It is not Prescription or Adapting!

Product development work has variation brought on by the product, as well as the organization.  Though there are many approaches out there, prescriptions that are based upon the type of organization or the type of product.  These approaches may have some relevance but ultimately things are not so easy to allow a prescription, “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” approach.

I have been in product development for more than 25 years and in many capacities, and while frequently we would start from the prescription (the company’s documented process) as we executed we would learn and adapt. Sometimes it was to alter the project constraints, longer time, more money and talent or to reduce the project scope. Sometimes it required adapting the process, essentially deviating from the prescription. However we considered the ramifications (from a systems perspective) before we accepted a deviation (adapting) from the organizations prescribed approach.

Adapting is what we do when we realize our plan or process, while workable is not optimal.  We then improvise within some constraints, balancing objectives, opportunities and risks to make things work out always keeping our systems thinking.  These deviations provide great learning and creative opportunities for our team.  The stress between the team’s objective and the impediment or process limitation are where the project manager has the possibility to encourage creativity, and team growth.  Though adapting is typically associated with agile methods of project management, it should not be relegated solely to that approach in my mind.  In fact, a mash up of the two approaches can help our team continuously adapt to circumstances that cannot change and learn.

I once worked at an organization that exclusively employed a stage gate approach to their projects.  In that instance the team was constantly learning about the product and how to work the project.  The approach was just such a mash up of agile and stage gate. Solely taking one approach or the other would not have worked.  The story is contained in The Project Manager Who Smiled by Peter Taylor.

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