Innovation process is often mentioned when innovation comes into play. Is it a mistake though? Do process management programmes (TQM, ISO 9000, Six Sigma,…) discourage Innovation? Such is the question posed by Mary J Benner, Assistant Professor of Management at Wharton university of Pennsylvania. Benner is a seasoned specialist in innovation and management and she and fellow researcher Tushman have been studying this subject since 1998.
Innovation process: could nit-picking management stifle innovation?
Lester Craft from Innovate Forum is adding a few comments on this subject too. Craft believes that such programmes can indeed entice companies to go for incremental innovation versus disruptive innovation, and therefore adopt what in essence is a minimalist approach to innovation.
Benner doesn’t deny that corporate process programmes are having positive effects. On the contrary. She is a former GE manager and she must know about six sigma.
In fact, she merely suggests that Managers try and apply these principles in a more appropriate and maybe less systematic manner.
Here is Ross’s piece on innovation process.
The End of Process
“If a knowledge worker has the organization’s information in a social context at their finger tips, and the organization is sufficiently connected to tap experts and form groups instantly to resolve exceptions — is there a role for business process as we know it?
My favorite Clay Shirky quote is “process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity.” That is, there was an exception to process and an expert designed a way for people to work together in one context that should fit all prior contexts. The problem is, the process becomes calcified and accepted as the rule. After all, it’s a rule, and in corporations we follow them, even if it fails us or simply doesn’t make sense. Because of constant change in our environment, processes are outdated the immediately after they are designed.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. Because participants in process are not considered experts in theory, they are empowered to make decisions on their own when something fails.
Organizations are trapped in a spiral of declining innovation led by the false promise of efficiency. Workers are given firm guidelines and are trained to only draw within them. Managers have the false belief engineered process and hoarding information is a substitute for good leadership. Processes fail and silos persist despite dysfunctional matrices. Executives are so far removed from exceptions and objections that all they get are carefully packaged reports of good news and numbers that reveal the bad when it’s too late.
John Seely Brown and John Hagel point out that while 95% of IT investment goes to support business process (to drive down costs), most employee time isn’t spent on process — but exceptions to process. Further, competitive advantage comes from how we innovate in handling exceptions. When something fails, informed and empowered employees turn to their social network. The informal network, or heterarchy, where most business gets done.”