I'm afraid this post is going to read like enterprise-grade Chicken Soup for the Soul, but I'm going to write it anyway, because I'm hoping to capture what has been a really great lesson from my current work.
I am currently leading a proof-of-concept to test the delivery of some new capabilities in the firm. Everyone involved (from vendor to stakeholder) is very excited because the solution we hope to deliver doesn't look like anything else available in the market, and addresses some business needs at their very core. However, we have an aggressive time-frame, a tight budget, and a complex operating environment with multiple vendors all working remotely. So, you can imagine there are some challenges there.
Add to that the fact that I work for a pretty sizable company... One that is subject to a lot of regulation and oversight. That makes the company highly risk-averse. That also makes the company put controls in place for just about everything. The enemy of an aggressive schedule is a high degree of governance. So, you can imagine the challenges get magnified in this environment.
These challenges have ranged from the plain ol' frustrating (standard processes are set up for long-term projects and are not conducive to rapid response), to significant (related sets of data have no meaningful integration points), to downright comical (I didn't think I had to specify that a server needed to be plugged in for configuration to take place). Many of the challenges arose because of the urgent nature of our requests. We could have followed all the proper protocols had our timeline been four times as long.
It would have been easy to turtle our heads back in and say, "We just can't do it in the time allotted to our initiative." It also would have been easy to just assume that making people angry was the price of getting something done quickly in that environment. However, I think the wise thing to do is to recognize the opportunities that are inherent in creating an environment conducive to similar efforts.
While our initiative may have been one of the first to ask for special dispensation when it came to established processes, I'm pretty confident we won't be the last. In this day and age, if you're not developing new capabilities with a sense of urgency, you're going to be left behind.
As a result, it's incumbent upon our initiative to think about ways to speed up some of the processes that have slowed our initiative down. I think we need to look to gain efficiencies not only in our future efforts, but the efforts of others as well. There are a couple areas of greatest impact where you should be looking for opportunities...
The first area to explore is where do others, not directly related to your initiative, end up being on your critical path. While they may be great people who really want to help you, they're dealing with processes and governance and possibly 3rd parties that may not be as excited about (or even familiar with) what you are trying to do. For us, this mainly manifested itself when dealing with IT and infrastructure, but it could have just as easily been staffing, or subcontractors, or draconian governance...
The trick is to get control into the hands of the team. And the core team need to be people with skin in the game. You can't have a situation where each issue that's raised is met with, "I'll reach out to some people and see what I can make happen." Giving direct control of the environment as well as the day-to-day flow of work to the team will allow them to make necessary adjustment quickly.
Another area where our progress was slowed was where we were trying to get access for our team members to potentially sensitive information. Given our aggressive schedule, we were discovering the need for new types of information as we went along. Getting access to that information required one-off negotiations for each piece of information with regard to specific team members.
If these negotiations had been bundled, the process would have been faster. It would be even better if we could negotiate access rights for each team member, then let the respective information access fall where it may. Specifically, if we could have negotiated some level of clearance for each team member, we could have used our autonomy to assign access rights to specific information for that team member.
The trick is to create an autonomous bubble in which your team can operate . If you can negotiate access to the data based on the security of that bubble and then get clearance for team members to gain access to that bubble, your team can be a lot more autonomous and agile in the way it approaches delivering new capabilities.
Skunkworks have fallen out of vogue, and with good reason - it is too easy for completely self-contained bubbles to fall out of strategic alignment. However, at the pace innovation is happening today, it is a mistake to handcuff the teams that are exploring the bleeding edge with processes meant to minimize risk. By giving your rapid development teams the autonomy to make decisions for themselves about day-to-day activities and freeing them from the process of negotiating for elements critical to progress, you open them to discover the capabilities that will propel your enterprise into the future.