How Leaders Can Make Software Development Innovation A Priority

The UK technology sector has a rich history of innovation and technical capability. Statista data on global software industry revenue between 2016 to 2021 found that the UK demonstrates major growth. It is estimated that the UK software market generated $23.7bn in revenues in 2019, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.7% between 2015 and 2019.

Despite the UK software development industry thriving, UK software developers are lagging behind other major competitors in terms of innovation. 

This article will explore how senior technology leaders can make software development innovation a priority and enable software developers to take risk while being productive.

UK Software Developers Are Risk-Averse

The UK software development industry is thriving. CircleCI, a continuous integration continuous deployment (CI/CD) automated tool, recently released a report observing that British software developers deliver code at a faster rate than their peers in other developed countries.

TechRepublic, SMEWeb and other publications reported on the data collected by CircleCI from software developers in 44,000 organisations worldwide, measuring success rate, throughput, mean time to recovery, and duration. CircleCI’s data showed that UK software developers are 19 per cent more efficient than peers in France and 35 per cent more than their German counterparts.

Although UK software developers are among the most productive globally, they are more risk-averse than their peers in other developed countries. This conservatism manifests itself in a greater reluctance to take chances with new code. This can indicate that British developers are not innovating at the same rate as other countries. 

Nicholas Mills, CircleCI EMEA GM, explained to TechRepublic

A ‘success rate’ measure, which assumes failures in testing to be a signal of innovative risk-taking, shows the UK delivering successful code 95% of the time, compared to 83% in the US, and a global average of just 61%. CircleCI said this indicated that UK developers were more risk-averse and less likely to approach projects with a ‘fail fast’ mentality.”

According to CircleCI’s report, UK organisations are innovating at a lower rate than European and North American competitors. Nicholas Mills said to SMEWeb, “In software development, failure is a sign of innovation. But in Britain, a 95 per cent success rate indicate that teams are not taking chances with their code. We would expect the figure to be much closer to the global median of 61%. Why? Teams that are experimenting and trying new things will sometimes fail.”

UK developers are not approaching projects with a level of failure factored in. This low failure rate in the UK does not mean that British software developers lack the skills to be more innovative. Senior managers want their development to have high qualitative outputs; however, not factoring room for software development innovation can negatively impact an organisation in the long term. 

This lack of prioritisation indicates that internal organisational factors contribute to an environment that deprives developers of opportunities to innovate.

What Are The Factors Making British Software Developers Risk-Averse?

Promoting innovation is an essential factor in helping businesses remain competitive. At the most fundamental level, large and smaller enterprises must be capable of adapting to rapid industry changes by innovating. 

However, innovation is not a priority of some organisations and, in most cases, is challenging for businesses to execute due to market shifts and rapidly changing technological trends. Here we will explore some of the challenges and barriers hindering organisations from being more innovative.

1. Organisational aversion to experimentation and failure

Organisations recognise that innovation is beneficial in terms of reducing cost, improving productivity and making competitive progress to remain relevant to industry peers.  

However, not all organisations are open to experimentation and failure associated with it. 

According to a 2020 report by The Talent Enterprise and the Global Innovation Management Institute, 3 per cent of risk-averse organisations are seen as very innovative, whereas 41 per cent of organisations open to risk are considered as very innovative. The report further highlighted those risk-averse organisations that do not prioritise innovation appear to be less proficient at analysing risk. 

2. Organisational culture not fostering innovation

As organisations are not open to the risk pertaining to innovation, their development culture can foster an environment that hinders software development capacity to innovate. This means that software development cultures do not facilitate a mindset that is open to the activities of experimenting and failing nor contributes time for innovative projects. 

CIO.com reported on a new book from Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review, offering insights on how to cultivate a culture of innovation that stated innovation has become critical for survival. It states that IT leaders must facilitate a shift in mindset at their organisation to allow and even embrace a certain amount of risk.

3. Organisations do not have the capacity to innovate

Another factor that hinders innovation and contributes to software developers’ aversion to risk is insufficient talent and an organisation’s ability to innovate. 

A shortage of software developers remains widely reported; it contributes to businesses not undertaking a certain amount of risk. According to the IDC, reported on by Openasapp in 2020, the lack of IT skills will incur losses worldwide, totalling $390 billion annually. This lack is reflected in the vast number of unfilled vacancies across the globe. This is further highlighted by Computing.co.uk, reporting that 20 per cent of software development positions across UK government departments remain unfilled.

This shortage makes it a significant challenge for senior technology leaders to focus on software development capabilities on innovating and taking more risk. A Digital Transformation Readiness Survey by DevOps and Appian observed that 82 per cent of organisations find it challenging to attract and retain quality software developers who have the right skills needed to sustain the business with innovative technology.

How Can Organisations Enable UK Developers To Take Risk While Being More Productive?

An essential software development goal for senior technology leaders is to minimise costs and improve productivity. Software development goals must produce new features by taking advantage of technology advancements. They need to ensure that the organisation’s products and services can rapidly respond to market changes.

To successfully achieve software development goals, senior managers must identify, assess, prioritise, and manage all of the major risks associated with projects. Provide employees with the necessary information, tools and skills to enable them to innovate.

A change in how organisations address failure facilitated by shifting cultural view towards a “concept of learning” is essential to helping software developers learn and improve their skills set. Environments that allow developers to work on projects with failure factored in can approach risk-taking with a shift towards rapid learning, iteration and adaptation

According to an analysis by McKinsey on fueling business performance, organisations that enable software teams to experiment, fail, and learn in a safe environment see consistently better results. It fosters an environment that encourages better knowledge sharing, collaboration and continuous improvement. 

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