In this post I will continue the discussion on innovation and talk about the importance of team separation and focus for innovation.

In the course of my career, I have led literally hundreds of engineering teams.  I will tell you virtually every team, given the option, would always want to have the new product developed within the same overall team that is currently supporting the existing product development.

The justification rationales are pretty consistent. 

            “We need the key experts for both products”

            “This will keep everyone engaged as they all want to work on the new product”

            “We can share and optimize resources and get the projects done faster”

It is almost humorous, that even when Management 101 says to “Foucs, Focus, Focus,” managers can get caught up trying to create startups with the key ingredient missing – FOCUS!

Yes, I have fallen victim to the idea that lots of part time help on paper looks better than just a few focused resources.

In hindsight, it was universally the wrong choice.

OK, so let’s say your organization has a great new idea. You can think of this as like having the buy-in at the poker tournament. You get a seat at the table but the game hasn’t even started!

I believe that most failure to innovate in bigger companies starts right here. Once you want to develop an idea I would submit that there is no better way than a small focused team.  There is a reason that startups continue to emerge even as large companies spend billions on R&D.

OK, so you came up with the great idea and you have you small focused team to get it done. All good right?

Maybe not. Your next step is to insure that you really have both focus and separation.

There are many things that a small team can leverage in a larger organization such as development tools, labs, etc.  On the other hand, there are likely many corporate processes and procedures that will serve to overwhelm the team. Most large companies will have built up processes that are designed for mature environments. If not addressed, these processes will bring your internal startup to a screeching halt.

I have endless stories here but suffice to say, as a leader, you need to insure that your internal startup is focused and subject to appropriate policies and processes that fit the model.

So, at this point, if you can:

  1. Focus on a great idea
  2. Create a small focused team
  3. Optimize the advantages of a large organization and
  4. Eliminate the inappropriate bureaucracy

Then you have half the battle won.

More soon on the other half.




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