Sunday, January 15, 2012

Execuvation: “Execution in Innovation” + “Innovation in Execution”

These days, it's become almost fashionable for Managers to talk about Innovation. But for many of them this is just a way to score brownie points with their bosses. They aren’t actually implementing Innovation, nor do they have any insight into what they mean by Innovation. And in this race of “let’s play Innovation” they unnecessarily start downplaying importance of Execution and stop rewarding good Executors.

On the other hand, Managers accountable for deliveries always need to live with limited resources. These constraints always cause a conflict between Execution and Innovation, making many of them biased towards Execution and treat Innovation as a step child.

What both these kinds fail to understand is that Innovation and Execution are not co-wives. Nor there can be any dichotomy between the two. Innovation and Execution actually complement each other. As much as a great idea with poor Execution is a sure failure, so too is a bad idea with great Execution. Effective Managers understand that both Execution and Innovation are of the utmost importance and both have the same weightage. Rather than swamping themselves with the traditional aspects of management, they consciously allocate some time for themselves to lead the Innovation process. Project Management is no longer just Execution Management these days. It is now about Execuvation Management: “Execution in Innovation” +Innovation in Execution”.

Execution in Innovation

An idea without proper implementation and application is just an idea or an empty promise. Implementation and application is nothing but Execution. So, “Idea + Execution = Innovation”. Successfully taking an idea from thought or concept level quickly to a solid 1.0 product stage is Innovation. Just conceiving a baby is not enough. Unless you just want to end up becoming a sperm donor (or womb lender), you must put planned and dedicated effort to nourish the developing life and effectively execute the 9 months of delivery period to see birth of your healthy baby. Similarly just thinking a big idea is not enough. Baking the idea, coming up with quick proof of concepts, pretotyping, building prototypes, successive prototypes, and making revisions in the idea/concept along the way – this iterative process leads to the real Innovation.

Innovation in Execution

Embedded in every step of Execution is Innovation. Big ideas are not born every day. It is small ideas that make the big difference. Ideas that lead to better plans, improved processes and more efficient Execution – each iteration getting better results and productivity, requiring lesser cost, lesser resources and lesser time. Using Jugaad to overcome constraints is Innovation. Any move that improves time management, task prioritization and scoping, and maximizes RoI is Innovation. Understanding need of the hour and taking calculated risk - Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap - is Innovation. Failing to Plan is planning to fail. So, proper planning is Innovation. When something precious is at risk (your life, your money, your growth, or your reputation), you innovate to save it. So, surviving in adverse surroundings is Innovation. Point I am trying to make here is that we all have been innovating on daily basis all our life without even realizing this. It’s because all our life we’ve been taught that innovation means coming up with big ideas that can win Nobel Prize or generate Patents or make Publications or convert into game changing Businesses. While true this is an incomplete definition of Innovation. This doesn’t include Day to Day Innovation, used by people working on real problems in their day-to-day work.

An effective Execuvation Manager needs to find a fine balance between Execution and Innovation. Remember that Innovation cannot be forced - it can only be encouraged and facilitated. Motivate Innovation but do not demotivate smart and efficient Execution. Encourage your team to use Innovation in their day to day Execution. If your team is master in Execution, you can afford to pull out some handfuls to try Blue Ocean Innovation.

Every team has great thinkers, great architects/designers and great coders/implementers. Compose a team of one or two engineers each with these qualities/skills. If you have big team, include more. Don’t be surprised if in doing this you find that some of your most talented, capable, and passionate employees always had been deep buried in routine tasks and day-to-day firefighting. Tap the invisible resource of these core team members and challenge them with stretched goals. Give them enough time (from their routine project tasks), opportunity and platform to play their strengths, and provide them with necessary tools, guidance and assistance. Give them freedom and flexibility, but be specific in terms of goals, outcomes and constraints. Move away from fear-based approach, give them enough protection and encourage the failure – follow ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable...