Process Innovation: The Golden Goose

   Product Management
Process Innovation: The Golden Goose

Processes. There are more of them than there are development teams. You’ve probably had your share of processes that work well, and others that fail horribly. The question is, why are some processes worse than others? Is it the technology the team is using, the company not being supportive, or is it the team itself struggling with a process change? A “good” process innovation should increase production levels while decreasing resources — making better use of assets. So who wouldn’t want that? Well, there are organizations that don’t feel they need to change or innovate their processes. For some organizations, a process occurs by serendipity rather than by deliberate management.

It is not the intention of this article to call upon the cliché processes that are running wild out there: Agile, Lean, Scrum, Kanban. Being Agile does not mean the process is determined as you go. Being agile really means empowering the team to make incremental changes. And the team should know best how to deal with these changes and build processes around implementing them. After several iterations, the empowered team will identify problem areas and make adjustments. You can have a Lean – Agile team that follows a process that best fits the situation. We don’t, or shouldn’t, have processes for the sake of having them. Processes are to ensure that things go smoothly. In other words: why do we as leaders always talk about process? Because they are used to solve and ideally prevent problems that come up.

Leaders Establish Culture

If an organization (or team) is not accepting and supportive of innovative ideas, the organization will rely on the luck they have had in the past. With the right implementation, mindset, and resources, an organization can benefit with noticeable improvements. Managers should keep a keen eye on how their processes for their projects are improving or declining. Managers should look for inefficiencies or issues, and solve them by creating new processes or changing existing processes. They can establish an environment that encourages employees to explore and spawn new ideas for improvement. Leaders are typically the Product and Project Managers, Development Managers or Leads, and QA Managers or Leads. These Leaders strongly influence and set the tone for the culture of a team.

  • Leaders need to be clear about how their ideas are identified and implemented.
  • Leaders must quickly respond to stakeholders and provide reasoning for changes.

Leaders can help establish this culture of innovation. An open and supportive environment can lead to wide organizational successes, as well as recognition and growth for employees who offer contributions.

An organization’s ability to execute process change will fail without a culture that encourages continuous improvements. The process changes need to be understood, energized, and analyzed. You should have tools to measure both success and failure. This will enable fast success and failure recognition – so that incremental changes can be applied.

Another area that can halt an organization’s ability to apply new processes is time constraints. That is not to say it cannot be done. There are still incremental changes that can happen over the course of the project. Start with a plan of engagement and make cumulative adjustments that minimize possible disruption to output.

Implementing Change

A better process begins with the project team that is assigned to deliverables. It is facilitated by the project lead who describes pain points that have been identified. They should have suggestions for improvement that can be presented to the team for discussion. Be empathetic to the needs of everyone. Allow for incremental changes — it doesn’t have to all be done in a day.

Improving the performance of any department is a difficult job that shouldn’t be tackled by a small group of people. Instead, improving performance should be everyone’s responsibility. In fact, people responsible for delivery are often best setup to make small, incremental improvements. Create an opportunity for staff to embrace successes in process innovation and then spread them across other departments within the organization. Share the failures that were encountered as well. This could prevent others from making the same mistakes. Form cross-functional teams to quickly design and implement better ways of serving customers and improving performance.

Lean is a systematic method for waste minimization within a system without sacrificing productivity.

Don Reinertsen teaches us that, “There is a cost associated with every decision. Further, that cost can be increased dramatically by the delays incurred in escalating it up the chain of command. This is probably nowhere more clear than on a nuclear submarine. But it is just as true in startups or large corporations.”

There are a couple things to consider when deciding on how a process for your department should be accomplished:

  • One of the Lean Principles to consider, no matter what framework or model you start with: “Build a culture to support excellence and relentless improvement.”
  • Reinertsen’s principle D8: “The Principle of Mission: Specify the end state, its purpose, and the minimal possible constraints.”

Keeping just those as guiding principles will help determine how an organization can build or improve upon a process. It is worth mentioning the four perspectives you should apply when analyzing your current process and considering changes.

  • Challenge conventional wisdom. Overturn traditional assumptions.
  • Identify and harness trends that have revolutionary or disruptive potential.
  • Leverage your assets. Repurpose and recombine value.
  • Identify unmet needs. Look at the pain points others are having.


Collaborate with your team(s) with reference to how the processes they employ are working for them. Share some ideas that have worked with similar teams. Listen to the team and understand their needs and the needs of their audience. Most people are driven by intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic. In other words, they care more about the satisfaction they can get doing a certain job than the external rewards they will receive for doing it. There are three pillars of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Empowering the team with small details where they are the experts will give them the higher purpose. In turn, they deliver with amazing results.

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