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November 27, 2005

How to discourage innovation: measure everything

(title borrowed from Idea Festival) Of all the quotes that I came across in my exploration that started at Rod Boothby's Rigid Process can Kill Innovation post on his Innovation Creators blog,  my favorite is this: "process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity."  (From Ross Mayfield's essay: The End of Process).  Mayfield says:

Because of constant change in our environment, processes are outdated the immediately after they are designed. The 90s business process re-engineering model intended to introduce change, but was driven by experts which simply delivered another set of frozen processes.

The discussion is about innovation, and running an innovative organization.  Boothby addresses the balance between necessary process and empowering standards.

I think it is important to note that a structured environment for supporting innovation, with some process for sharing information and ideas is fine - but those standards are standards of interaction - they are not standards of thought and not standards for what innovative solutions are built

He goes on to reference work by Harvard Business School's  Michael Tushman and  Wharton's Mary Benner  that show how process management programs discourage innovation.  

Process management can drag organizations down and dampen innovation. "In the appropriate setting, process management activities can help companies improve efficiency, but the risk is that you misapply these programs, in particular in areas where people are supposed to be innovative," notes Benner. "Brand new technologies to produce products that don't exist are difficult to measure. This kind of innovation may be crowded out when you focus too much on processes you can measure."

As someone who runs an innovative software development organization, I can attest to the challenge of maintaining balance.  You need enough process to keep the business running, but overall, the innovation comes from highly  talented, informed people working in a relatively process-free environment.  A former boss and mentor recently showed me the body of work her small, innovative team is doing at her new job.  The services and architecture being deployed online are dramatically impacting the entire business of a major institution with over 20,000 employees.  Her comment says it all:

The reason we can do this because we minimize process.

The other lesson to that success is about loose coupling between enterprise applications. I'll be talking about that in my talk at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management in Boston this week. More to come on that...

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