Need disruptive software innovation...? Put your team on an island!

Mark Panthofer, Vice President - NVISIA Technology Center 

What's going on?
As a software development partner, we have grown very accustom to being onsite and working alongside our clients to lead them through the adoption of emerging software technology to modernize or replatform core business systems, but recently this model has begun to change. A growing number of our clients want to get our combined teams offsite and "put them on an island".  
Why the change?
Over the last 3 years we have observed a profound shift in our client's behavior from evolutionary to revolutionary thinking. Subsequently the emerging software technologies we deliver are no longer looked at as a means to simply modernize core systems (i.e., paving the cowpath), rather they have become the motivation to seek disruptive innovation - radically rethinking their core systems and adjacent business models.  For example, a large textbook publisher saw mobile, cloud, DevOps and real time analytics technologies as a means to significantly improve how students learn. So they built a state of the art adaptive learning platform, proved its effectiveness with students scores/confidence and transformed their business model. (read more... http://www.nvisia.com/tech-center-client-brief-software-product-innovation)
How does it work?
There are many factors in the success of a software product innovation endeavour and not enough time to explore all of them in a short post, but one key success factor appears to be a fresh team in a fresh place to generate fresh thinking inspired by new technology opportunities. This begins from the very start during the ideation stage with the right folks on an island away from their daily routines and distractions. Notice how gloss over "the right folks" as I try to avoid a thesis on organizational dynamics, but suffice to say you need to add fresh ideas from new perspectives and keep the "that won't work here" crowd on mute as much as possible. 
Typically great leaders start by getting their team on the island and rally the troops with a clear, meaningful team mission. The more inspirational leaders stay away from statements like "we are going to build a widget that generates $10M in annual revenue". Instead they tend to focus on something more meaningful such as "measurably improve the recovery times for post surgical patients with mobile technology". Then, you are not just building software or generating revenue, you are helping sick people get better faster. Establishing this common goal helps to keep the "islanders" moving in the same direction and hopefully provides guidance to reconcile differences that will inevitably arise. 
The "island" concept is so important to the success of our software product innovation teams that we have opened technology centers in downtown Chicago and Milwaukee to make sure we have team collaboration space and the infrastructure to support agile, lean startup techniques including day-1 coding. This represents a significant investment in prime downtown real estate, but getting our client teams on an island to build new things in new ways has become critical to a software product's success. 
Other noteworthy team related concepts include: 
  • Dedicated team members - "all in" and relieved of all non-product related responsibilities 
  • Live together - Open, respectful communication and rules for team starting times time standup meetings
  • Fail together - Lift up and support struggling members because you're all in it together
  • Win together - Celebrate victories as a team
  • Together, together... 
    • Team food - breakfast and lunch onsite
    • Team dinner after long nights
    • Game nights to decompress and bond
Obviously this article highlights the importance of assembling a team and getting them on an island with a common cause, but there are other consideration for software product innovation teams that typically include:
  • Lean startup approach with continuous customer feedback, supported with Agile delivery
  • Don't look at today's mature technology stacks, instead look toward the future for solid emerging technologies as your foundation that will last.
  • DevOps using containers (i.e, Docker) and a CI pipeline with daily QA builds
  • Microservice Architectures for loose coupling and independently deployable units
  • Flexible deployment for cost effective scaling options including cloud, private cloud and on premises
Finally, I leave you with a link to our technology center page that includes case studies of industry leading software platforms we build with our client using an "island" approach.  http://www.nvisia.com/technology-center
This is the original text for the ITA Insghts article posted on 11/29/2016

Topics: Software Development, Agile, Executive Insights, Tech Center

Written by Mark Panthofer

Mark Panthofer is the Vice President overseeing NVISIA's Technology Centers in Chicago and Milwaukee. He started his career with NVISIA in 1996 and spent most of his career in the field as a leader in NVISIA's service delivery organization. After more than 20 years as a computer engineer, he enjoys exploring and applying the latest software technologies as the leader of NVISIA's Technology Center. Mark is also an Accredited Docker Consultant and Instructor.

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