This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Unlocking Innovation Productivity

Unlocking Innovation Productivity

Unlocking Innovation Productivity (Proven Strategies that Have Transformed Organizations for Profitable and Predictable New Product Growth Worldwide) by Mike Dalton is a guide to the challenges of product innovation and how to overcome them. I picked it when the Mike posted a special deal for the Kindle version.  As is common these days, there is a book page.

This guide reads quickly - as intended. He sets up the problem in the first chapter or two and spends the rest of the writing on "Seven Proven Strategies" to unlock productivity in new product development. The strategies emphasize two main ideas: selecting great projects and excellent execution.  The strategies are based heavily on the ideas of Theory of Constraints and the project-specific approach of Critical Chain Project Management. These "innovation" strategies will work in other arenas too - anywhere that projects are the lifeblood of an organization.  I found many of the comments very familiar, and I like the way he structure the conversation about them with the idea, some details, a short example and some common pitfalls. 

These strategies are (with my comments):

  • Establish governance to filter out low feasibility / impact projects.  Check all projects for the feasibility and value. Ensure all projects have a valid charter that describes the problem being solved for the customer, the value of solving that problem, the damage done if the problem isn't solved, etc.  Create a governance structure around project release and stick to it.
  • Build robust project plans with realistic timelines. Build a plan that describes the flow of work. Not a task list. Not a picture with five boxes. But also not thousands of lines that will never happen in the way proposed. Used CCPM thinking to plan the project.
  • Regulate pipeline entry to avoid derailing projects already underway. Don't start a new project just because you have a good idea or because the boss said so - even if that idea passes the governance filter, there may not be capacity to work it right now.  
  • Execute with synchronized priorities for crystal clear workflow. When you do release a project, ensure it flows along with all the other projects. Use the CCPM priority mechanism to judge priority, not the Squeaky Wheel or the Loudest Shouter or the Best Politician methods.  
  • Visualize flow for early warning while you can still recover. Use the CCPM fever charts to visualize flow of the project. Use burn charts to visualize blocks of work (running test cases; building code; etc).  Daily standup meetings. 
  • Boost your pipeline with even better opportunities. Once things start flowing and the system isn't stuck, devote some brain power to finding new and true innovation for your customers. 
  • Structure for continuous improvement from the start. Be ready for more and more improvements over time. The solution won't be perfect, but it will point you in the right direction. Look for opportunities in things that go differently than expected - in both directions. 
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is staking at the root.
— Henry David Thoreau from Walden, or Life in the Woods

The book isn't a full implementation guide, but it gives the high level approach and should unlock interest in doing things differently. I also appreciate the final chapter that reminds people there is no silver bullet or magic wand.  The metaphor Dalton uses throughout the book is that of chopping at the roots of a problem instead of at the branches (a la Henry David Thoreau). Magic bullets tend to aim at the branches and end up only knocking off a few leaves.

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Quality, Involvement, Flow