April 23, 2004

CIO Top 10 Drivers for Innovation

CIO.com once again offers great advice in "The Top 10 Drivers for Innovation" in which CIO Executive Council* members offer up their own ways of fostering an innovative culture. There are indeed some wonderful gems in here. Given my extensive technology and business management consulting experience, I can't help but comment on two of the most common issues I've seen in the legal market:

The first one listed is one which many legal organizations would be wise to heed: Delegate the firefighting. I've seen this firefighting issue time and time again, and it's challenging for management to understand: Your best people are often the "go to" gurus to whom everyone runs when there's a problem. While they are an important resource for others, the constant urgent interruptions reduce their effectiveness considerably. In the typical law firm scenario, what do you think will win for attention, the longer-term project work or the litigation crisis for the trial or deposition tomorrow? It's a no-brainer: Project work takes a back seat every time. Upper management then wonders and usually complains about why IT projects are always late, overhyped, underdelivered, and overbudget.

Thus I really like the use of appropriate cross-training to push the necessary knowledge downstream. The relatively small investment now frees up the project worker long-term to keep your projects on schedule and within budget. If you can't spare the training time now, how do you expect the guru to have time to handle all of the urgent interruptions? Constantly switching gears between firefighting and project work is a recipe for reduced productivity, frustration, burnout, and escalating cost variances for organizations. If you hire good people (and if you aren't, there's something seriously wrong), pay attention to their workflow suggestions and implement them the best you can -- they're often in a much better position to know what works and what doesn't.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing drivers is Tighten the Purse Strings. This one should have definite appeal to the ultra-conservative, cost-conscious legal market. "'Constraint breeds innovation,' says Clarke [Dave Clarke, VP and CTO at the American Red Cross]. 'It's very tempting, when money and resources flow freely, to stick with tried and true solutions. When money and resources are constrained, you have to find new and creative ways to solve problems.'"

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Recent years have forced firms to do more with less. Some of the most creative solutions I've worked on or seen firsthand were practically held together by electronic bubblegum and string. Their simplicity was the tipping point -- due to the lack of all of the expensive bells and whistles, regular folks could actually use it (even the MBA in the FedEx commercial ;^). Implementation time was often less, because it was either a new use for existing technology, or a down-and-dirty setup, and in some cases, both.

However, I offer a caution with this driver: Be careful and creative where you tighten the strings. Pinching off a critical path could backfire, like pinching an artery or nerve. Many firms have already cut the fat, yet the problems remain. Why? Take a good look to see if people are hyper-busy but aren't hyper-productive. This is often an indicator that there are inefficiencies in the underlying work structure which need to be examined and addressed before cutting off resources. Look for the bottlenecks in the workload and overall process, and redesign them where necessary and appropriate.

Again, the remainder of the article is highly recommended as an insightful quick read for anyone interested in fostering an innovative culture -- which should be all of us.

[*From the article: "The CIO Executive Council is a professional organization for CIOs. Its mission is to leverage the strengths of a large coalition of CIOs for the purpose of achieving change within our organizations and shaping the framework for the future of IT. For more information about the Council, go to www.cioexecutivecouncil.com."]

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard
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