5 Characteristics of the Innovation Personae

[Guest Post: Paul Boos serves as the software maintenance lead for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).  His team currently uses Kanban and Scrum to maintain the OPP legacy code base.  Prior to that he implemented Scrum as the Branch Chief for the National Development Branch within USDA/Rural Development. Follow him on twitter: @paul_boos]

5 Characteristics of the Innovation Personae:

Creating a Culture for Government Innovation following the Feng Shui

In my prior post I laid out the framework (using Feng Shui) for creating a culture of innovation in the Government.  In this post, I’m going to specifically discuss what characteristics one needs to nurture in the people that are a part of the organization.

Innovation as had previously been defined is the ability to create change, not just adapt to it.  Innovation usually deals with adapting a product or service or creating a whole new product or service.  To do this requires Learning.

I’ll be referencing a few “process” views from Lean Start-Ups as whether they ventures are successful or not, they are generally considered innovative.  Let’s start with the “Lean Circle” as shown in Figure 1.

Here one finds that the blue circles indicate concepts or results form an activity. In established organizations, which would include all Agencies in the US Federal Government with the exception perhaps of the new Financial Consumer Protection watchdog, this will always start with examining existing products or services.

The first activity is Learning

This generates ideas about new products or services or to improve existing ones.  Every activity and product that the organization has done up until this point, whether following the Lean Feedback Circle or not, has been building experience.  Thus not only will one want to nurture learning, but Learning through Experience.  This doesn’t mean that the people in the organization won’t look outside the organization in their learning, but it will have the context of the experiences they have essentially been living.  One should note that this is different than Learning from Experience; that essentially implies that someone could examine case studies or lessons learned and build innovation.  This is less likely to be as effective as those that actually were currently performing work and living the experiences.

Continued experience, particularly around what has been successful in the past, builds-up things that must be Unlearned.

This is a prerequisite to developing new products or services or creating any form of large scale change.  The organization’s people must be nurtured into critical thinking.  To examine this in context, examine the Steve Blank’s Customer Development process for Lean Start-ups in Figure 2.

The important point of portion of this diagram for Unlearning is between the customer discovery (particularly external customers with regards to Federal Government departments and agencies)  and the validation phases and the feedback loop.   The “pivot” is the change that takes place when our hypotheses don’t map to the customer expectation.  A pivot requires rapid Unlearning based on the experiences to date as well as learning.  The current product or service may need to be dramatically altered or even abandoned to meet the needs of our customer(s), continuing down the current path will only continue to produce something less than useful.  (Later steps in this process will be contained in future posts.)

How does one go about doing this ?  By allowing Experimentation!  But experimenting is not natural in large, particularly Government, organizations.  Experiments are controlled by their creators, not management.  Experiments are risky.  Experiments can fail.

As a leader, one must foster the desire by your people to create experiments; these will constitute failures, which of themselves is a learning process.

Helping people learn to experiment appropriately is the ability to not bet the entire organizational mission (or if one prefers budget) on the experiment, but to create small experiments that if they fail allow the organization to quickly learn what won’t and will work in its context.  If leaders don’t nurture Creating Experiments, then the learning that starts with the individual and expands to the organization will be stalled.

The characteristics to be nurtured up until now have been focused on giving individuals freedom to some degree; freedom to learn, unlearn, and experiment.  An additional important characteristic to nurture is one that has a broader reach; Commitment.  People must understand that they need to Make a Commitment to not only themselves, but the team and organization to which they are a part.  It’s the organizational leadership’s responsibility to ensure that this expectation is clear and that folks can articulate the barriers that prevent commitment so that these can be removed.

Lastly, organizational leaders must help their people Maintain Passion in their craft.  Everyone has a passion and it is up to leadership to help them fit that passion into the organization (or if it totally off track help guide them smoothly to a place they can follow their passion, and yes that can be showing them to the door…nicely).

If people are not passionate about their work, then they won’t be interested in any of the other characteristics for long; if the other characteristics can be nurtured, the nurturing most likely won’t be sustainable.

There are five characteristics and when we examine them with respect to the Feng Shui, we find that they create a system or foundation for change, resourcefulness, or adventure.  Looking back on the characteristics: Learning, Unlearning, Experimenting, Committing, and Maintaining Passion one can see that without them, it will be difficult for someone to endure change, be resourceful (since it requires internal strength, not just knowledge), and to take the risk that adventure would demand.

These persona characteristics though do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in a context of a team performing work and an organization.  They are supported by the organizational vision.  In the next post, we’ll explore what makes the team portion tick.

6 Responses to “5 Characteristics of the Innovation Personae”

  1. Micaël Masse
    July 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Nice article!

    I like the part of experimentation, liberty and motivation.
    What is really interesting is that when you give someone the liberty to experiment and coach them to do it properly and show that you care about it, it will automatically motivate people and make them passionate about what they do.

    These experiments are also a good way to really see what processes emerge and seem to work in you context, which is also valid for product requirements. Rapid feedback cost less and give more value in less time which can then open the path for innovation.

    • peter
      July 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      Agreed. Autonomy.

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