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The Agile Approach to Innovation – Why it worked in Michigan – Part 2

Becoming an innovator doesn’t happen overnight, you need strong support from your leaders, an ability to take risks and budgetary support. Michigan’s CIO David Behen and CTO Rod Davenport know all about implementing innovation. They recently been named as Government Technology’s Top 25 in Technology for their work in Michigan.

In part one of our discussion we talked about the hard truths of implementing a new state-wide IT system. (Check out the recap). In part two, Behen and Davenport told Chris Dorobek why innovation is key.

How Important is it to be Innovative?

“I believe now if you look around more people have smartphones then desktops. So we know where the road is going and we need to adjust so we can provide world class service to our clients. Obviously that service will come through the innovative use of technology,” said Behen.

Role of Mobility?

“Mobile apps and smartphones will fundamentally change how we provide services to citizens. We have to change because I guarantee our children will not tolerate standing in line or the old way of doing business. We need to be innovative with technology to allow them to want to work for government,” said Behen.

Public Buildings are a thing of the Past

“The old model set up buildings and asked the public to come to us, for drivers licenses etc. That goes against customer service 101. We need to take the services to our customers and the technology is there now to do it. The difficult part will bee the change management piece, but that’s where strong leaders play a part,” said Behen.

The Fear of Change

“A friend of mine once said he is always onboard with change as long as it is for the better. That’s impossible. So if you can take an incremental approach to change, make it safe for people to fail in ways that teach – failing forward – you can make it a learning opportunity. You can actually learn things from failing that get you closer to the final destination,” said Davenport.

Agile Changes

“Instead of taking a big bang approach to change, if you embed change into the culture or the fabric of the way you do things then people will become more accustomed to it and change becomes much less frightening. Change then becomes a way to approach how to solve problems. The root of it is to really try to pull some of the negative emotions out of change while still leaving that sense of positive discovery to make a feedback loop that keeps people motivated and moving in the right direction,” said Davenport.

Moving Past an Aversion to Risk

“It’s hard for our employees who have been here for a long time to adjust to risk. It is difficult for them to think about taking risks. But we need to take risks if we are going to be innovative in government. So we need to change the message of risk. Instead of getting tarred and feathered when you make a mistake we need to support it. That change in mindset will take time. The days when the public service was a nobel profession are gone, but we need to get them back,” said Behen.

Leadership is the Key to Everything

“I view leadership as the facilitated discussion of the unknown. I think it is important to chart a course as a leader, but it is also important to be open to feedback from smart people with diverse backgrounds. It is less about a dictator model and more of a shared convergence,” said Davenport.

“A good leader needs to be a leader, manager and coach,” said Behen.

Check out part 1 of our interview with Behen and Davenport here.

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