Technology Innovation Process

A lot of teams that I’ve worked on and with get hung up when thinking about defining requirements for “migration projects” and “system upgrades.” There’s some intangible barrier to being market focused when it comes to improving existing internal systems. Every new product represents a solution to an existing problem. Why do so many projects move forward with teams that are blind to the actual requirements?

New Products

Even “revolutionary” products like the iPod are just addressing existing market problems. Part of what makes this statement true is looking at things from a market perspective – thinking about the valuable problems that people are willing to pay to solve. Even if the iPod were the first mp3 player (it wasn’t), it would still only be an improvement. The first mp3 player was not new, it provided an improved way to listen to your music on the go. You could put your whole music library in your pocket. Much better than a stack of cassettes melting in the glove box of your car, or a tape getting caught on your keys and unraveled when you pull it out of your backpack.

What’s important, and difficult (especially for people with technology backgrounds), is to think about it in terms of what people are trying to accomplish – not how they are trying to accomplish it. In a business process view, it is the difference between process (why) and procedure (how).

There’s a continuum of migration projects, ranging from completely new to identical processes. Neither extreme technically exists – think of it as a range from infinite change in the existing process to 1 / (infinite change) in the existing process.

Software Migration Project Continuum

Near the “completely new process” / infinite change end of the spectrum are processes that are completely new to you. Remember, you’re solving a problem, perhaps in a very innovative way, that people are already solving some other way. You’re just providing a better solution approach.

Near the identical process end of the spectrum are projects that are “pin-compatible” platform migrations and near-sighted legacy system migrations. Moving from an old gas-guzzling car to a new, more efficient model is a good example. I mention “near sighted” because that old system was designed to meet an old set of market needs, so the new system will, by definition, not meet current market needs – it will only meet the old market needs. Pragmatically, when considering organizational change, it may make sense to do your system upgrade in two stages: migrate the systems (“nearly identical process”) and deal with all the gotchas of migration first, then start re-engineering the processes and optimizing the procedures to address new market needs (major and minor process changes, respectively) second.