OCTOBER 29, 2021
Slowing Down to Speed Up the Energy Transition: Unlocking Technology’s Potential to Power Renewables’ Growth
Borrego’s mission is to solve the world’s energy problems by accelerating the adoption of renewable energy. We spend a lot of time thinking about ways we can help our customers develop solar projects smarter, faster and more profitably and software is a huge part of our strategy to do that.
Trying to hit a moving target
Developing software for the renewables industry is a bit like developing solar projects. The conditions are constantly changing — from an unfavorable planning board meeting to an unexpected interconnection upgrade or new module technology that causes you to rework the whole design — no wonder that sometimes it’s the long shot projects that make it to MIPA close before the sure shot ones do. Like our project developers, I have found value in doing due diligence upfront.
And sometimes, you just have to slow down. Our industry moves so fast that slowing down seems like a luxury we cannot afford, especially in a support function like IT. How many times have we told IT to, as Nike’s famous slogan goes, “Just do it”? Just add a “modules sales” type of sale to Salesforce; just buy one more time tracking tool that the star engineer loves, just do it. Action, whether it is hitting the keyboard or pushing the button to buy software, is satisfying, it feels like it will result in a faster outcome and issues can be solved along the way. And isn’t that the point of Agile anyway?
Identifying the problem before jumping into solutions
But the reality is, without slowing down to really understand what problem you are trying to solve, you are almost guaranteed to waste time and money. A “small” request to add a type of sale in Salesforce will result in rework and wasted resources if we fail to understand that aggregating all sales with that new “module sales” type does not give us a true picture because some existing sales types also include module sales. Or buying that new time tracking tool has inadvertently prevented the engineer from leveraging the automated integrations of inputs and outputs that the “standard” tool has, making for a frustrating user experience.
Using the PDCA cycle to support growth
There are patterns available to help technologists and business stakeholders avoid these traps. One we use extensively at Borrego is the PDCA pattern. PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) is an iterative method used to problem solve and manage change. At Borrego, this has been standard practice for most business problems and we are adopting this same approach in technology-related problem solves as well.
The emphasis is on “P” which is the “Plan” phase during which we identify what problem we are trying to solve (“where we are”) and define the future state (“where we want to be”). At this stage, it is helpful to identify success metrics that provide a quantitative answer to the question “how will we know we have gotten there?” We also start to define reasons and gather root causes. Once we have these identified, we are now in a good position to posit countermeasures, things we can do to improve our current state in the direction of our future state.
Implementing countermeasures, at least in the technology context, is done using the Agile framework of two-week sprints with interim deliverables that are tested, reviewed and refined. We think of the sprints as mini-PDCA cycles within the “Do” stage of the larger problem solving PDCA. This stage ends with implementation of the improvement / countermeasure, at which point we enter the “Check” stage — where we need to confirm that the improvement had the desired effect. In this phase, we measure if we moved the success metric in the right direction.
And the final stage is the “Act,” sometimes called the “Adjust,” stage. In this stage, we operationalize successful improvements. In IT, that typically means that we are aiming for close to 100% adoption of the new improvement. We have found that following this process in a disciplined manner helps us avoid the “if you build it,they will come” mentality. We are still at the start of this journey, educating both ourselves and our stakeholders along the way but we have seen several early successes.
Making your technology team your strategic partner
Being responsive to (always) urgent business needs while having the discipline to conduct the PDCA-based due diligence is the fundamental skill that every technologist in our rapidly evolving industry needs to master. It also means that industry professionals need to see technology teams not as order takers but as strategic partners in their growth plan. Our shared commitment to slowing down to consider what problem we are trying to solve before jumping straight to countermeasures will ultimately help us speed up the energy transition to a brighter, greener future.