Innovation and Growth through Design

Ian Mariano, Director of Technology and Projects, Constructive
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Ian Mariano, Director of Technology and Projects, Constructive

When you’re talking about steps for innovation and growth at a company, you can't ignore culture as part of the equation. A company’s culture defines the context in which it operates, how it is perceived in the wider world and how successful it can be. It can be both an enabler as well as a hindrance at all levels within an organization, and no level is immune. IT Services have long past reached a point where it can no longer be an afterthought to product development and corporate vision with its own silo and mysterious culture. IT Services are an integral part of the modern company and the culture in which it finds and creates for itself is extremely important to the overall effectiveness of a company and its brand. IT Services solve problems and solving problems is the core of design.

"By embracing design values, IT Services has an even more tremendous role to play as part of driving innovation and growth"

A lot has been said and written lately about design-driven culture in organizations. In fact, according to a study by the Design Management Institute, over the past 10 years design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P 500 by 228 percent. Companies like Nike, Apple, IBM, Ford, and Starwood understand that design has tactical, organizational, and strategic value. Carry this understanding inward to the various parts of a company and its relationships and you see that by embracing these design values, IT Services has an even more tremendous role to play as part of driving innovation and growth. It is all part of a design culture maturity model that any company can achieve. While there is no one path to success here, there are a few patterns.

Champion the User

The most over-arching pattern is to always champion your users. What are their needs and goals? What are they trying to accomplish and how are you helping them do that? How are you hindering?

You should be defining “user” in a much broader sense and with more distinction than just a customer interacting with your apps or services. A user can also be a customer talking to a rep on the phone or in person, or even just seeing an ad for your company in print. It could be a potential client, meeting you for the first time, or an existing one further along in the business relationship. They could also be someone inside your organization accessing internal applications, systems, and IRL services.

Technology serves all of this and is part of a broader system of your company that goes way beyond the screen, and technology should not be separate from the user’s experience of it. IT Services has as much opportunity to be a champion of the user experience as any other part of a design-driven company and often has better insight into the possibilities and constraints of what technology can do to serve user’s needs. Sharing your experience and knowledge can only help drive creativity. Foster a culture focusing on the user throughout your organization and everyone benefits.

There are no Islands

Another pattern is that there are no islands in a design-driven company. In working together to solve the needs of your users, it is the connection between teams and individuals where magic can happen. In a recent interview, Phil Schiller (senior VP of worldwide marketing at Apple) said of the various Mac teams, "Today, those teams are not only integrated and designing something together, they’re actually thinking of features that could only exist because of that integration and solving problems that could only be solved because of that unique advantage."

He was talking about the unique capabilities that each team and individual brought to the table, something that does not happen if teams are segregated. In a design-driven company not everyone has to be a “designer” in the traditional sense just like not everyone need be an engineer or analyst - it is the coming together to solve a problem that counts, and on that trip you may be surprised at what you can accomplish.

IT Services should not only be immersed in the collaborative process, it should be thinking about tools and technologies to help nurture and drive collaboration within the company and without. Your customers should always be an integral part of the conversation and giving them the tools to do so will help enrich their experience with your company and brand.

Learn as You Go

You are going to fall down and that is OK. This is a pattern too. You may be going down a path the users won’t follow. Projects and initiatives do fail. This is a good thing as it is part of the process of solving the problem of where you’re going with your users, as a company, and as a team.

Whether a good or bad outcome from a project or initiative, you should always debrief the team to understand what happened and don’t forget to include your customers in the process. IT Services should pull together a team to design and build or customize a way to capture this knowledge and make it readily available to the rest of the company so that everyone benefits. Don’t be afraid to transform your organization as your environment changes, or to change course, or to take a step back and start again.

At the end of the day, we are making products and creating services that people will use. IT Services plays an important role in a design-driven company to achieve this. Championing the user, embracing open collaboration, and codifying and taking to heart lessons learned are a few ways to create a culture from which innovation and growth emerge.

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