Sunday, November 18, 2007

Innovation Management modeled like the Internet

The Nov 15 issue of CIO magazine interviews Gary Hamel about innovation management. He says that our management skills are mostly tuned for efficiency, and that isn't what we need to focus on any more. Efficiency is about conformity, whereas innovation is about diversity. He also says that what management needs to do now is model the Internet: amplify and aggregate human capabilities. Moreover the best skill we can encourage for innovation is that of being a contrarian - challenge industry dogma. He's got a book he's promoting, The Future of Management, which undoubtedly goes deeper in these area.

Sounds promising, and I like the thinking. My only caveat so far is that if you don't have your efficiencies under control, eventually you won't have any resources or assets to spend on innovation. So don't lose sight of the blocking and tackling.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Requirements and Capabilities

I attended a presentation yesterday which was intended to help people understand how to do Design for Manufacturing when offshore manufacturing is the objective. Unfortunately the presentation fell way short of its target, and the crowd even got a little annoyed. The presenter was talking about models that have worked before:
  • Document well
  • Follow the process exactly
  • Manufacturing team has ultimate veto on readiness
  • Company level approval policies
which break down perhaps completely in an offshoring environment. Often, a US based firm contracts with multiple manufacturers, in different countries, with different language skills. The capital equipment these vendors have can be very expensive, and what they have will dictate what they can do. The old models won't work.

After hearing the crowd banter, it became clear to me that this is an inexact science. Nobody at this venue deferred to an authority on the subject.

I'm going to spend some time on this, but it seems to me that what we need is a best practice of identifying inviolate requirements (like no lead in the paint) and assumptive requirements (like we assume this component will consume less than 40W), and then somehow mapping these onto the inherent and acquirable capabilities of the offshore manufacturing group, before agreement is reached. Inherent capabilities are those that are constrained by resources including capital equipment and labor, and acquirable capabilities are things like skills that can be learned. The idea is to be able to understand the fit and risk of the product being properly delivered by the manufacturing team.

This is really a half baked concept at this point, but I would be very interested in what practices you may have used to deal with this. If you have an interesting methodology that you can articulate, or better yet one you have used with good results, there may be a speaking opportunity for you here in San Diego.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Information hiding

The August 2007 Communications of the ACM has an article called Offshore Outsourcing: The Risk of Keeping Mum. In it they discuss factors that contribute to information hiding. They reference a model developed by G. Hofstede, which breaks down cultural differences into 5 factors, and then combine it with work done by Keil and Robey [ACM 44 Apr 2001] which identified fear of being punished as the principal cause of the mum effect. They conclude that the mum effect has higher probability in Asia than in the west due to these factors, but also wonder why there have not been examples of spectacular failures attributed to information hiding in offshored projects.

It also states that communication gaps occur when employees feel their views are not valued or taken seriously. That's really the point of my post today. Trust develops when we genuinely listen to views of others, and demonstrate that we understand. Understanding doesn't mean agreement. What it means is that you can use your own words to express their view, and if you disagree, you are able to articulate why. Ultimately both parties express and listen until they agree or agree to disagree, but both have the same information. Trust is necessary to be able to express potential failures and risks in a completely open and truthful manner. It doesn't have to be an offshore team or a team with a different culture, but with those factors, you will have to work that much harder to develop trust.

Without trust, your team may not tell you what is going wrong until it is too late.