“You need to create more islands of excellence.” Bloomberg Businessweek, November 29th.
This 2010 article was talking about special economic zones in India. How building an enclave for business with lower taxes, less government bureaucracy and better infrastructure (roads, utilities, etc.) helps those within the enclave excel, even as the rest of the country may be economically challenged. The article goes on to say that China used the economic zone approach to gain spectacular results for its industries.
What does this have to do with project management? Well, we do the same kind of thing when helping to isolate pockets of excellence from the rest of the organization. Allowing new ideas and approaches to percolate unmolested from the overall hubub of the company can help these innovations take flight while minimizing unintended barriers.
The pocket of excellence might be a project that cuts across the organization or it might be just a team. In any event, we give them the breathing room to do things a little different than the rest of the organization. The breathing room might be simply “benign neglect” — let them go and hope something good comes from it — or it might be something more organized such as Six Sigma managed projects. I will comment that in my years of experience, the “benign neglect” worked more consistently than an over controlling Six Sigma infrastructure.
I will argue that these islands of excellence work well, in economies or in companies, because it is all about giving people the space and resources they need to do well. As project managers, we often look at our tasks as objects to be directed and managed. Sometimes, giving space is about giving less direction and having less control. We want to maintain an overall strategy, but allow a project or team the ability to innovate as appropriate.
As we plan and manage our projects (or even our organization or company) allow for pockets and islands of excellence (or innovation). These can help grow teams and seed innovation while still resulting in successful projects. These seeds can help our project or organization to flourish and do well, even if the company is currently struggling to find its own way forward. Sometimes a flower blooms on a withered limb and leads the way to an all new and successful outcome.
What are you doing to help islands of excellence bloom in your project or organization?