Gain Insight From Unexpected Sources

from Yeblit

Mixed discipline academic conferences are always fun to attend. You may listen to a presentation on management theory in one session and research findings on saving monkeys in Central America in the next. Topics run the gamut of academic disciplines and if you have eclectic interests they are a worthy investment of your time. Interestingly, they will make you a more insightful project manager.

I’ll be presenting a paper entitled The Value of Creating, Maintaining and Sustaining an Intrapreneurial Culture: A Case Analysis of 3M’s Strategic Positioning at this summer’s International Journal of Arts and Sciences conference at Harvard. Although the title is seemingly unrelated to project management there are great lessons for us to learn from 3M.

Now, anyone who teaches business courses is going to have favorite companies. Those that we feel really have it all together and have mastered the marketing mix. 3M is one of those companies for me. When I began to notice the company slipping down the annual business week rankings for innovation a few years ago I decide to investigate. Here is what I found:
• In 2001 the new CEO, an acolyte of Dr. Jack Welch at GE implemented Six Sigma across the company.
• Within a decade 3M dropped from #2 to #47 on the Business Week ratings for most innovative companies.
• Revenue from new products decreased from 33% of sales to less than 25%.

I examined all of the strategic frameworks the company was implementing, including Balanced Score Card; Core Competence; SWOT etc. The company was, theoretically anyway, doing all the right things. However, 3M’s leaders seem to have improperly anticipated the effect Six Sigma would have on corporate entrepreneurship (aka intrapreneurship) and innovation. In an effort toward enhancing efficiency I hypothesized they purged talent and stifled innovation by trying to measure everything. 3M’s leaders eventually phased out Six Sigma and recognized they fooled around with the thing that made the company great….their entrepreneurial culture.

So what does this have with project management? We know Six Sigma is process oriented more so than project oriented. We also know that Six Sigma has a successful track record of success in many firms. The lesson for project managers is simply that we need to be sensitive to the fact that innovation and creativity do not always fall neatly into a project plan; strategy or the science of management in general. Tomorrow may present opportunities that cannot be planned for today. Management may indeed be a science, but entrepreneurship is as much art as science. It is a dynamic manifestation of human creativity that is inefficient and unpredictable. Corporate entrepreneurship and project management may sometimes clash and we must keep in mind that intrapreneurship is equally as important to a company’s success as project management.

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