Friday, May 19, 2006

Innovation

I've been reading a lot about innovation lately. I put it on my PDP (personal development plan) for the year at work, and want to try to do whatever I can to help make my company more money. The thing that I find the most difficult about innovation at work is how closed-minded people are, as noted in "Who Should be part of the Innovation Process" The people who are going to have the best ideas are the people closest to the customers. They are the ones that are going to see what little tweaks can be made to make their lives easier.

For some reason at my company innovation is limited to the supervisors, managers, and IT staff. I love that the IT staff gets to innovate, we sit with the reps and watch them work to find things that we think can make them more efficient. However, it always comes down to "If it didn't happen while I was there, I don't know that we can fix it". I agree that the IT staff has a much better understanding of how difficult something will be to implement, so we have a better immidiate feeling of whether or not the change is worth the cost, but we aren't generating enough change.

I would love to see some kind of innovation policy put into place at work. I've tried several times with the departments that I've supported to make it clear to them that the door is open to any and all suggestions, but I just don't get any suggestions until I stop by, then I'll get told "Oh this has been breaking for a few weeks now". I don't want my groups, or any group , to have to put up with something not working for any amount of time. It's these little annoyances that we want to get cleaned up. These are the things that costs us precious time when dealing with the customers. Here's an example.

I was working on an application recently. While I was using it I was annoyed that after searching for a record a list would return, even if it only found one match. And I couldn't just hit enter to select that record, I had to tab through 15 fields and hit enter, or move my mouse and click. The problem, selecting a record after searching was annoying. That's the only description I had for it. It wasn't slow, I could do it in less than two seconds with the mouse, it was just annoying. I changed the application, completely unsolicited, to set focus to the list immediately after searching. My thought was that most of the time the search would return a correct answer, so we want to make it easier to select that record. It took me 2 minues of coding to take that annoyance away. I was observing the reps working just this week and was thanked by 3 different people for fixing that. This is a little annoying thing that's existed in the application for 5 years, and yet in all that time, not a single person had made a suggestion or requested that it get changed.

Maybe being a computer programmer, with my entire focus on solving problems, makes me recognize things like this more easily. I think however it's more likely that we have supervisors and managers that don't take the complaints of their employees and turn them into potential improvements to the situation. That's the biggest source of my innovation. I find more things to improve by talking to people and listening to them gripe about something than I do by actually watching them work. I just use watching them work as a device to get me to sit at their desk and listen to them complain. Besides, no employee wants to be told "I'm just here to listen to you complain".