Over the years, software development has seen an “industrialization” evolution, from craftsmanship to a process-oriented culture. Just as the assembly line and mass production transformed manufacturing, new engineering practices and increasingly sophisticated tools transformed software so much that a common metaphor became the “software factory,” as we could build software the way we build cars.

The idea behind the “software factory” was that established processes could specify the product, then design, code, test, fix and deploy it. Good specifications would create good design, good code and good products. Successes would be repeatable, hence the RUP adoption explosion, ISO standards, CMM and CMMi. It was a great evolution from the previous ad hoc model, which had unpredictable results. The criteria for success became “delivery on time, within budget and with high quality” (all just facets of predictability).

IT usage followed a different path during this time: from standardization to individualization. Early on, users had to be content with the standard solutions because they were the best available. Today, everyone can access technology at home, at work and on the go. Users do not follow a single stereotype; there are thousands of personas. Regardless of how much IT wants to standardize, users continue to make personal choices. Power has shifted to the consumer.

As the industry moved toward a “software-factory” model, users progressed toward individualization of choices. Are these two things compatible? As IT professionals, we should reflect on it.

If this model is not compatible with current IT needs, why is it the predominant option? Looking at the industry marching toward mass production while users demand individualization, it’s no surprise that Gartner recently named the lack of innovation the single biggest disappointment of CEOs with outsourcing engagements.

Looking at customers’ (enterprises) needs (IT services) through Abraham Maslow’s lens, we see a pyramid, with “Survival” at the bottom, “Success” in the middle, and “Transformation” at the top (see “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow” for more information).

At the “Survival” level, the provider just needs to meet basic customer expectations to be successful. The IT organization is a cost center, and its goal is to reduce costs.

At the “Success” level, the provider must address the customer’s desires, which go beyond basic expectations but can be understood by asking: “What would you like to have?” or “What would you like me to do for you?”

At the “Transformation” level, a provider addresses unrecognized needs. One must “surprise” the customer. IT is now a source for growth. Working here means seeking self-actualization, as a company and as individuals.

The industry also has a maturity curve. When the industry is new, there are fewer competitors, and meeting basic expectations can yield good results. Once the industry reaches the next phase, the market becomes crowded with many companies providing similar services, and differentiation becomes critical. There is a direct parallel between differentiation and meeting customer desires at the “Success” level.

When the industry becomes more crowded and enters the third stage, the most imaginative providers succeed by meeting unrecognized needs at the “Transformation” peak of the pyramid. This helps explain why so many providers are still trying to meet expectations or explicit desires while their customers are looking for transformative innovation.

You can only create peak experiences for your customers if your employees also enjoy them. If your employees are still concerned with “Survival” needs (i.e., money), they won’t be able to help clients in the “Success” or “Transformation” layers. By creating an environment where employees think beyond survival, finding recognition and meaning, you’ll have a team capable of aspiring to self-actualization. That creates the inspiration to surprise and awe clients.

Many IT professionals have accepted working toward “Survival” too easily. I’m not saying that IT professionals do not earn enough money to work on the upper levels, but with the emphasis on “cold” processes and tools, and on prescriptive specifications, the common motivation is money. Take away inspiration, and you get boredom. When all jobs are similar, individuals jump to the company that offers a dime more. Suddenly, the only places that are fun and exciting to work at are Google, Facebook, Apple or a startup with juicy stock options.

This doesn’t have to be the case. The keys to creating high-performance teams are:
• Recruiting and retaining the best talent
• Building intrinsically motivated teams
• Developing and sustaining a lean mindset from the front line to upper management

The first item is obvious. The second deals with autonomy, mastery and purpose (see “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” for more information), and finding meaning in work. The third refers to the foundation of principles upon which teams will continuously improve, addressing problems in a structured, scientific way, eliminating waste, and learning what brings value to customers.

Turns out, the software development factory brought some useful advances to the industry. It’s time now to go beyond just processes and project management, and to use another metaphor to bring high-performance teams to the picture. You can’t stop at the “Survival” level, or, paradoxically, you may be going straight to death.

Leonardo Mattiazzi is vice president of international business at Ci&T, an IT services company.