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Walkthrough Wednesdays

Innovation- Balancing Functional and Collaborative Driven Approaches


I read and commented on Steven Allison's excellent blog posting on Foundation Principles of Collaboration and I wanted to expand my thoughts on the end goal requirement for collaboration and to truly drive innovation compromise is required.  What is the compromise?  It's a compromise between a strict, end-result functional driven approach and an open, opinionated collaborative driven approach.

A functional driven approach attempts to decompose a workflow to a number of sequential tasks.  These tasks are then executed by individuals or machines.  For example if 10 individuals can produce 100 widgets in 1 hour then 100 individuals should produce 1000 widgets in 1 hour.  A return can be calculated based on the cost of input compared to the value of output.

A collaborative driven approach attempts to determine new ways to reach a goal and what the goal is, which is often a subject for debate as different members of the collaborative team may drive personal agendas. If we use the same example as above of 10 employees develop 100 widgets in 1 hour, a collaborative effort would consider ways to enable the same 10 employees to develop 1000 widgets in 1 hour.

The graph below and to the right shows the two approaches and how they diverge between well defined, linear processes and fluid, ever changing processes.  Starting at the lower left corner of the graph, if no functions are defined and there's no collaboration to improve workflow processes then your enterprise is going nowhere, no workflow is completed and it's just a matter of time before the business runs through its' operating budget and is forced to close its' doors.


As we move up the vertical and decompose the workflow in more and more granular functions it becomes increasingly difficult to make changes and optimize workflows.  A change in a single function may affect several other functions that rely on it, think spaghetti code in the workflow.  The process structure has become so rigid that it's impossible to make change without re-engineering the entire set of business processes, which is extremely time consuming and costly.  Add to that the law of diminishing returns and you realize that a strict, functional driven approach is neither scalable nor agile.

As we move across the horizontal and focus only on the theory of how to improve workflows without a clear definition of the process or even an end goal as a collaborative think tank may spend a good amount of time discussing what the end goals are with members pushing their personal agendas before even focusing effort on the workflow itself.  Since market conditions, peoples needs and technologies are always changing it becomes difficult to determine when and what to implement because you won't be able to account for all conditions and the moment you do it's quite possibly outdated.

The right balance of function and collaboration enables the optimal amount of innovation to consistently improve processes and experiences while remaining focused on the end-goals.  This requires the participation of what are traditionally siloed groups that don't interact with each other to collaborate and share requirements, ideas, risks and concerns that drives disruptive uses of technologies without compromising the long range business goals of the company.  How do you reach this balance?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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