“Fortunately for the company, one developer had been building this exact piece of software for over a year.” — Software Development Times, November 1, 2010
How many times have we seen great innovations and leaps in productivity come from downward directed company wide initiatives backed up by a platoon of contractors fanning out training everyone? In my 30+ years? Never. I’m not saying it can’t happen, it is just I’ve never personally seen it nor had direct contact with any company or person who had experienced such an initiative in a clearly successful manner. (For more see: Don’t Get Everyone Project Management Certified.)
How many times have we seen a new jump in productivity or quality come from a small team in the company who have been using something or developing something — often for years? In my case and experience, this has been almost the sole source of real and innovative changes. The innovation always had to be eventually embraced by upper level management to fully mature and provide benefits. However, this was often hard for senior management to do — and many did it too late — and the techniques, methods, or products would had been incubating for usually a significant amount of time before being “discovered.” (For more ways to encourage innovation: Don’t Squash Your Project Management Pockets Of Excellence.)
The downward directed change can work just fine, if we understand how it will probably play out. Too often we expect such an initiative to “suddenly” change our ability to deliver products or projects on time with innovations and quality. More often these downward directed initiatives need just as much time, and a similar small cadre of believers, to incubate and then come back to benefit the organization. (See avoiding other improvement pitfalls in Seven Ways to Make That “Silver Bullet” Work.)
Innovation and creativity often come because the environment allows or encourages it to happen rather than plans for it to happen. For the innovative project manager this “incubation” of future capability rather than only planning based upon a schedule and ROI, while seemingly counter-intuitive, is a project management tool that works.