Innovation

I found an interesting blog entry a while back while using Zite and posted it to Pocket for later review.  It’s later now so I thought I would read it.

You can’t impose a culture of innovation” was written by Jeffrey Phillips and talks about the difficulty of changing the direction of an organization to embrace innovation as opposed to what it is probably built for:  efficiency.

While the article was designed and written for private-sector organizations and not public sector organizations such as ours, many of the concepts behind the article remain completely valid.  For example, in the case of the Government of Alberta, the purpose of the government has remained relatively constant for the past 100 years and will continue to remain constant for the next 100 years.  Around the edges things change and the focus of the energy of the government may change, but fundamentally it still is required to do certain things.  As a result of this structure and as a result of the requirement to audit the heck out of everything, a certain organization structure has been fostered and a certain culture has been created.

What Jeffrey Phillips is talking about in his article is the fact that you cannot turn the organization on a dime and say “We are now innovative.”  It takes time.  It can take a lot of time because of the momentum that drives an organization forward, the factors that have been driving the organization, are not the same that are needed by innovation.

I don’t agree with his first point with regard to a long term change in innovation (you’ll have to read the article for more details) as I believe that you should not penalize people for being in a position where innovation is difficult, impossible, or based on factors outside of their control.  One thing, however, that did strike home, however, was with regard to defining “standards”.

Define a method that people can use, learn and become experts in.  Rather than every man for himself, using any tool or framework, define and reinforce a small set of tools and workflow so that people can increase their knowledge and expertise.

An organization that uses every “tool of the day” that comes out will soon realize that while they may have had short term gains, they have long term pains.

Have you ever wondered why we don’t make a lot of changes to DeCo?  We want a single process, not ten processes, that should be followed.  Ever wondered why we don’t like people making changes to the process templates in Team Foundation Server?  Because our workers go from project to project if every project had their own way of doing things then they would start at ground zero, all over again.

Innovation is not about allowing ten different projects to use eleven different issue tracking systems, it’s about implementing one system that benefits the organization.  Some people have said that having standards constrains their ability to be innovate.  On the contrary, having standards eliminates a number of things that you would need to worry about and allow you to more fully engage in being innovate in areas that matter. 

Standards allow you to focus your innovation.  Perhaps changing the standard is what is innovative, but if that happens the standard needs to change for everyone, not just a single project.  We have too many projects that have followed too many standards and implemented too many “one of” projects for this to be a sustainable process.

Ten years ago I hated standards.  Now I don’t see how we can do our work without them.