Lee would like to thank Jon Vordermark, a consultant in the Leadership Advisory Services Practice of The Revere Group for contributing this month’s column.
As computing has become increasingly common in our everyday lives, there’s been a general demystification of technology. More than a few readers of HTML for Dummies have convinced themselves that they can start their own Web site development firms. But many laypeople extend their basic understanding of technology use to its development as well. Many have concluded that successful development requires little more than following a defined set of guidelines for designing and coding systems.
But in reality, developing and applying technology is, at its heart, a creative process. And like any creative process, it can only truly flourish when given the ingredients for innovation team diversity, strong and nurturing leadership, and an adaptive methodology.
But is creativity really necessary? Sure, it is technically possible to circumvent the creative process in the deployment of technology. The recent casualties of the Internet "gold rush" who placed speed to market above all other valid objectives (actual performance, market applicability or sustainability), provide a valuable lesson in what can happen when the fastest, most linear approach is employed at the expense of sound technology planning and execution. All too often, these new economy executives failed to transition their entrepreneurial ideas to reality and reality to profit.
The Value of Team Diversity
Assembling a dynamic project team of individuals with complementary backgrounds, skills and opinions, all committed to a common goal, may appear to be an obvious first step when embarking on a project. But in fact, it can all too often be unconsciously (or consciously) missed.
It is easy for leaders to misinterpret diversity as an impediment to timeliness, progress and success. It’s not unusual to assume that difference begets conflict, increasing the risk for delays. However, a team that is purposely designed to be as uniform as possible can inhibit communication and idea sharing, which in turn dilutes the creativity and quality of decision making that is a fundamental value that teams bring.
Instead, diversity should be viewed as a powerful ingredient to innovative and collaborative thinking, which can lead to real breakthroughs in technology and its delivery.
How do you create a team that is predisposed to groundbreaking thinking? It might be helpful to consider assembling the team as if you were trying to reconstruct the variety intrinsic in society. From a technology perspective, it can be helpful to strive for diversity among a number of characteristics that mirror those found in society:
- Population Number of resources
- Education Skill sets
- Religion Technological convictions, or lack thereof (UNIX vs. NT, JAVA vs. VB, RSA vs. PGP)
- Languages and Dialects Design and programming (structured analysis, ERD, OO or UML)
- Health Morale
- Culture Working hours, family situation, compensation motivators
The Role of the Leader in Managing for Creativity
Team diversity alone does not guarantee innovative and collaborative thinking. Rather, the leader is still the catalyst for success (or failure). The leader interprets the contribution of each individual how each cultivates the team’s character, identity, attitude and potential for quality delivery. If the leader is successful, the result is an environment based on objectivity and integrity, where the contribution of all views are encouraged and owned by each employee. The team now works collaboratively to test ideas, resolve issues and comprehend the unknowns of the project.
Managing the Process
Most sound development methodologies acknowledge and anticipate changes to the project plan. A term often used in chaos theory is bifurcation, which is a way of understanding the progression (and meandering) of systems and projects. To illustrate this concept, think of a person traveling down a road. The farther the traveler goes, the more side streets or alternative routes appear. When projects constantly "creep" in scope, any additional change magnifies the complexity of the system.
Diverging from the initial plan is not necessarily a negative circumstance. It may result from a new idea or approach contributed by team members. When leaders welcome diversity in their team, they must welcome the bifurcation that accompanies it. It works to the leader’s benefit to maintain a certain tolerance for ambiguity, especially as new ideas are tested against the timeline, budget and scope.
The Adaptive Methodology
In order to manage the process for creativity, the leader must establish a baseline of communication for his or her team to capture ideas, issues and unknowns. This baseline is embodied in a project methodology. Many executives, however, perceive formalized methodologies as unnecessary costs 1 and methodologies poorly implemented can negatively impact both the budget and morale.
What approach is advised? Keep in mind that no single methodology is universally applicable. It is more effective to adopt one that is acceptable to the team and adaptable to the changing nature of the project. This is done by bridging communication barriers, mitigating issues and nurturing the team’s ability to collaboratively address project challenges.
The roots of effective project management are grounded in the ability to create healthy environments and to integrate them with a methodology and model that will capture, interpret and execute what may surface as projects progress. The task is not as nebulous as it may seem. In fact, the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University has designed a People Capability Maturity Model (P- CMM) a five-tiered model of organizational transformation and progression, "continuously improving individual competencies, developing effective teams, motivating improved performance and shaping the workforce."2
Today’s technology leaders are under intense pressures to deliver high-returning projects in a timely manner. By managing for creativity, today’s leaders have the best chance of meeting these demands and helping their organizations to maintain their stride in the swiftly changing marketplace.
1. McConnell, Steve. Rapid Development Taming Wild Software Schedules. Microsoft Press. Redmond, WA. 1996.
2. Curtis, Bill (TeraQuest Metrics, Inc.), Hefley, William E. (Q-Labs, Inc.), Miller, Sally A. (Software Engineering Institute). People Capability Maturity Model (P- CMM). Version 2.0. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, July 2001.
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