Friday 22 July 2011

Why don't we invent more?

I sat in on a conference call today (actually I'm still on it!) where we talked a lot about innovation - specifically why we haven't done more of it.  Lots of different stories but the common theme seemed to be governance.

When I say governance I mean things like roadmaps, product councils, architectural oversight, PMO, etc.  Basically the constructs we've set up to steer our technology investments and spend our resources wisely.  Properly applied, they are critical to the success of any significant engineering endeavour.  Improperly applied they are critical to the failure of any significant engineering endeavour!  So are they being properly applied to invention and experimentation?

I don't think it is a case of proper application as much as it is a case of application at all.  I think any engineer has two jobs; serve the roadmap - build the applications and systems defined and managed by our governance processes - and serve the technology - discover new ways of solving our business problems, advance your own knowledge by experimenting, come up with new ideas and see if they fly.  If you're only doing the former then you're only doing half your job.

These are two very distinct types of activity and they shouldn't be governed by the same controls.  It just makes no sense to apply ROI and risk controls and rigid scheduling to a journey of discovery with a totally unknown destination.  The difference between teams who innovate and teams who just talk about it is recognising the immense value in the journey alone...

Besides, you don't need all that bureaucracy.  All you need to be great at this is to leave a space for it to grow and - if you have the right people - it will expand to fill it.  That is how I roll and that is what I want to see.

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