September 8, 2012 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Best Practices
Project Culture Stifles Innovation
By Kelly Waters
One of the biggest sources of innovation is technology. Yet organizations often lock their technology people up in projects, just delivering what another group asks for and having no real say about what they should or could develop.
Once committed to, a project must be delivered on time and within budget, as that becomes the only real measure of success for a delivery organization. There is no time for innovation when the sole focus is on delivering the current project.
This is a vicious circle that largely excludes technology people from innovation, when they are the very people most likely to know what is possible.
Another way that project culture stifles innovation is that developers don’t have any real ownership of the end product. They are there to deliver certain tasks or features on a project and then they are gone, on to another project.
If you want product innovation, you need to move away from projects and focus on products.
Contrast a product organization and culture with a project culture. Developers and other technologists have a level of ownership because the product is theirs. They work closely (ideally in the same team) with the product owner and user representatives to determine what should be built. They understand the needs of the users and they are focused on the same goals as the product people, eg growth of the product rather than delivery of a project. A good quality product that is commercially successful and popular with its users is something to be proud of.
Structured like this it is easy to see how a cross-functional team could really be empowered and take full responsibility for delivering the right thing as well as delivering it right.
If they do this by organizing their work into a list of small features in priority order, they can deliver small yet continuous improvements and have the opportunity to change priorities as and when they discover things of a higher value, having already released and realized some value from what has been delivered already.
In an environment like this, we can become less focused on measuring output, and more focused on delivering results. Focusing on value, not only on cost.
Taking time to innovate may improve results, even though it would lower output, but a team aligned with results can afford to do that. No, more than that. A team aligned with results HAS to do that.
When developers in a product team learn about new technologies and new possibilities, they think about how that could be applied to their product. In a project-driven organization, they can’t do that because they are committed to long term delivery of a project and are too busy being busy.
If you really want a fast moving, dynamic organization that is more innovative, faster to market, delivers value earlier, and more responsive to change and customer needs, you need to move away from a project culture and become more focused on delivering value by delivering the products your customers want.
Kelly Waters is Head of Web Solutions for Reed Business Information (UK), the world’s largest business-to-business publisher. By implementing agile development, he has transformed his department of more than 90 people. Prior to joining Reed Business, Kelly was CTO for Glass’s Information Services, Europe’s leading provider of information to the automotive industry, most famous for Glass’s Guide, the UK’s bible for used car prices. Kelly has been in software development for more than 20 years. He is well known as a narrator of agile development principles and practices, as a result of his popular blog ‘All About Agile’ (www.allaboutagile.com). He is also a voluntary business advisor for Young Enterprise, an organisation that helps young people gain valuable business experience through practical projects.