Productive Agitation: Shaking Up IT

If you think the past 18 months have been tough, then get ready for your toughest challenge yet. As business comes back to life, companies will have to meet the growing demand for productivity and innovation.

In an era of enterprise risk analysis and mitigation, companies tend to run away from disruption. However, IT departments that deliver the greatest innovation and drive value where business process meets technology will do the polar opposite.

Adopting a management philosophy that incorporates productive agitation is a pathway to success. When agitation is introduced productively, it represents a foundation for future innovation and significant breakthroughs. Whether creating products, delivering services or serving back-office functions, IT organizations that employ focused disruption thrive.

Take Apple, for example. Steve Jobs did not stop after developing the Apple II computer in 1977. Instead, he aggressively responded to the demand for simplified personal computing and fueled a company that innovated better than any other computer manufacturer. By creating the Macintosh, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad, Apple disrupted the personal computing, music and wireless phone industries.

To help you introduce and sustain productive agitation, here are five steps that will push innovation and transform the way your IT organization delivers value to the business:

1. Establish the boundaries of the system that needs disrupting. Define the area of your IT operation that needs to be disrupted. Is it the entire department or just one group, such as R&D? A good place to start is an area that has fallen into complacency. Regardless of the entity considered, the point is to encourage innovation within an organizational boundary?a scope that can be identified.

2. Choose an ambitious outcome. Choosing a large, ambitious outcome fosters productive agitation, especially when it is unclear whether that outcome can be reached. Doing this can motivate employees and management to undertake an overwhelmingly large challenge.

LG Electronics is an excellent example. This up-and-coming mobile phone maker recently announced its intention to unseat rival Samsung by 2012. Only time will tell whether it can meet that goal, but the organization has been stimulated by this ambitious pursuit.

3. Assemble a team with a charter and the necessary authority to realize the outcome. To realize an ambitious outcome, you need to assemble a team of high performers who can work through unstructured and ambiguous projects while still maintaining focus on key goals. Be sure this team is made up of individuals with diverse experience and expertise. Members of the team should challenge one another and bring layered thinking and insight to the table.

4. Create and publicize short-term supporting goals. A system may also be nudged toward success by publicizing short-term supporting goals. This approach, commonly referred to as ?reverse engineering,? involves identifying the primary goals and then establishing smaller steps that must be completed along the way.

Publicizing these supporting goals makes the team members accountable to one another, to management and to all company stakeholders. This level of accountability provides enough productive agitation to incite action in the team members.

5. Sponsor events that force collaboration and integration, and that perturb the team. One of the most effective ways to move a team to action is to have a forum at which ideas, recommendations and designs can be presented to peers and management. Putting people on stage in front of others and asking them to provide suggestions or share their ideas represents the ultimate accountability.

This is especially true in IT, where the team has an impact on virtually every aspect of the organization?whether it?s researching and developing the next iPhone or figuring out how to streamline back-office operations. Creating events that force collaboration and dialogue and that move people to action is instrumental in accomplishing an ambitious outcome.

Productive agitation can transform any organization, especially IT where its involvement is instrumental in making leaps toward process efficiencies, product/service delivery and cost reduction. With the right amount of disruptive genius, the sky?s the limit.

Charlie Moss is the founder of the Moss Group, a strategic advisory firm that specializes in building high-performing organizations by making complex processes straightforward.