The purpose of process

We've talked about the difference between the innovation process and the development process in terms of the results they are expected to achieve; the innovation process being used to identify market relevant opportunities for innovation, and the development process being used to efficiently and reliably get offerings into the market.  We've also talked about how different people, and different thought processes lend themselves to achieving these goals. 

What we haven't talked about is how the different processes should enable people to best do their work.  This is where we often see culture clashes in companies who try to standardize performance objectives based on discipline when they should be targeted to the overall objectives they are tasked with achieving.  Let's see how this plays out by examining some common process elements and seeing how they differ between the innovation and development processes.

The complexity of the development process can best be defined by the sheer number of tasks, functions, and people that must be managed.  It is often a project manager's sole job to coordinate and keep track of everything that must happen.  This person also communicates the interrelations between the tasks required of different functions so that the team can proceed toward the goal.  For this reason, quality of work is evaluated based on whether or not the team members complete their required tasks efficiently and according to schedule.  There are well defined parameters for the completion of tasks to hit project milestones.  In fact, every task is planned and scheduled before the project starts, and the project operates under the assumption that when all tasks are completed, the project is done.  As can be expected, the planning process is very involved, but this typically happens once, when the process is being initially determined.  After that, most projects are similar to the first and can follow predictably along the same steps. So, it can be said that the purpose of the development process is to ensure that human error can be engineered out of the system.

The complexity of the innovation process can best be defined by the fact that the team typically has no idea what the tasks should be at the beginning of the project.  This team is guided by an overarching goal, and needs to be flexible and creative enough to do whatever tasks are necessary to collect the information that will help to achieve it.  The fact that a set of tasks worked on the last project may be useful knowledge, but it is certainly not a roadmap for the next project which will have a different overarching goal.  For this reason it is difficult, if not impossible, to map a process step-by-step for a person outside the work process to plan, manage, and communicate.  Quality of work is evaluated on whether or not each person is able to construct logic and create solid rationale leading to recommendations, making sure to voice any logic breaches that come up so that the team can step back and address them.  Milestones are certainly helpful, but they are more useful for the team to structure their thinking, and less useful to determine tasks.  At the end of the day, it can be said that the purpose of the innovation processes is to ensure that intuitive leaps are made transparent, able to be evaluated, and that recommendations can be presented in such a way that the rest of the organization can make use of them.

Think about how your company's development and innovation processes.  Are they different?  Do they try to achieve different goals while using a similar process?