business operations.

Dr. Sara Beckman has researched this technique and points out that Six Sigma was invented at Motorola and popularized by Jack Welch at GE. If you apply it to how an IT shop goes about doing its work, it can be a great way to drive out costs and boost quality. However, it will do nothing to drive innovation.

Say Hello To Design Thinking

Design thinking is a new set of skills that are designed to drive innovative thinking. The starting point for design thinking is for solution designers (who else?) to start by focusing on what problems their customers are having on a daily basis. Once they understand the problems, the next step is to consider the wide universe of possible ways to solve these problems.

The Problem

Here in lies the problem. If you go out and talk to today’s CIOs you’ll find that they have generally implemented one of these two different solutions (Six Sigma is more popular because it’s easier to understand and measure).

This causes problems. It is possible to focus too much on driving out costs and then lose your way and not be able to provide the innovation in IT that is needed to keep the business competitive – this is the problem that HP is currently facing.

Likewise, if an IT department is too innovative and doesn’t watch the bottom line closely enough, then they can quickly drive themselves and the company out of business. The dot.com fiasco was a great example of this.

What’s The Correct Solution To This Problem?

You may have already guessed it, but the right way to solve this challenge is for CIOs to take the time to find a way to incorporate both the design thinking and the Six Sigma approaches into their IT departments.

The design thinking technique allows an IT department to find ways to explore new approaches to solving the problems that the business is facing. Six Sigma techniques allow an IT department to find ways to improve how they are currently doing things.

Final Thoughts

CIOs can’t allow their IT departments to become too focused on just one approach or they risk failing. Design thinking tries to find out what a good solution to a problem is while Six Sigma assumes that a solution is good and then goes about trying to make it even better.

CIOs who can find a way to reduce costs while at the same time driving IT innovation will be better at finding ways to apply IT to enable the rest of the company to grow quicker, move faster, and do more.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The times they are changing. Let’s take a moment and have a talk about one of a CIO’s key survival skills: the ability to successfully negotiate office politics. Specifically, if you could only have one best friend, who should it be: the CEO or the CFO?

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