Home » Change Management » Why We Need Project Management Islands of Excellence

“You need to create more islands of excellence.” Bloomberg Businessweek, November 29th.

Project Management Islands Of ExcellenceThis 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 hubbub 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?

Thank you for sharing!

3 thoughts on “Why We Need Project Management Islands of Excellence

  1. Bruce Benson says:

    Comments from around the web:

    Mark Bresin • Bruce, This subject that you bring up of “Islands Of Excllence” has prompted me to bring to light how overall management in US has changed in accordance with our manufacturing base has shifted to Asia—primarily China. My last 10 years at Moto were primarily devoted to programs that were launched into production in China and it was obvious that the attention to detail in most R & D functions were significantly lacking, as compared to when we controlled the manufacturing processes within our own US facilities and had total control (and accountability). The business model trend that began about 15 years ago to use Contract Manufacturers in China has been a double edged sword and dramatically changed the requirements for program management. Not to say that the CM’s in China are not capable, but rather, they usually catch the blame for quality and schedule issues that result from stuff that has been “Thrown Over The Wall” by the US teams with expectations that whatever happens are the problems of the CM’s—–at least this has been the overall “Blame Game” that continues today. When we first entered into this Asian Manufacturing (aside from our Malaysian facilities and a few other sites) we were still completing product qualification in US prior to launching in China. Unfortunately, most of the resources in US for support of building products and qualification processes have been eliminated and these functions have been tacked onto the CM’s as well. This whole business model shift has only made Project Mangement increasingly complex.

    Bruce Benson • Mark,
    The good news is that this complexity still needs to be managed. Sometimes we can take a challenging situation and make it work better than it is. While that is not necessarily what a PM is signing up to, it is an opportunity that only comes when things are not going as well as expected.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Mark Bresin • Bruce, I agree. The key issue that I attempted to bring to light is that many PM’s do not have the full understanding and/or skills that are required for dealing with many offshore activities. The overall expectations for program milestones suffer because of this.

    Bruce Benson • Mark,
    But most of us were not experts until we had to take on a challenge like this, and hopefully master it. There is risk during this “learning” but it is probably no greater than other risks we face everyday.

    Josh Kiem • I hadn’t heard the term “throwing it over the wall” in about 20 years. How bad is your management that your culture moves from “Six Sigma in everything we do” to “Islands of Excellence”?

    Mark Bresin • Bruce, I response to your last comments. You elude to the fact that these new opportunities drive people to become EXPERTS. I respectfully disagree with your opinion on this subject. I can assure you that many PM’s have never spent any time in Asia and DO NOT have the required experience required to fully understand the overall issues that drive programs/schedules from the CM’s perspective. Not only are the Cultural and Language differences paramount but CM capabilities in various diciplines are typically taken for granted as unlimited—-and just not accounted for when establishing a critical schedule. EXPERTS ???

    Bruce Benson • Josh, I recall reading a book (something like Megatrends, or In Search of Excellence, etc., ) where the insights were “be like Motorola, not IBM” and looking at things today we would say “Be like IBM, not Motorola.” My point being that companies go through cycles and so as a company hits a low point, encouraging islands of excellence is a good way to survive and nurture the new growth. I’ve worked with and for many companies that have experience the full cycle and it is something we should be prepared to manage.

    Mark – My career took me to Germany for many years and while I was never able to pick up the language, I find that I’m more successful working with German teams, companies and customers than most of my US colleagues. Experience (expertise) comes through … experience, and we all have to start out somewhere. Too often we want “instant” experts when in fact growing our own is just as useful and it is through this kind of growth that any person becomes an expert.

    Good comments. Thanks.


  2. UNLEASHPM says:

    Unleash is an integrated solution for managing projects, collaborative Gantt scheduling, real-time reporting, bug tracking / QA, document management etc. The tool is fast, easy and builds on principles of team empowerment, increased communication, transparency, and collaboration.
    Thanks & Regards

  3. Bruce Benson says:

    Comments from around the web:

    Ajaya Gupta (LION™) • Hi Bruce,

    You have nailed it. I like “allow for pockets and islands of excellence (or innovation).”


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