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The Need for Speed in IT Innovation

October 26, 2016 No Comments

Featured article by Roald Kruit, Co-Founder and Head of Digital Execution Practice at Mendix

The pace of change and innovation is speeding up every day as technology continues to radically transform businesses. This rate of change is like nothing before. When the telephone was invented, it took 75 years for it reach 100 million users. However, Instagram accomplished that in just two years.

To stay competitive in this digital age, you need to be able to bring new ideas to the market in a matter of weeks, or even days. Projects that take months or years to complete could be obsolete by time they come to fruition.

IT teams need to reduce the time between innovative ideas and the digital applications they embody. The key is making each step in the application lifecycle as fast and seamless as possible. Following are a number of ways IT teams can minimize time to market.

Ideate

Traditionally, when pursuing a new idea, IT needs to pull together a well thought out business case justifying the necessary budget for the project. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult task as it’s challenging to accurately predict the outcome of digital applications. Therefore, it can take months just to build an approved business case.

In order to speed up this process, companies should have a dedicated budget and phased approach to managing their digital projects. By defining success and budget guidelines for each stage, companies can keep the cost and risk of exploring new ideas to a minimum, while eliminating the red tape that can prevent great ideas from taking off.

Design

To speed up time to market, it’s important to kick off projects by working toward a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as quickly as possible. It can take anywhere from months to a year to write upfront specifications that are likely subject to change down the road. To shrink the design phase to just a couple of days, focus on two key deliverables.

The first is a one- to two-page document outlining the high-level goals of the project. This document is meant to be a guide that keeps the project on track without slowing down the development process.

Second, a kickoff workshop that brings the whole team together, from developers to business execs. During this meeting, the team would be wise to write the first set of user stories together based on the one pager mentioned above.

Build

It’s important to continue the momentum throughout the development process in order to bring your MVP to market as quickly as possible. This can be achieved by using visual model-driven development, which applies a higher level of abstraction and automation than 3GL programming languages. This enables more efficient build and change cycles. On top of that, visual models create a common language that allows business and IT to collaborate more effectively, which can reduce the number of feedback cycles.

As teams mature, they can add a layer of reusability on top of model-driven development that further reduces time to market. For example, LV= Insurance developed a starter-kit with all the required components to kick-start new projects that they published in their internal app store. LV=’s approach reduced new product introductions from 18 to three months. Through reusability, they were able to shrink time to market even further to just three weeks.

Deploy

With such efficient design and build phases in place, rapid deployment becomes a critical path. All too often, large organizations, in particular, can speed through development only to wait months for hardware, bringing the project to a jarring halt.

The deploy quickly, IT should consider using cloud or private cloud capabilities for instant provisioning and deployment of applications. Instant deployment allows for easy sharing of prototypes during development, seamless staging across the DTAP cycle and continuous delivery as you iterate on your MVP. In the private cloud, everything is designed for sharing and reuse, automated provisioning, scalability and maintenance.

Iterate

It’s important for teams to communicate to the business that this new approach means they’ll deliver an MVP and then frequent, ongoing releases. IT and businesses need to overcome the perception that users have to jam all feature requests in or else wait for the next annual release. With this model, that just isn’t the case anymore. By trying to implement too many features at once, your MVP will become bloated and time to market will ultimately suffer.

At the same time, you need to ensure the right processes and tools are in place to cope with all the user feedback that will flow from the release of the MVP. This is where DevOps practices can tie in, as it’s important for the team to cope with continuous, incremental change.

Move Quickly, Even If You Don’t Get There First

It’s important to remember that there is a difference between rapid time to market and being the first to market. Sure, there are advantages to being first, but often it’s just as important to react quickly to competitive threats and advancements in order to maintain market share. More than ever, speed is essential to remaining competitive in today’s digital world. While some of these capabilities are at odds with the traditional IT mandate of efficiency and reliability, they will ultimately allow for fast innovation and improved productivity.

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