Driving IT Innovation at Textron

Driving IT Innovation at Textron

When Diane Schwarz became CIO of Textron in 2013, the company had a Chairman’s Award for innovation which focused on product and services innovation, but it had no awards for innovation in IT. As part of a drive toward instilling a culture of innovation in her IT organization, Schwarz created a number of new programs.

The CIO’s Award for IT Innovation

“Cessna’s work on a mobile app was our first winner,” says Schwarz. “When our engineers prep an aircraft for its first flight, they need to perform hundreds of checks, a process that generates reams of paper. Cessna’s IT team developed a mobile app to capture those items and resolve them online.”

Rather than announce the new award program and then wait months for the IT team to complete projects and submit them, Schwarz asked attendees at her annual IT leadership event to discuss success stories. “We asked senior members of our IT team to get up and talk about the cool things they’ve done,” she says. “We then used those stories as our first pool of submissions; we selected the Cessna mobile app and presented it as our first CIO’s Award for Innovation.”


Once a year, Schwarz convenes her top 100 leaders (out of a total global IT organization of 700) for leadership development and training. Last year, she initiated Kaleidoscope teams, where seven to eight people work together on an innovative idea. “We tell the teams to go and solve a Textron problem,” says Schwarz. “We ask them to work together on an innovative solution to improve our services and products.”

From Schwarz’s quarterly newsletter: Say the word Kaleidoscope among our IT community, and most of us associate that with innovation. It’s true that the initiative was designed to provide IT employees with a forum to present innovative ideas, but the scope of Kaleidoscope is much larger. It’s also about factoring in the viability of the idea, considering time-to-market details and demonstrating how valuable the solution would be to the business.

The teams each present their solution at the annual IT leadership conference to a council of business unit CIOs. “We assign the teams carefully because we want our people to collaborate with staff they don’t typically work with,” says Schwarz. “Not only do they increase their networks, they also play a role that they don’t normally play and learn something new about a business or a technology.” Schwarz and her business unit CIOs then introduce the Kaleidoscope teams to the business leader who could most benefit from the idea.

One team, for example, proposed a “how-to” collaboration portal for Textron’s intranet. Employees with questions about changing 401K deductions or getting a replacement security badge could go online and find employee-generated responses.

“We presented the ‘how-to’ idea to Textron’s VP of Communications,” says Schwarz. “She liked it, and Textron has just launched a communities-of-interest program on our intranet. This is a great example of how Kaleidoscope has impacted real operations.”

Another Kaleidoscope team created a mobile app for Greenlee, a Textron business that provides tools for electricians. The app would allow Greenlee customers to calculate force and friction estimates to determine how to calibrate the Greenlee cable pulling tool. The Kaleidoscope team delivered a fully functioning app for $13,000. The solution is now being implemented at Greenlee.

“The Kaleidoscope team could have gotten up and demo’d the app,” says Schwarz, “but instead they wrote a country song and performed it. They had the whole room singing. In addition to having fun, they highlighted that when you roll out an IT service, you need think about your media plan and how you entice users and get their attention.”

Schwarz gives each team six weeks to work on their idea before they present them at the IT annual conference. “We intentionally give them tight timelines, because it forces them to be agile,” she says. “We want them to learn to balance innovation with their day-to-day operational work.”

Kaleidoscope for entry-level staff and for interns

Once Schwarz saw how effective the Kaleidoscope program was for her senior leaders, she created a similar program for entry-level people, and yet another program for interns, which includes interns from both IT and finance. “Just as we did with the senior group, we made sure the junior teams included people across business units, functions and locations who might not normally work together,” says Schwarz. “They get the benefit of networking and they learn how to work in a corporate setting. If you are a junior in college, you don’t know how to use calendaring tools to manage scheduling conflicts across time zones. They learn these skills by working on these teams.”

Lesson learned: Keep it small

“With the CIO’s Award and three different levels of Kaleidoscope, we took on a lot,” says Schwarz. “And I’ve had a huge number of requests from people who are not entry-level staff, interns, or senior leaders who would also like to be on a team.” That’s a lot of innovation.

As a result of all of this ideation, Schwarz is starting to see some duplication of ideas and a limit to how much innovation Textron’s business can handle. “When it comes to the stakeholders who need to absorb these ideas, there is a limit how much we can do,” she says. “There are times when it is appropriate for me to play in their sandbox, but there are times when I need to be careful.”

So, Schwarz is now taking the best of her innovation programs and paring them down. To reduce some volume, for example, she is considering holding nominations for the Kaleidoscope teams rather than having every attendee participant.

Schwarz’s advice on running innovation programs

Design-in the benefits. “Think carefully about the benefits you want from the program and design those in at the beginning,” says Schwarz. At Textron, Schwarz wanted her teams to be innovative, but she also wanted them to benefit from new networks. “We wanted our people to learn to collaboration with different functions and with our teams in India, Germany and Japan. The Kaleidoscope program is helping to pull our North American people out of their comfort zone.”

Don’t overdo it. “You have to make it special,” says Schwarz. “If we had a Kaleidoscope program every week, no one would be that enthusiastic about participating. But because I have them as annual events, we have great participation.”

About Diane Schwarz and Textron

Diane Schwarz is the vice president and chief information officer for Textron Inc., including Textron Information Services (TIS). Her responsibilities include managing the business unit chief information officers and directing the day-to-day activities of TIS including managing TIS executive staff members. She oversees Textron’s Information Management Council and manages Textron’s information technology supplier and outsourcing relationships.

In her previous position, Schwarz was VP & CIO of Textron Systems where she consolidated the company’s technology footprint and enhanced the customer service provided by the information services function. She joined Textron in 2007 as the director of information technology services and support for Bell Helicopter. In the five years that followed, her responsibilities at Bell Helicopter broadened into areas encompassing business application technologies and special projects focused on modernizing technology systems.

Prior to joining Textron, Schwarz was VP of information services at Sonitrol and held other technology leadership positions at Honeywell, Ultrak and Steelcase. She holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Martha Heller is President of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm, and author of The CIO Paradox:Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership. Follow Martha on twitter: @marthaheller.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.