Being Open for Business in these Challenging Times

Rachel Reinitz
Mar 23, 2020 · 7 min read

In this challenging time, the Garage is Open for Business. We’d like to share our best practices on being nimble and pivoting to meet changing customers’ and employees’ needs when teams are working remotely. While remote working is not our first choice — co-location for co-creation and innovation is a core practice for the IBM Garage — sometimes you simply can’t be co-located. How do you, your company, your team, and you personally achieve strong innovation, collaboration, communication, productivity and get creative to stay open for business?

Our advice is based on our IBM Garage experiences working with clients collaboratively to define, design, and rapidly deliver innovation and modernization projects. We co-create with clients using modern tools and new ways of working. Just as we are advising you to adapt, we are amplifying our remote delivery practices to effectively continue to collaborate with clients to go rapidly from idea to production code. We have a proven track record innovating with our clients — IBM Garage has just been named one of ‘The 10 most innovative enterprise companies of 2020’ by Fast Company.

We have codified and shared our expertise, which is publicly available.

  • The IBM Garage Method for Cloud has practice articles, free of charge, which provide guidance for the full lifecycle of an application and for transforming how work is done using Design Thinking, Lean Startup and modern IT practices.
  • IBM is temporarily opening up free access to everything on our Enterprise Design Thinking site. This provides actionable guidance through training and tools to get your team in the mindset of human-centered innovation, even when everyone is suddenly remote.
  • The IBM Garage is available to co-create with clients of all sizes to remotely guide them as they adopt these practices.
Working from Home

Be Human-centered in all that you do

Use empathy for your employees, partners, and customers to guide your priorities, policies, actions, and innovation. Be sensitive to the diversity of your team. Your midlife employees may be juggling care for children and elderly parents. Your new hires may be fighting boredom and feeling the pangs of social isolation. For example, in each Garage, we are holding video standups for team communication and we are holding ‘ask me anything’ sessions with our worldwide leaders.

Focusing on empathy for your customers can lead you to creative ideas to address their needs and keep your business open: adding drive-up pickup to a store, providing real-time status of wait times at a store controlling flow into their store, a new app to track, or new ChatBot to answer questions on insurance coverage.

We HIGHLY recommend reading this blog from the IBM Design team on ‘How to maintain a human-centered focus in a fully remote world’. They share IBM’s experience applying human-centered practices that enable our large, globally-dispersed teams to build effective remote and distributed cultures and support co-creating of delightful user experiences that result in business impact both at our own enterprise and for our clients.

In the Garage, our starting point is to use Enterprise Design Thinking practices to define the business opportunity, develop empathy maps for target end-users, generate big ideas, and then narrow down to what application we can build rapidly to test the idea and start bringing value to the end-users. Of course, you don’t get business value until the app is developed and in production. Embracing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach and applying the latest technologies and DevOps practices, you can deliver innovative apps that delight your end-users rapidly — in weeks to a couple of months. Check out the Enterprise Design Thinking site (all content has been made temporarily free, including education) and Garage Methodology practice articles ‘Understand users through empathy maps’ and ‘Create a Minimum Viable Product’.

Focus on business priorities and set metrics

Be deliberate in setting your priorities and metrics for your employees. Adjust not only for people being out sick but also for them having interruptions at home and providing care to others. And for teammates who for whatever reason simply can’t perform all of their work from home, consider having them spend the time using online resources on updating key skills.

Put a focus on innovation to address the challenges facing your business and your customers. Tap into your employees for innovation. Consider reprioritizing and accelerating projects to address your challenges. For example, in the Garage, we have adapted our Design Thinking and Architecture Workshops to deliver them remotely. One adaption is that we schedule the workshops in chunks that work for each client’s unique situation.

Challenge some of your ‘norms’. This blog from Robert Barron, a Garage service management and operations leader, explains how to set up and use a Virtual War Room and this series of blogs explains the use of ChatOps.

Equipment and Tools

Evaluate and respond to what is needed for employees to effectively work remotely. A few things to consider:

  • What devices do people have? Do you need to buy more of them? Do you need to implement or expand ‘Bring You Own Device’ support?
  • Acquire and expand the use of team collaboration tools: Slack, video conferencing, project trackers, shared document storage and editing, etc….
  • Evaluate moving IT development to a public cloud, accelerating the use of public cloud services, and increasing automation.

How well your team is equipped to work from home will impact their productivity, and also everyone’s frustration levels. You can hear people’s annoyance when they try to do video conferencing and there is insufficient internet bandwidth. Should you provide wifi or pay for cell phone data plans?

As always, keep a focus on network security. Employees will use a variety of tools when working remotely — sanctioned and non-sanctioned — and may violate policies without realizing it. Reiterate to your employees what is allowed and not allowed.

We also find a bit of humor can be helpful as well.

Establish company and team rituals/practices/policies

There is a wide range of practices to consider, much of it should be done at a team level and a few across wider organizational units.

  • How are your organization's policies and business priorities being communicated? Especially as they are adjusted or changed.
  • What hours are your team working? How flexible do you want to be?
  • How is status being reported and shared?
  • How are business emergencies going to be handled?

Deliberate, organized, and frequent communication is critical to providing a sense of control and leadership, even if what you communicate is understood to be changing. Employees want to hear from their local and corporate leaders.

We find frequent — often daily — remote ‘standups’ to be very effective for team collaboration. Typically, standups include what has been accomplished, what are you working on next, and particularly critical are what blockers do you need help with. We also frequently ‘Run playbacks to gather feedback’ with our sponsors to ensure we are in sync on priorities.

Challenge your ideas about what can be done remotely

Challenge your company’s and own ideas about what work can be done remotely and what value you can deliver to your customers. Perhaps it is more than you think!

This could mean creating new delivery models or offerings. For example, a karate school in China started delivering video classes for people at home. For example, in financial services some innovative ideas could be:

  • Can tax preparation be done with video and secure document transfer?
  • Could a mortgage be closed with digital document signing?
  • Parents who want kids to earn money doing extra chores, is there an app/game a bank could provide to help them … and build customer loyalty?

Even ‘out there’ ideas are worth assessing both in terms of the value they might provide and the difficulty of implementation.

Learn and adjust — continuously

As you make plans and adjustments for working from home, measuring and reflecting on what is working, what needs improvement and then make adjustments based on the learnings. Build in collecting objective and subjective data that can be used both for ongoing adjustments and for later analysis about the overall effectiveness of remote working. We highly recommend the ‘Hold a Retrospective’ practice focused on getting a whole team’s input on what is working well and what isn’t working and can be done virtually with collaboration tools such as Mural or a shared Box note.

To try new business offerings, look to lean startup / minimum viable product/hypotheses approaches for inspiration. You can get new applications and offerings to your customers faster than you think — focus on what is the minimum you can build to start providing value to end-users and test whether the idea fills their needs. Check out ‘Fail fast and learn fast’, ‘Hypotheses’ and The Lean Startup Methodology for more information.

In this very challenging time, address your customers’ needs and your employees’ needs with focus, empathy, innovation, rituals, tools, and most of all a continuous learning approach. The practices we have talked about and many more supporting rapid innovation are available publicly at IBM Garage Method for Cloud. The IBM Garage team is happy to guide the adoption of these practices and the rapid delivery of innovative applications. If you are interested in learning more, check the IBM Garage Method for Cloud site for a new webinar series on our practices.

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