Getting more work done through less innovation

The biggest reward I get from working on IT projects is the opportunity to take new ideas and new strategies and piece them together into something that has never been done before.  Even when I'm not the one originating the new idea, I like helping other innovative people bring their ideas to the table.  I have ideas, dreams, and aspirations to help take my workplace to the next level of where it should be via innovative use of what I know best, information technology.  How could innovation and all these wonderful ideas I have in my head not be anything but a good thing for my organization?  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal answers just that question by saying that there are negatives for an organization that innovates too much.

In "How Innovation Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing", George Anders writes about how companies and business consultants are rediscovering that less innovation can produce better business results.  Companies that used to push the limit in efficiency are finding that they're "jamming too many new ideas into a product pipeline, without enough slack time to ensure that critical tasks stayed on schedule".

Similar insights have been standard wisdom on the manufacturing floor for decades. Factory managers learn about bottlenecks through the formal discipline of queuing theory. That teaches them to keep a little slack in the system to handle the unpredictable -- but inevitable -- crunch times.

But the same notion can seem like heresy when applied to scientists, designers or other creative types who launch new products. "The theory of congestion and delay has incredibly broad applications," says James Patell, a Stanford business-school professor.

Today's IT consultants are using time tested factory-efficiency formulas, some back from the 1930s, showing that "high capacity utilization and high variability in task-completion times can combine to create severe delays".  The trick as noted in the article is to run a "leaner pipeline" by asking of each project what is the effort-to-benefit ratio.  Why is that important?  The idea is you don't want to spend your time on a few marginal projects that stops you from doing your best on the big projects.  Consultants also recommend building "slack in the schedules.  If employee's time is committed at near-capacity, minor snags can cause gridlock".

Simple lessons in time management, right?  Yea...but how many of us as well as our bosses forget to bring such common sense with us to work.  In this world of IT we all live in, the big push for efficiency and effectiveness seems to have driven the simple idea of less is more straight out the door.  Reluctantly, I admit, it's also the personal satisfaction I get from innovation that may be preventing me from spreading the joy of innovation elsewhere in the organization.  Really, who would have thought I was supposed to innovate less so I can innovate more...