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To boost the bottom line, it’s important to increase productivity. This can be challenging for larger organizations, but by creating smaller, more agile teams, managers can facilitate collaboration and efficiency.
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Despite the well-documented costs of overload, many leaders still think organizations thrive under pressure. They have a lot to learn from manufacturing, where managers have adopted a “pull” system to manage task flow, improving productivity and performance. This concept can be used to prevent overload in knowledge work, too. And “visual management” techniques make it easier to apply pull thinking to a portfolio of projects by rendering nonphysical tasks tangible. Two recent changes at the Broad Institute, an MIT-affiliated biomedical and genomic research center, illustrate how.
Formal communication channels, such as protocol-guided meetings, are often eschewed by today’s managers and employees, who prefer the ease of email and apps. But informal avenues can lead to oversights and inefficiencies that hurt performance. That’s the central finding of research from IE Business School on manufacturers of high-tech machinery. Fortunately, formal communication protocols can be designed to both maximize performance and overcome people’s resistance to adopting them.
Large projects can succumb to a “cycle of doubt” — when support for the project wanes and delivery is imperiled in a self-perpetuating negative spiral. Here’s how to spot the warning signs of stakeholder doubts — before they derail your project.
Usually only marketing teams think about brand building. But the branding process can also be used internally by project managers to build excitement for projects among staff. Project managers who want to be in a stronger position to achieve their goals should adopt the principles of traditional brand management — such as developing a strong pitch and taking advantage of a project’s natural attributes to generate enthusiasm among the people working on it.
Large-scale, long-term projects are notoriously difficult to manage. But recent research on megaprojects — defined as projects costing more than $1 billion — reveals five lessons that can help executives manage any big, complex project more effectively.
The days when buying a used car meant “kicking the tires” and wading through a hard sales pitch are gone. With customer expectations evolving in a rapidly changing digital environment, digital dealership CarMax’s product development teams are “all about developing customer-facing and associate-enabling technologies,” says CIO Shamim Mohammad — but the focus is on the teamwork, not the tech.
Making the right decision about which projects and partnerships to enter into seems like it should be easy. But it often isn’t. Being smart about where you devote your resources — your personal time, energy, and finances, as well as those of your organization — means being smart about not just time management, but about choice management. That means being proactive and disciplined about asking why you think a project is a good fit. It also means paying attention to your inner skeptic.
Any organization intent on surviving and thriving into the future must follow a disciplined approach to “flaring” and “focusing,” as it alternates between broadly imagining and vigorously challenging the possibilities.
Few questions in business are more powerful than “What problem are you trying to solve?” Leaders who can formulate clear problem statements get more done with less effort and move more rapidly than their less-focused counterparts. But stopping to ask this question doesn’t come naturally — managers must put conscious effort into learning a structured approach.
Many big projects start off well, but then lose momentum and spiral downward as skeptical stakeholders withdraw support. Executives need to identify common triggers that spark stakeholder concerns — and take action to avert the ‘cycle of doubt’ that can ensue.
Many organizations are finding success with IoT projects by starting small, considering the short- and long-term value of initiatives, and looking at alternative ways to investigate issues for the information they need.
This year’s winning article is “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help,” by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber. The authors examine project planning and execution challenges and describe a case study of a company that designed a help process to encourage workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.
Certain kinds of product or process creations involve not just one player but many to ensure success. Organizations working toward this kind of innovation need to think about the project’s innovation ecosystem, which includes identifying co-innovators, structuring project leadership, and potentially modifying how success is defined. “All these things need to be negotiated within the coalition” notes Ron Adner of the Tuck School of Business — a process that’s often under-appreciated or ignored.
Nicholas Bloom, William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, conducted an extensive study of 30,000 US factories, and found that two practices, underpinned by innovative software and IT systems, stand out in highly effectively managed operations: monitoring and incentives.
Using data and analytics to understand the complexities of modern business has become not only common, but essential. Gahl Berkooz joined Ford Motor Co. in 2004, eventually becoming head of data and governance and a member of the company’s global data insights and analytics skill team. Berkooz became acutely aware of how important analytics is to the company’s ability to thrive in the global marketplace. “What it boils down to,” he told MIT SMR’s Michael Fitzgerald, “is that we know how to make decisions. It’s about finding the opportunities to bring data and analytics to make better decisions.”
It has become a truism that the pace of work is faster than ever, as digital technologies speed up communication and operational processes in a story of unending progress. But increased speed has not translated into increased rates of productivity growth. Since 2004, growth rates have slowed not just in the US but across the world. Chad Syverson, J. Baum Harris Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, explains what the implications are, and why the benefits of new technologies are not straightforward.
Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.
The ability to innovate and rapidly respond to changes in the business environment is critical to competitiveness and success. Improvisation and experimentation combined with focus and flexibility are needed to identify new business opportunities and effectively execute projects. But while improvisation may seem to be spontaneous, managers can foster it through the deliberate development of certain processes and capabilities in an organization’s culture, team structure, and management practices.
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