Building a sustainable culture of innovation
This is the second piece in a series of 12 monthly blogs by Phuah Aik Chong, Astro Chief Technology Officer
This month, I’d like to talk about a hot topic – innovation. From governments to large organisations, everyone seems to be fascinated by how we can be better at innovating as fast or better than the startups that are disrupting traditional industries.
At Astro, we’re also not immune to the innovation bug. But instead of bolting off with an innovation team that’s separated from the rest of the business, we are taking a longer-term approach to fostering a sustainable culture of innovation that is business driven. The question that is often asked is - is there a magic solution to innovation?
Our view is that it takes sustained effort and commitment by leadership and the teams working on the ground. For example, Amazon and GE have taken a holistic approach to successfully fostering a culture of innovation in their organisation. Broadly, they focus on enabling everyone to understand and practice lean principles, creating an environment where anyone can experiment (and fail sometimes!) and have the patience to appreciate that change will take time.
In Astro, we are also taking this approach to build our culture of innovation. With assistance from AWS Professional Services, we will focus our efforts on three areas over the next two years:
- Re:think the way we work
- Re:skill our employees
- Re:imagine the Astro offerings of tomorrow
Traditional product creation normally involves complex business cases, tight and lengthy requirement gathering and a waterfall development model. It’s no wonder that many new products took a long time to reach the customers and many failed to resonate with them when using this approach (HBR study).
To a degree we are guilty of this as well, which is why we are investing in really understanding our customers through personas, developing new ways of working, leveraging Lean methodology and introducing a lighter set of approval processes - e.g. simplified business case, stage gate reviews, running experiments and building Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).
We are also simplifying and removing our internal processes to ensure they don’t restrict innovation from taking place at a much faster pace. We wanted to place the controls in the hands of our talents and for them to be able to make judgement calls instead of having processes to determine what we should and should not do.
We encourage everyone in the company to be enablers and to be willing to take charge to make things happen, instead of trying to behave like a gatekeeper or hide behind processes.
At the heart of our organisation is the people. This is why, as the leadership team, we have already begun developing internal capabilities by training more than 1,000 Astro employees over the next year through our Certified Innovator Program. This multi-level program will enable participating staff to start at level one to understand the fundamentals of innovation @ Astro and progress up to the highest levels where experienced Astro innovators will become the coaches, thought leaders, and practitioners that will continue to guide Astro on our innovation journey.
We believe innovation happens at all levels, the majority will happen across what we do on a day-to-day basis, and yes sometimes through some “aha” moments we may get some disruptive ideas. Hopefully, later in the year, when we have built enough foundation and momentum internally, we will start experiencing more “aha” moments! Externally, through our Corporate Ventures team, we are now more active in engaging the community to learn and foster ideas that are happening outside of Astro. Internally, we will be providing a way to fund and accelerate ideas that come from our talents and partners.
Learnings and successes, so far
In 5 months we’ve built quite a bit of momentum and excitement in making Astro a more lean and innovative culture. A few early successes include:
- The Certified Innovator Program is running with 175 graduates already (including our Group CEO)
- We’ve built a program to support experimentation across the entire organisation
- Launched an Astro-wide idea contest that is based on everything we’ve experienced so far
And of course, it is not all smooth sailing and we’ve learned a few things along the way:
- It is “east meets west” - both teams (Astro and AWS Professional Services) have to re-adjust their expectations and style of working
- It requires purpose and practice – no science experiments! While the Certified Innovator Program has been very popular, we’ve been sure to encourage and reinforce these learnings in daily practical work
- Innovation begins and ends with people – successful innovation is the result of being people-focused. Hiring and developing the right talent and fostering a culture of creativity and experimentation are just two ways to give our innovation efforts a boost.
- It requires bravery and patience – not every experiment has been successful. Learning what will work has included some trial and error. For instance, early on we experimented (with AWS assistance) on running meetings using Amazon’s narrative format. The experiments showed that this wasn’t an effective approach to streamlining our meetings, at least not at this time.
Expect a lot more experiments and learnings in this phase – no one has ever said innovation is easy!
Click here to read Blog #1 – Astro is just getting warmed up!