Five Minutes with Wayne Montague

Discover the keys to product and service innovation based on 20 years of experience at Fortune 500 firms

Wayne Montague is an expert in innovation. 

For more than 20 years, Montague, an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Engineering, helped lead product and service innovation for Fortune 500 firms and across a variety of global industries, including financial services, technology, manufacturing, aerospace, retail/food service, healthcare, environmental services, and transportation.

Wayne Montague

Montague began his career at Accenture, where he led large-scale systems integration, change management and enterprise software development projects. From there he went to McDonald’s, where he helped launch the McDonald’s Innovation Center, a worldwide hub for product and process innovations deployed in 33,000 restaurants across 120 countries.  Since 2007, he has been an Innovation Strategy consultant focused on business model innovation and IT technology enablers. 

Montague teaches Managing IT Development & Innovation within the Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program. He also graduated from the program in 2000. 

Montague took time to talk about the qualities of successful innovators, his role in launching the McDonald’s Innovation Center and what students can learn from his course and the MSIT program.

You've interacted with innovators across all types of industries. Do you see any common personal characteristics among the more successful ones?

The more successful innovators have to be able to put up with an awful lot of resistance. If you are somebody who is uncomfortable with being out of the center, you won’t make it as an innovator in a corporate environment. Resistance to change is natural and pervasive in a lot of big organizations. So, you have to have tough skin. 

Innovators also tend to be passionate about customers and solving customer problems, which can be a different perspective than a lot of corporate leadership who are more focused on maximizing offerings for financial return.

Lastly, people in general tend to either be Delivery-driven “left brain” thinkers or Discovery-driven “right brain” thinkers. To be a good innovator, you have to be good at both.

How did the McDonald's Innovation Center come to be, and why did you view it as an important asset for the organization?

I joined a small team of people charged with creating a new manufacturing model for a McDonalds restaurant. When the company first launched in 1955 and for the next few decades, the model that worked was pre-making much of the food and then storing it in holding bins. Customers loved the ease and speed of getting their food. In the 1980s, 90s and certainly in the 2000s, the U.S. market wanted more choice. Customers began ordering custom meals at a very high rate: millions of custom orders per day. 

In order to solve the problem, we made the decision to focus on customer and crew pain points with the existing service and order fulfillment systems.  Therefore, we needed our own space — somewhere outside of the office where we could frame the problem in a three-dimensional way. We needed a large space to build rapid prototypes and minimum viable product (MVP) solutions. We needed a space to innovate.

We ended up getting a 5,000 square-foot warehouse in Darien, Ill., that became the original Innovation Center. Today, the McDonald’s Innovation Center is in Romeoville, Ill., and it is ten times the size of the original facility.

What do you enjoy most about being involved with the MSIT program?

I love the students. They really challenge me to stay ahead. Their insight, thinking and desire to improve is really exhilarating to me.

What is the biggest concept that you hope students take away from your Managing Technology Development in Innovation course?

I try to tie together some of the engineering that they know with how business model innovation works and how innovators and entrepreneurs think. If they can understand that and do IT well, they’ll be very successful in leading IT and contributing to the growth of the business.  If their dream is to be an entrepreneur, they will have an excellent set of tools and skills that increase the odds for success in the long run.

How do you think the MSIT program differentiates itself from other competitor programs?

There are a lot of MBA programs that have IT as an emphasis. This is the opposite. This program is all about IT engineering with an additional focus on business. That’s a fundamental difference.

This program is excellent for somebody with a number of years of experience. For me, I had 15 years of experience before going through the program. It was an introduction, or reintroduction, to fundamental IT tech concepts for me, and that’s critical for tech leaders. Students in the program are able to spend the time they need to understand the engineering for a lot of things on which they’re ultimately making business decisions.

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