New ventures are completely focused on innovation by developing new products and solutions that create value for a growing customer base. As the successful venture grows, its priority often shifts to excellence in execution with a focus on sales, margins and growth. It becomes very good at doing what it has always done and not so good at nurturing the next new product or innovation that may come along.
This shift in priority and culture often becomes apparent as the work in the organization is thought of as projects to be managed. Each project is defined by setting an objective to be achieved within time and budget constraints. Detailed plans of tasks, timelines, and expected budgets are developed to ensure the work follows a defined path and pace. Unfortunately, anytime a project begins with a detailed project plan, it is unlikely that much new or innovative is going to happen. By planning everything in advance, a well-defined path and low risk approach are usually selected, leaving no room to explore new or creative solutions along the way.
Fostering Innovation in an Established Organization
Achieving innovation in an established organization must follow a different path. Writing about quality systems in “Out of the Crisis”, W. Edwards Deming wrote about his belief that workers inherently wanted to do good, high quality work but often the systems and processes they were given did not allow this to happen. Similarly, in the right environment, people are inherently innovative. Organizations just need to provide the right environment, culture, and tools to encourage innovation.
When embarking on a new project where something new and creative is desired, don’t start by having the team create a detailed project plan. Instead, set a direction and provide time and support for experimentation and learning. Focus on creating value for internal and external stakeholders and not project management metrics.
People are innovative, organizations are not – these are certainly generalities but any organization can create an environment supportive of innovation by following a different path and betting on the innovative spirit of its people.