Changing how organizations are managed makes a huge difference in people’s lives, not all the time and I understand most of the time it doesn’t. But when this is done well people can go from dreading going to work to enjoying going to work, not every single day – but most days, and it can change our lives so that most of the time we are doing things that we find valuable and we enjoy instead of just going to work to get a paycheck so we can enjoy the hours that we have away from work.
John Hunter, Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Here are some links where I go into more detail on some of the topics I discuss in the podcast:
Every so often an article appears discussing the need to change focus from process improvement to innovation (and recently they are followed with quite a bit of blog talk). I disagree on several grounds. First you have needed to focus on both all the time. Second, it is not an either or choice. Third, the process of innovation should be improved.
I do not believe process improvement is bad for innovation. Bad process changes can be bad for innovation. But if we are looking at a research and development organization where the output is new products then process improvement would be focused on improving the processes to make that happen. The type of process improvement would be different than those made to manufacturing a product better.
Some six sigma efforts are little more than cost cutting efforts. And those efforts might claim a “process improvement” that is really just cutting costs in R&D. But we should not confuse bad management with the good practice of process improvement. Yes, cutting costs for the sake of cutting costs often leads to problems. Waste should be eliminated (which can reduces cost). Focus on eliminating waste. Eliminating waste in innovation activities is no worse than eliminating it anywhere. It might be more difficult to determine what is waste (that is where management skill and knowledge come into play) but the idea that process improvement (including eliminating waste is bad for innovation is something that should be rejected). And process improvement in innovation should not be limited to eliminating waste.
A good example of process improvement in innovation activities: Fast Cycle Change in Knowledge-Based Organizations (pdf format) by Ian Hau and Ford Calhoun, published by the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement, University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Brin and Page have created a corporate organism that tackles most big projects in small, tightly focused teams, setting them up in an instant and breaking them down weeks later without remorse. “Their view is that there is much greater progress if you have many small teams going out at once,” Schmidt says. The mission overall: to collect “all the world’s information” and make it accessible to everyone. “It’s a cause.”
Hundreds of projects go on at the same time. Most teams throw out new software in six weeks or less and look at how users respond hours later.
Google has advantages in making this work for them (it is easy to find reasons it won’t work elsewhere). However, this is basically piloting changes on a small scale, analyzing the results and repeating that quickly. Quick, frequent experimentation with iteration is a tactic all organizations would benefit from.
The clear visible mission is also helpful. When an organization has an organizing principle everyone can understand then action can be guided by individual aim toward that purpose. When the understanding is missing organizations often have to rely on top down instruction and having far too many issues passed up the hierarchy for a decision.
And getting a small group of people to make things work quickly is also great. Many organizations get bogged down with byzantine management structures that slow action to a crawl.