Finding the best implementation strategies for new ideas
I am still on the topic of innovation implementation (execution).
Execution in organisations is a complicated matter. Many of the topics I focused on were related to the “softer” issues like culture, matching thinkers and doers, the balance between thinking and doing, and so forth.
Organisations have to contemplate these matters and have a strategy to grow the culture of execution, but the “hard” things of execution are just as important. By “hard” things, I refer to the practical matters of getting ideas implemented.
These activities will be different for different ideas that have to be implemented. Implementing an idea to save paper on printing will be different from implementing a new factory layout. But in general, most ideas – big or small – involve the following undertakings: planning what exactly to do; obtaining resources (time, money, people, equipment); communicating with affected parties (people who will be impacted by the idea, people who will have to do the work); doing the actual work, tracking progress, correcting mistakes (things will go wrong); deciding when the implementation will be complete, and handing over to operations (the innovation becomes “business as usual”).
The “size” of these undertakings will be different for different ideas. So let me use the examples given above to illustrate my point briefly.
The “small” paper saving innovation work like this: Much paper is wasted because people print documents, and then they never go and fetch it at the printer. The solution involves that people have to walk to the printer and put in a uniquely assigned pin code at the printer – and only then will the document be printed, and the person will be at the printer to collect it.
The “big” innovation involves moving conveyor belts and equipment to facilitate a new factory layout that will increase production efficiencies and reduce waste. Both of these examples were actual innovations in organisations.
For the small innovation, the activities involve figuring out the settings that need to change on the printer; assignment of the unique pin codes to users; deciding how it will be communicated to the staff that uses the printer; testing if the solution works, and going “live” with it.
Resources and the actual work to be done involve the IT technician’s time to change the printer settings and generate the pin codes, and the time and activities of the person who will send the email to communicate the new arrangement and assign the pin codes. Once the settings on the printer are applied, the implementation is complete, and people will only get their printouts if they enter their pin codes at the printer.
For the big innovation, the activities involve drafting the new layout; sourcing the equipment and the manpower to install it; scheduling a production “shutdown” to facilitate the installation of the new layout; communicating the changes to staff; training personnel to use the new equipment, and doing a “test” run. The implementation is complete once normal manufacturing commences on the new layout.
These are two examples of idea implementation on the opposites of the spectrum. The small innovation involves few activities and resources and can probably be completed in two days. The big innovation involves lots of planning, costly resources and would probably take three to six months to complete.
So what’s the point you may ask?
Over and over again, I have seen how organisations over-complicate a simple innovation like the example of the “small innovation” above by having only one way of implementing innovations. It usually involves completing several official forms and getting many permissions and involve many stakeholders e.g., Finance (who have to decide if funding is available), HR (to deal with the change management aspects), Operations (to document the new process), etc.
I think that Project Management practices are partly to blame for this state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for proper project management principles when dealing with large, complex, and costly projects, and there are reasons why project management disciplines were developed to such an extent. But, organisations do not have to follow the same implementation routine for every single idea (change) that has to be executed.
I am not saying that everybody must now go rogue and start implementing left right and centre without due diligence. I am promulgating different “routes” for different ideas. If it is low risk, cheap to implement, and quick benefits can be realized, don’t kill implementation with formalities, paperwork, and mandates. For example, have a process in place where a single manager can approve ideas below a certain financial limit and projected impact, or have a pool of money available for actioning small ideas without jumping through all the hoops to get funding, or have a few key people assigned to authorize ideas quickly so that approval can happen without going from committee to committee.
I will continue with the “best route for an idea” discussion next time, by looking at more ways on how ideas can get fast-tracked in organisations.
I conclude with a quote from Richie Norton: “If you end your day feeling like you got nothing done, it’s because you weren’t working: you were busy, not productive”.
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